SLMS STUCO leads peers



SLMS STUCO leads peers, interviews Olympic swimmer

by Ricki Stein, Community Engagement Coordinator

What do Olympic champion Katie Ledecky and SLMS Student Council (STUCO) have in common? Spanish teacher Señora (Sra.) González! 

Katie and Sra. Laura González are cousins. Katie, 23, who lives in Washington, D.C. and studies psychology at Stanford University in California, won five Olympic gold medals and 15 world championship gold medals, the most in history for a female swimmer. Sra. González never swam competitively, but she knows many SLMS students who do, including one of her Spanish students, Brianna, who is a huge Katie fan. 

Back in January STUCO officers, all eighth graders, started planning for the scheduled April 24th interview with Katie. They were going to introduce Katie to the entire student body during a live streaming video conference assembly.

Then schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The school wide assembly was no longer an option, but STUCO officers could still interview Katie through a smaller live Google Meet video conference. 

STUCO advisor Mrs. Kim Halloran, a seventh grade Academic Literacy teacher, joined the group as well. The two teachers thought that including all 39 members (including 19 eighth graders) of STUCO would make the session unwieldy. 

“We really wanted it to go smoothly since we were recording it,” Mrs. Halloran said. “We decided just to have the officers plus Brianna interview her.”

Officers wrote questions in January, then had to add and change some based on the pandemic conditions. They even practiced interviewing so that it would be organized when they actually talked to Katie. The officers, plus super fan Brianna, conducted the interview April 24 through Google Meet video conference.

“In addition to swimming, Katie’s passion is education. In fact, it’s her number one priority and value in life, even ahead of swimming!” said Sra. González. “She loves working with and inspiring middle school students.”

Sra. González’s goal for the opportunity was “the chance to interview someone who inspires students and athletes to pursue their passions, set goals, work hard, and persevere. I was very excited for Katie to meet our amazing students at Southern Lehigh Middle School.”

STUCO president, Keelen, was excited to ask Katie questions and impressed that the Olympian had been a STUCO member in school. 

“I learned that she started practicing really hard from a young age,” she said. “That was very motivating because she went to her first Olympic trial at the age of fourteen, which is my age right now. That just shows me how much I could accomplish if I put my mind to it and work hard! Whatever I do, I will work my hardest at!”

Brianna swims for Emmaus Aquatic Club, which participates in USA Swimming meets. She  swims freestyle and breaststroke events for Short Course and Long Course Swimming through Mid-Atlantic Swimming. She runs track for SLMS and wants to swim and run at SLHS, as well as join Student Government. 

“I am excited about contributing to events that I can volunteer my time with. It is a way for me to give back to my school, outside sports,” Brianna said. “I didn’t realize that Katie is so well-rounded. She did various activities and sports and didn’t start to specialize in swimming until she was 12. That really hit home for me, because I was someone who came late to swimming as well. I was 12 when I started swimming competitively. My long term goal is to swim in college.”

The teachers understand the importance of students developing well rounded skills. Mrs. Halloran said she was a cheerleader at rival Salisbury High School. She earned a BS in Secondary English Education from East Stroudsburg University and a Master’s in Education from Arcadia University. She taught 15 years at North Penn School District before joining the SLMS faculty six years ago. She also advises NJHS (National Junior Honor Society).

Mrs. Halloran said she took on STUCO because, “I like bringing out the leadership ability in kids, showing them that they have the ability to make a difference. It’s great to see how many of them really grow during the time that we work with them.”

Sra. González has worked at SLMS for 15 years and currently teaches seventh grade Exploratory Spanish and eighth grade Level I Spanish. She grew up in a small town north of New York City, where she attended Monroe-Woodbury High School and played volleyball and basketball. She also loves biking, hiking, and running. She earned her BA in psychology at Lehigh University and a Master’s in Spanish at Millersville University. Before joining the SLMS faculty, she worked as a research editor for Rodale Press in Emmaus, specifically Prevention Magazine.

STUCO keeps a busy schedule all year long. Members organize three dances a year; help with pep rallies, some assemblies, Open House, Red Ribbon Week, Orientation, Hoops for Heart for the Sassy Massey Tournament, the end-of-year picnic, and Party on Preston. They also organize TinyTHON (in support of the high school’s MiniTHON). They visit the two elementary schools and intermediate school to read with students for Read Across America. They also write petitions to change things, such as academic team names, which are now Greek letters. 

“My favorite thing about STUCO is getting to help around the school and being trusted with a lot of responsibilities,” said Keelen. “I also love working with others and figuring out how to overcome challenges. I have gained leadership, determination, and responsibility from being on the Student Council. I remember when we came up from the intermediate school for a tour of the middle school, I thought it was so cool how the Student Council members were showing us around. I wanted to do what they were doing and have the opportunity to be a leader and help others out. I would love to join the Student Council at the high school or join some club that will help out the school and give us the opportunity to be leaders and have lots of responsibilities.”

During the interview, students learned that Katie is currently training at home by stretching, doing some cardio and lifting weights. The 2020 Olympics have been postponed for a year and Olympic length pools (50 meters) are closed for the pandemic. 

“She adjusted her training by doing more dryland workouts,” Brianna said. “There are other global meets for her all year round. She gave me exercise ideas for dryland workouts since we can’t get in the pool. It’s hard to maintain the same level of activity that I was used to during this time. I found that very helpful. She also gave great advice about how to mentally handle a bad swim. We can’t always drop time in every race. It’s important to review each race with your coach for stroke technique advice.” 

Readers with access can watch the video here.

I found it extremely motivating and inspiring. As a swimmer, I find her amazing, but as a person, she was so down to earth and easy to talk to,” Brianna said. “She really seemed to enjoy our call and said that we asked better questions than most journalists.”