As a former student council member, Robert "R.J." Long, eighth-grade social studies teacher at Quaker Valley Middle School, knows how important the organization can be for students.
So when he was asked to be the student council adviser as part of his duties when he was hired at the district eight years ago, he jumped at the chance.
"My own middle school student council adviser was so influential in my life when I was growing up," said Mr. Long, a graduate of Knoch High School in the South Butler School District.
It was an agreement that paid off for the district and for Mr. Long.
Mr. Long recently was awarded the Middle Level 2012 Adviser of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of Student Councils.
Mr. Long was nominated by middle school principal Sean Aiken and Izzy Olive, the 2011-12 student council president.
"I feel like I'm the one who is super lucky and super blessed just to have a great job and be able to lead the students," Mr. Long said.
Mr. Long has been with the district for eight years, since he finished his undergraduate degree, at a time when other college graduates had a difficult time finding teaching positions in Western Pennsylvania.
"I was offered the job on May 12 and graduated May 19th. I am just so lucky," he said.
In one of his first actions in his new role, Mr. Long said he did away with election process for student council roles with the exception of the top four slots.
"It can end up as a huge popularity contest that way and you can get students who are there for the wrong reason," he said. Students need to write an essay on why they want to be on the council and get 25 signatures to serve, Mr. Long said.
"We find that we get students who are far more engaged. Right now, we have about a tenth of the student body involved, which is a very high number," he said.
Mr. Aiken said Mr. Long is deserving of his recent honor.
"He provides a lot of leadership training with the students, and those who are trained come back and train others," Mr. Aiken said. "But one of R.J.'s best attributes is that he trusts the students to carry out their own projects." The leadership training provides the foundation for that trust, Mr. Aiken said. "And the projects come off flawlessly. You would be amazed at some of our students' projects."
In addition to his roles with Quaker Valley, Mr. Long is very involved with PASC including serving as the director of PASC District 3, the district that serves Allegheny County's 43 school districts. Mr. Long also oversees student council activities and conferences throughout District 3, including middle school mini-leadership conferences and a district-wide leadership conference.
Mr. Long received a trophy and plaque at the state conference for school advisers. He will also represent Pennsylvania at the National Association of Student Councils National Middle School Student Council Awards in June.
"It was so humbling, but you don't do something like this for the recognition or a paycheck," Mr. Long said. "I do it because I love it. I work with such a great group of kids. I'm the lucky one."
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.