JHS student leaders coming up with solutions to improve culture

About 50 student leaders from Jamestown High School attended the Summit for Success.

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From left, Elaina Stockert, Abigail Heinle, Sofia Williams and Brooke Wickens are part of the sociology with an emphasis on leadership class at Jamestown High School. The class helped put on the Summit for Success where students come up with ideas for solutions and strategies to help improve cultural competence, equity, overall school culture and student behavior expectations
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

JAMESTOWN — Jamestown High School students are coming up with ideas for solutions and strategies to help improve cultural competence, equity, overall school culture and student behavior expectations.

About 50 student leaders from Jamestown High School attended a two-day Summit for Success on March 15-16. Social studies teacher Ben Smith said the three main points of the summit were to inspire learners, empower leaders and transform culture.

Jamestown High School Principal Adam Gehlhar said he was inspired by the students on how they worked together and their ideas.

I truly came out of it changed and inspired and ready to make a change at JHS. We don’t have to be viewed the way that we were viewed and I firmly believe that the first step to maintaining our tradition of excellence is the Summit for Success.
Gradin Thorlakson, freshman at Jamestown High School

“They are very perceptive about both the strengths of our school and some of the opportunities that we have for growth too,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting because they are our future and if they are practicing leadership skills at this level, I’m excited for what they do when they become adults as well.”

Most students at the summit were underclassmen, but Smith said there was a fair representation of the student body at the summit.


“I think everyone that was there represented a section of Jamestown High School whether that be from racial demographics to social economics to activities,” he said. “... It wasn’t just the people that are captains of the sports teams or the people that are presidents of their club.”

Senior Sofia Williams said the underclassmen are younger and they can do more with the ideas. Sophomore Dominick Ambers said younger students have plenty of good ideas as well and the only way to get those is to give them a voice.

In his statement on the completion of the investigation into a Jan. 31 incident at a basketball game at Jamestown High School, Superintendent Rob Lech included the completion of a two-day summit on March 15-16 as one of seven additional actions to improve the environment of the Jamestown Public School District.

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Jamestown High School freshman Dominick Ambers talks Thursday, March 23, 2023, about what he learned at the Summit for Success.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

The school district investigated the incident of the game between Bismarck and Jamestown high schools when racial taunts or actions were directed toward minority players from Bismarck. The investigation determined that an administrator supervising the event did not act on a particular issue because the official thought it was not racially motivated and there was a general failure to adequately supervise fan conduct during the game. The investigation also found that a small number of Jamestown student fans engaged in varying levels of inappropriate conduct that were offensive, discriminatory and racially or culturally insensitive.

Students in Smith’s class on sociology with an emphasis on leadership helped put on the Summit for Success. He said his class learns looks into culture, problems and solutions.

“Initially, I changed the structure of this class a little bit to look at the society within our own roles,” he said. “Through that, we already made different proposals and things like that to make our school a better place while learning how people interact and how culture influences people as well. We’ve looked at how we can improve our … lunch system. …These students are looking outside the box of their lives, their culture and their school.”

Smith said individuals made a mistake during the Jan. 31 game but the actions of 10 to 15 individuals do not represent the entire school district.

“Unfortunately, that’s what got thrust into the spotlight, but I think coming from that, we wanted to show that we are much more than 10 students that made a mistake,” he said.


Senior Abigail Heinle said very few students out of 750 made those actions at the game and not all students are like that.

“There are things that we can change about it and that’s why we are doing this to work toward it,” she said, referring to the Summit for Success.

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Freshmen Gradin Thorlakson, left, and Carter Genter are students in a class on sociology with an emphasis on leadership. Thorlakson said the Summit for Success inspired him to help make a change at Jamestown High School.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Williams said the actions during the Jan. 31 game should not have happened and don’t support what the Blue Jays stand for. She said Jamestown High School students don’t want to come off as people who want to degrade others for simply playing a game.

