Members of Aliso Niguel High’s ASB, including Activities Director Carrie Ross, right, won the National Gold Council of Excellence award. Photo by Steven Georges/CUSD Insider

Two CUSD high school ASB programs win national recognition

By Theresa Cisneros

Two Capistrano Unified School District high schools recently clinched top honors in a national awards program recognizing strong student council groups that help improve their campus and their community through their leadership activities.

Aliso Niguel and Dana Hills high schools have both been named 2024 National Councils of Excellence by the National Association of Student Councils, and are among only 10 schools in the state to earn gold level recognition.

The annual awards recognize middle and high school student councils across the country that meet high standards and integrate leadership, voice, engagement, and student service into their programs.

“The students put so much heart into the events they plan,” said Activities Director Carrie Ross, who oversees Aliso Niguel’s Associated Student Body program. “It’s nice to be able to see the recognition and that validation for what we do for the school and what we’re doing for our community and have it rewarded for all that success.”

Aliso Niguel High ASB Activities Director Carrie Ross talks about the National Gold Council of Excellence ASB award the school received.
Photo by Steven Georges/CUSD Insider

This is the first time that Aliso Niguel has received the award, said Ross, who came to Aliso Niguel from Dana Hills High School at the start of the school year and is focused on building up the program.

So far, interest in the school’s ASB class is increasing, Ross said, with enrollment growing from 46 this year to an anticipated 61 next year. Participants can hold elected positions like president or vice president, or be appointed to commissioner positions that oversee areas like athletics, activities, social media, and graphics.

Aliso Niguel’s ASB students have successfully tackled big undertakings this year, Ross said, including staging homecoming festivities, working with the campus’ automotive program to hold a car show, and organizing the school’s back-to-school tailgate dubbed “Tealgate.”

While participants have fun planning events for their peers and community, they’re also gaining valuable life skills that will help them succeed in college and in their career, Ross said.

ASB members are given a high level of responsibility, Ross said, and have the opportunity to help manage sizable budgets, conduct transactions, collaborate with school staff and community members, plan homecoming events and halftime shows for thousands of people, and more. In the process, Ross said, students learn about time management, communication, teamwork, outreach, and other real-world concepts.

“ASB is truly a leadership class,” she said. “They’re not only leading amongst their peers, but they’re learning professional skills. They get so many hands-on, skill-driven lessons.”

ASB President Sabrina Leisner says she’s learned a lot about organization, delegation, time management, and how to better engage with others by being a part of ASB all four years of high school.

Aliso Niguel High’s ASB members include, from left, ASB Activities Director Carrie Ross, Sabrina Leisner, 18, Sierra Yoon, 17, Rajul Kashyat, 16, and Megan Carpenter, 18.
Photo by Steven Georges/CUSD Insider

Leisner, a graduating senior who will study marine biology at the University of Oregon in the fall, said she’s excited about the award and hopes that it inspires underclassmen to build on her team’s legacy.

“We worked super hard,” she said. “I think it’s a really big pat on the back for everyone. And it’s good motivation for us to keep going.”

At Dana Hills, the Associated Student Union has earned gold distinction six times, said Activities Director Sandy Mesa, who oversees the group. The award is a reflection of the program’s ongoing excellence and student leaders aim to keep that momentum going year after year, she said.

“The kids are really happy that they can continue something that was established before they even were students at Dana,” she said.

There are 73 students in Dana Hills’ ASU class, which, like Aliso, teaches students about leadership, budgeting, communication, and other concepts through hands-on experiences.

This year, Dana Hills ASU students focused heavily on reaching out to future Dolphins, Mesa said, as a way to “pay it forward.”

The group staged dances for local feeder schools through its Pod Productions company, giving ASU participants experience with quotes, invoices and contracts, and the chance to build community between current and prospective students.

ASU students also provided peer tutoring, classroom help, and fundraiser assistance to the R.H. Dana Elementary community this year through the Kids Helping Kids program.

As they look ahead to next school year, ASU participants are committed to maintaining the integrity of the program for the benefit of those to come, Mesa said.

“A focus for us in our program is to learn all of these skills and leave our program better than they found it,” she said. “They learned so much along the way that they’ve improved the quality of the program. And so it’s better for the next generation that’s going to come through.”

At Aliso Niguel, students and staff are also planning for the future by aiming to expand the school’s ASB program and improving upon this year’s success, Ross said. Next year, the school will have the largest ASB class in the school’s history, she said.

Participants will focus on “elevating the student experience,” Ross said, by encouraging more students to attend football and basketball games, and get more involved on campus through clubs, lunchtime activities, and other avenues.

“We have amazing teachers and staff that are really invested in the school culture and I’m just excited to see what we can do,” Ross said. “Because when you have that many people that are excited about making a positive impact in students’ lives, you’re going to see good results.”

“This award means a lot to my program,” she added, “and is a good sign for the future that the sky’s the limit for this group.”

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