Haley Rodden is 11. At lunchtime at , she leaves class with her fifth grade classmates, but instead of going to recess she goes to the lunchroom where the kindergarten students are already sitting at their tables.
She sits down with Ms. Sanderson’s class, and starts to eat. But before she gets too far into her own lunch, she is pulled away to help a younger student. She might open a thermos top, tear open a tube of yogurt or calm a disconcerted child.
The kindergartners like having Haley at their table. "She’s nice," said one. "She always helps us," said another.
Haley makes sure the kids follow school rules. She has them stay seated as they eat, reminds them to face forward in their seats, and refocuses them on eating when their talking gets to be too much.
On May 6, in recognition of her lunch-time efforts, Haley was awarded the "Excellence in Leadership" award from Boost! Leadership, an Alameda organization devoted to teaching leadership to young people.
"Haley embodies every skill I try to teach my students at Edison and Otis schools," said Lissa Merit of Boost!, who runs a leadership development programs at the two Alameda elementaries. "When I heard about Haley, I was impressed and felt it needed to be recognized," Merit said. In addition to a certificate recognizing her commitment to her community, Haley won a scholarship to a Boost! summer camp.
After lunch, Haley helps the 75 kindergartners line up. She even had them repeat after her, “If you do not stay in a single file line, you will not go to recess." Then she leads the line of them out to the playground.
Outside, Haley stays with them while they play, tying shoes, managing conflicts, pushing kids on the swing, and offering comfort for the inevitable minor injuries of schoolyard play.
Bay Farm teachers and staff say the recognition is well-deserved.
"I have seen her helping my students solve problems on the recess yard," said Anne Geis, a Bay Farm kindergarten teacher. "She models how to solve disagreements using their words."
"The kids like Haley and feel comfortable with her. She gives up her own recess in order to do this," said Geis. "
“She’s wonderful!” said Frank Munoz, Bay Farm's head custodian, who says Haley has a knack for spotting a child who is in need of help. She'll take them aside, talk to them, help make it better. "She's kind and sensitive and really good with younger children," Munoz said.
“Yes, she is the boss of the playground,” said one kindergartner.