Through the years, O’Neal has experimented with student governments and leadership programs. In 1975, when Wallace O’Neal Day School served students in grade 3-10, there was a Lower School Senate (grades 3-7) and an Upper School Senate (grades 8-10). Both divisions held full blown student elections for their governing groups. In 1986 there was evidence of class presidents and a student government association in the Upper School and the Lower School retained the Lower School Senate structure. For a few years after, the student government association was called the Advisory Council. The 1987/88 school year saw the creation of an official middle school division. By the 1990’s standard student government structures existed in the Upper and Middle School, with the Lower School sticking to a Senate.
Prefect Student Leadership
In an effort to increase leadership opportunities, in the Fall of 2010, the Prefect Student Leadership Program was formed for the Upper School and there was no longer a student government association. In a letter to parents of O’Neal juniors in the spring of 2010, Headmaster Alan Barr states:
“Yesterday I met with the junior class to present a new leadership program that we are establishing at The O’Neal School beginning next school year. I believe there are greater opportunities for our students – especially seniors – with this type of program. The Prefect System is a leadership program that is used by leading private schools in both the Northeast and Southeast.
The Prefect System is a leadership system made up of student leaders selected from the senior class who possess a high degree of commitment to the School’s values and ideals. Their influence within the school community is based on their character demonstrated through service to the school. Prefects, as they are known, create an impact within the school community through servant leadership, deliberately avoiding special privileges. Prefects are senior leaders who are capable of overseeing the work in their particular areas and managing the underclassmen involved therein. Prefects do not carry the power of authority over other students; their effectiveness derives from their personal convictions and the quality of their lives as role models. All prefects are responsible for forming a committee of students from each grade to assist in the management of their office. We believe that positive peer influence has a powerful impact on student morale and behavior. Prefects assume significant responsibilities in the daily life of the school.”
Mr. Barr had brought in a consultant to look at different areas of the School, and this new leadership program was his recommendation. The Prefect areas were for Admissions, Academics, Community, Communications, Volunteer Outreach, Student Life and for a short time – Technology. By application / interview process, each candidate was interviewed by the Prefect Selections Committee that was selected by the junior class. Each selected Prefect had a mentor. All of the Prefects went hiking in Colorado the summer of 2010 as a leadership development program.
The Student Life Prefect handled student events at O’Neal, such as dances and pep rallies. The Admissions Prefect was to help new students feel welcome. The Community Prefect handled the Senior Buddies program with 1st and 2nd grade students in the Lower School. The Outreach Prefect helped to coordinate the O’Neal Volunteers and the Key Club for community specific outreach projects. The Academic Prefect helped to provide a peer tutoring system. The Communications Prefect helped with articles for the magazine and also with video production.
Over time, some of the prefect areas started to fall short. In 2018, Director of Student Life Lulu Brase introduced the Student Forum – “For the Students, By the Students”. The student government structure was for both Middle and Upper Schools. For Upper School, class officers were brought back into the picture as well as grade representatives for the Middle School.
The Student Forum
In recent years, the Student Forum executive board members have spoken during orientation and have led their peers in running events such as senior buddies, the concession stand, and the community liaison program. Also, the Upper School student forum members have taken charge of the Upper School student life activities ranging from Halloween parties to Fall Spirit week, to the Fall Ball dance, and many more to come later this semester and spring.
In the Middle School, prior to the pandemic, the sense of responsibility and duty led the Student Forum to take on improving Middle School recess by creating a new code of conduct and recess expectations for the playground, basketball court, and gaga ball pit. Students plan activities ranging from dances to helping with all school events like Homecoming week.
The Student Forum Mission: We the students of the O’Neal Upper/Middle School Student Forum seek to maintain a unified student body, promote relations between students and faculty and encourage school pride and loyalty.
“Ultimately, the Student Forum is an exciting change in student leadership in both divisions. Both Student Forum groups have shown tremendous thoughtfulness, responsibility, and leadership. With our student forums, we are looking forward to continuing to promote and build strong, confident student leaders and empower them to enhance our O’Neal student life experience.” – Lulu Brase, Director of Student Life
The Leadership Program
In tandem, born from the athletics program and some military influence, the leadership academy was formed and has now blossomed into a school-wide Leadership Program – focusing on leadership and character development.
This past summer, O’Neal hosted its 4th annual Leadership Academy Camp for Upper School students to kick off the Leadership Academy program with weekly scheduled sessions throughout the year for further development of individual strengths and guidance on emotional intelligence as it pertains to self-perception, self-expression, decision-making, interpersonal relationships, and social responsibility. Duke University Head Sports Performance Coach Dan Perlmutter has routinely served as an advisor for the Academy, participating in multiple camps as well as sessions throughout the school year.
In the school year 2018/2019, under the coordination of Assistant Director of Athletics Kelley Adams, The Culture Council was formed for fourth-grade students, the highest grade in O’Neal’s Lower School. The Council focuses on recognizing and applying the core values – fairness, accountability, leadership, cooperation, ownership, nurture, and self-discipline – which spells FALCONS. From selecting theme days for the Lower School for school-wide spirit weeks to planning activities for the PreK and kindergarten students to observing student forums in the Middle and Upper Schools, the Culture Council takes ownership of their planning and makes decisions with their core values in mind.
This year, the final component of the Leadership Program was introduced – The Middle School Courage League. Students in grades 5-8 participate in activities to amplify social-emotional learning through engagement in critical conversations while exploring decision-making scenarios. They discover their own personal values and work through right vs wrong in order to apply principled decision-making, fundamental to the character development process.
For Leadership Academy, each year facilitators nominate students for inclusion into the program for the following academic year. Entry into the Courage League is by an application process and teacher recommendations at the beginning of the school year. Students may apply for the Culture Council at the beginning of the second semester.
There are eight critical components to the Leadership Program; citizenship, critical thinking, communication skills, collaboration, self-direction, conflict management, project management, and service learning. Of these components, service learning – planning and execution of service projects throughout the year to demonstrate leadership through action within the community – is critical for character development. It is also the component that will bring all three sections of the Leadership Program together to utilize their core values, demonstrate quality decision-making and collaborate with others for one common good.
“It is extremely humbling to serve the O’Neal community in this capacity. I am very thankful for the opportunity to contribute to such an incredible institution, and I am excited to see the program continue to grow.” – Charlie McHarney, Director of Leadership and Character Development
O’Neal has always been creative in finding ways for any student to take part in a leadership role. In the Upper School, there have always been a variety of clubs formed by the intuitive minds of students who had support from a faculty advisor.
One of the founding contributors to the Leadership Academy, LTC John Samples quoted President John F. Kennedy – “All boats will rise with the tide.” With student leadership, the overall O’Neal community is benefitted.
Falcons Fly to 50
O’Neal is excited to share its history with readers as it quickly nears its 50th year in educating and cultivating youth in becoming successful, effective contributors to communities large and small. The official celebration starts school year 2021/2022. This weekly blog will focus on different aspects of the School as it grew through the years. With every entry, there is just as much more information to gather than what is already written. Readers who have been a part of the O’Neal community are encouraged to reach out and share their O’Neal memories. It is with great hope that the efforts of many in contributing information and photography can be published into a book for reflection and reference as the School continues to prosper for the next 50 years.
Please send your memoirs and photos to:
The O’Neal School
c/o Kathy Taylor, Director of Communications
P.O. Box 290
Southern Pines, NC 28388