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Student ambassadors act as role models, helpers at HOTL

Marie Nitke/FOCUS Heart of the Lakes Elementary School fourth grade ambassador Mick Meyer (standing) helps younger students log into their computers before the start of school.

They give the morning announcements, sell school supplies, and collect the recycling. They show the younger kids how to use computers, how to clean up after meal times, and even how to tie their shoes.

They're the student ambassadors at Heart of the Lakes Elementary School in Perham, and they not only help out the school staff, they act as role models for their younger schoolmates.

Some might say these ambitious fourth graders 'rule the school.'

"The staff really counts on them," said school counselor Julie Vomacka, who oversees the ambassador program. "And the kids really look up to them."

The prestigious ambassador role is a volunteer position open to all fourth graders who are interested. At the end of third grade, kids bring home permission slips to become an ambassador the next year. Vomacka said most third graders are already saying they "can't wait" to be ambassadors next year.

Kids who volunteer for the job are divided into four 'teams' at the start of fourth grade. Vomacka tries to mix up the team members, so that there are kids from each class on every team. This, she said, lets the ambassadors get to know kids from other classes, "kids they might not ever get to know otherwise."

Each team works for one month, trying out new "jobs" each week, then gets a few months off before it's their turn to come back into the rotation. By the end of the school year, every team has worked for two months, plus one extra week - "so they get to do almost every job at some point," said Vomacka.

And although the various volunteer roles do take some hard work and sacrifice - "We miss recess to do lunch work," ambassador Jordan Ushar made sure to mention - the kids say they have fun, and they're more than happy to do it.

"It's fun to make new friends with little kids," said Mick Meyer, who last week was in charge of helping his younger schoolmates in the computer lab before school. The kids knew to go to Meyer with questions about how to use the computer, and for help in general - one little girl even asked him for help with tying her shoes.

Meanwhile, in the cafeteria, ambassadors Kaylie Kircaenwitz and Pheobe Sandahl helped the younger kids get their breakfasts. Afterwards, they helped clear the tables and wash dishes.

"It's so much fun," said Kaylie of being an ambassador. "You get to do all kinds of different things."

Other student ambassadors could be found in the hallways before school in the mornings, collecting recycling and selling school supplies from a cart. All of them said they enjoy being ambassadors.

A little while later, at the start of first hour, Jordan Ushar and Noah Palubicki got to read the morning announcements - including the joke of the day, which they helped pick out.

"What do you call a boomerang that doesn't come back to you?" asked Vomacka as the three of them tried to decide which joke to use on Friday. "A stick!"

"No, no, we already did that one," Noah told her. So they chose another, which gave them a good chuckle: "What did one wall say to the other? Meet you at the corner!"

Vomacka said being an ambassador encourages responsibility and independence. A lot of teaching and training goes into each team's 'first round' of duties, she said, but by the second go-around, they're on top of things.

"They really are responsible for their ages," said Vomacka. "They take it very seriously."

Vomacka said the ambassadors know that they're "always 'on duty'" - representing the school and acting as role models at all times.

The ambassador program was started at Heart of the Lakes about five years ago. There was talk of starting a student council instead, Vomacka said, but "this allowed more role modeling and direct interaction with kids."

At the end of each year, ambassadors take a field trip to Fargo, N.D., where they tour the Ronald McDonald House and donate pop tabs they've collected throughout the year. They also do some volunteer work while they're there, and then have a celebratory lunch in the park - a reward for all their good work.