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Quaker Valley Middle School teacher honored for work as student council advisor

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Sewickley Herald
Quaker Valley Middle School social studies teacher R.J. Long sits amongst students inside of his classroom at Anthony Wayne Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. Long was recently named Advisor of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of Student Councils. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald

For R.J. Long, teaching students involves more than a classroom and homework assignments.

Long, an eighth-grade social studies teacher, has spent the last eight years as Quaker Valley Middle School's Student Council advisor, promoting leadership skills for pre-teens.

His work as adviser led to him to being named the Middle Level 2012 Adviser of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of Student Councils.

He now is a nominee for the National Association of Student Councils National Middle School Student Council Award that will be presented at the national conference in June in Las Vegas.

Long said he encourages students to become active members in their community.

“If you have any desire to do anything with your school, get involved,” Long said he tells students.

He was nominated for the honor by student Izzy Olive, who, in her nomination letter wrote that Long's “dedication to student council is evident to anyone who has the honor of meeting him. Never has a single teacher made such an impact on the students they advise. He promotes citizenship, scholarship, integrity and courage.”

His involvement began while Long was a student in high school, he said.

“I had a really influential adviser who got me involved with presenting at workshops and conferences, and actually got me into teaching,” he said. “I had such a phenomenal experience.”

Long began teaching at Quaker Valley Middle School in 2005 and has been the school's Student Council adviser ever since.

About five years ago, the school dropped an election process for student council members, welcoming any student who wants to join. Under the previous system, each homeroom selected a representative to attend meetings.

The representative system was “counter-intuitive to deny kids the right to serve if they want to,” Long said.

“It really helps them, at an early age, to develop some priorities about what they find valuable in school cocurricular-wise.

“The response has been overwhelming.”

About 70 kids in grades six through eight are on student council, he said.

The program is divided into three committees — spirit, service and social — with each group focusing on various activities.

Long said students self-select where they'd like to serve.

Under Long's guidance, student council members have been active participants with many nonprofit community groups, including Center for Hope in Ambridge, where students last year donated more than one ton of food.

The efforts of student council are residual as children and their families have began offering help to Center for Hope on their own, Long said.

“That's the coolest thing — you provide them with an experience and then they're able to take it and make it much more personal for themselves,” he said.

Outside of Quaker Valley, Long serves as the student council association District 3 director, serving the 43 school districts of Allegheny County.

His responsibilities include managing all student council activities and conferences throughout District 3, including middle school mini-leadership conferences in the fall and a district-wide leadership conference in the spring.

Long also has worked at the association's Summer Leadership Workshops for the past 12 years.

Middle School Principal Sean Aiken said Long has a “passion for seeing middle school students step into roles of leadership.

“He believes that all students can lead through service and that service for school is a practice that will equip students with a lifelong service mindset. They not only learn the value of leadership and service, they begin to understand the value of collaboration.”

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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