“That night it definitely came out that way based on a couple of students' behaviors,” she said. “But, the Summit for Success was meant to educate us on why that’s wrong and why that’s something that should have never happened.”

Purpose of the summit

Senior Brooke Wickens said part of the purpose of the Summit for Success was to promote a feeling of inclusivity as a result of the Jan. 31 basketball game. She said the event got many students together and pushed them toward a common goal.

“We were the ones who talked about problems that we saw in our school culture, and we talked about solutions that we think we could implement to improve our school culture,” she said.

Ambers said one of the main reasons for the summit was to change school culture so actions like what happened during the Jan. 31 game don’t ever happen again. He added that the summit also encouraged student leaders to change their own friends' groups, so they can educate others to make sure similar actions during the Jan. 31 game don’t occur again.

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Brooke Wickens, a senior at Jamestown High School, talks Thursday, March 23, 2023, about the Summit for Success that was held March 15-16.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

At the summit, Wickens said student groups were formed naturally so solutions would be presented based on common interests and problems they saw.


“Based off of similar interests of people we don’t know, we created a poster and stuff like that to show and influence our ideas to others,” Ambers said.

Ambers said the summit also inspired students to talk and hang out with other individuals they don’t know. He said students don’t need to understand someone to get to know them. He said the summit helped students gather other ideas for solutions from others that they may not have thought of.

Williams said the summit helped show other students who don’t have a leadership role all the time how they can be leaders in their own situations whether that is at their lunch table or at sporting events. She said it gives those students background information on how to implement what they learned into their life.

“It can start with just the people in this room but the more people that we have with this type of information, it will implement a lot better and faster and it will be … an easier process overall,” she said.

Gehlhar said students discussed some of the powers of influence that peers have but peer pressure can also be positive.

“So when it comes to things like school safety, school culture and just even what they want out of their high school experience, student voice really matters,” he said.

Heinle said student leaders need to be created to stand up to others whose actions are morally wrong.

“I feel like if it’s coming from a student, it’s more powerful than an administrator,” she said. “If it came from a student … it would hit closer to home.”


Solutions to improve on issues

Smith said students focused on problems but also the solutions to improve on the issues.

“We focused on problems, but we really want to focus on solutions and not just be like this is what’s wrong,” he said. “We want to focus on what we can change.”

Wickens said weaknesses identified had common themes such as safety, inclusivity, compassion and communication. But, students would also come up with solutions or recommendations on how to improve on those weaknesses.

“One solution that was pretty heavily discussed was we want to see an increase in student involvement and student engagement in other activities, a little more interest in activities outside of their own,” she said. She said a system could be potentially created for students to get points for attending other events outside of their own extracurricular activities to encourage a sense of community and understanding.

Smith said the class will discuss with other students all of the ideas from the summit and how to implement the solutions.

“It was kind of refreshing to have this kind of responsibility placed on us,” Williams said. “This class is … sociology with an emphasis on leadership so it gave us a really good chance to take on that leadership role and do something big with it that impacts our schools for years to come.”

Gehlhar said students came up with the idea that they would like to have another summit this spring. He said he wasn’t sure about the frequency of having the summits.

“We know we want to have a follow up this spring to keep that energy and momentum going,” he said. “Then, definitely into next year, having that periodically whether that’s monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly to be able to keep the conversation going or in some cases to even respond to new challenges or opportunities that we have as a school to engage students in that because it’s a shared experience that we are trying to create and prepare them for their future.”


Freshman Gradin Thorlakson said he is hopeful that another summit can be held this spring. He said at first he thought of the summit as a cool event and him getting two days off of school.

“I truly came out of it changed and inspired and ready to make a change at JHS,” he said. “We don’t have to be viewed the way that we were viewed and I firmly believe that the first step to maintaining our tradition of excellence is the Summit for Success.”

Masaki Ova joined The Jamestown Sun in August 2021 as a reporter. He grew up on a farm near Pingree, N.D. He majored in communications at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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