One way to get better at something is to ask other people how they think you’re doing, according to a group of Pacific eighth-graders.

Members of the Riverbend School Student Council knew they and their classmates did their fair share of community service work, but they wondered who else knew it. And more importantly, they wondered if they should be doing more.

To test the waters, the Student Council sent letters to 200 local business and organization leaders inviting them to take part in a focus group to discuss school and community relations. Nine individuals turned out for the forum.

Within minutes after the visitors sat down with the students, they found themselves in awe of how savvy eighth-graders are about their own image.

“I was impressed,” said Jim Schwinkendorf, one focus group member. “They were very well prepared to have a discussion.”

Students showed their visitors a video depicting their community work and broke into groups assigning one Student Council member to each community member asking a series of survey questions from the National School Climate Center (NSCC) before taking each on a tour of the school.

Representing the Pacific Partnership was Schwinkendorf, who said the eighth-graders were way ahead of anything he expected from a group of 14-year-olds.

“One of the questions on the survey was did we think the meeting and process was a good idea,” Schwinkendorf said. “Yes, we did.”

Schwinkendorf was so taken with the experience, he said if he were invited back next year, he’d like to have a minute to talk to the students about the Pacific Partnership’s community service examples, saying 14 is a good age to start talking about community involvement.

He was not the only participant who saw an opportunity for the visitors to bring something meaningful to the student forum. One community leader turned the questions on the questioners.

“What do you think we could do to help you achieve your goals?” Jim Briesacher, Pacific fire inspector, asked his young hosts Brook Pulliam and Claire Sutterer.

The students were prepared for the question, listing off several things that the fire department could to help and Briesacher was so taken with the suggestions he asked to meet with Ketina Armstrong, Riverbend School principal, to review the suggestions.

He also took the suggestions back to the fire station where Chief Rick Friedmann signed on to creating a series of short presentations aimed at young people, ages 14 and 15, who want to be part of the community.

“We don’t know yet what the programs will be, but we’ll work with them to help them do what they’re trying to do,” Friedmann said.

What the students want to do, according to Lori Perdew, Riverbend library assistant, is to assess how well the school and the community work together, as well as ways to improve current relations.

In the days following the luncheon meeting, the students will tally up the results of their survey and report on their findings at the Character Education Council meeting in St. Louis in June. 

Lori Perdew will assist with the report.