By Leonard Shapiro
Axel Arellano admits he never saw it coming. But Middleburg Academy Head of School Colley Bell said he never had any doubts when he and the outgoing Prefects made the final choice to select the senior to fill one of the most important student leadership positions on campus.
Arellano is the head prefect this academic year, leading a group of four outstanding students selected for those roles by the faculty, their peers and ultimately Bell. His prefect colleagues are fellow seniors David Penney, Lana Bennett and Coco Chen.
According to Kasey Morris, the school's admissions officer, "prefects embody the highest level of student leadership at Middleburg Academy. They oversee all aspects of student leadership and work with the faculty and administration to ensure that the school's motto - Learn. Lead, and Serve. - is successfully engaged."
The Prefect program began five years ago in Bell's second year. It's based on a system set up by Thomas Arnold, a leading 19th century education reformer at England's Rugby School. Arnold once described Rugby as having a prevailing atmosphere of "anarchy tempered by despotism." He tried to instill an ethos of honor, moral values and personal commitment and wanted prefects to set an example for younger pupils.
Bell and his wife, Edwina, also a school administrator, both had been advisers to Arellano and said they saw in him all the qualities of the perfect prefect. He was an outstanding student, a dedicated athlete and seemed to gain the respect of the faculty and fellow students with every passing year.
"He was the whole package," Edwina Bell said. "We could see it in the way he carried himself and the respect he got from the other students. We don’t have locks on the lockers. We don’t have issues with bullying. Our younger students know that's not acceptable because they see the example set by our student leaders."
The prefects meet twice a week to discuss various issues. They make recommendations on the student code of conduct. They're encouraged to tell Bell when a rule or a program doesn't seem to be working.
They run school meetings, work with student council officers and always try to make themselves available, particularly to younger students who may not be familiar with the school's culture. They most definitely are not meant to be "tattletales,” the prying eyes and ears of teachers and administrators.
Just as an example, if Axel sees something on social media that's not appropriate, he'll tell that student 'hey, knock that off.'" Colley Bell said. "He doesn't have to report back to me. He doesn't have to drag that student into the office."
Arellano said he and his fellow prefects strive to make certain none of their fellow students ever feel alone or left out. “At the start of the year,” he said, “you want to make every student comfortable. If you see somebody sitting by themselves, we’ll go over and make sure it doesn’t stay that way. Younger students come to us all the time. They sometimes feel a little bit overwhelmed, and I’ll ask other kids to go talk to them, too.”
Arellano himself is rather soft spoken and unassuming. Colley Bell knew he was a quiet type when he had him his history class as a junior. But he also notices that the senior prefects also seemed to gravitate toward him.
Bell recalled that “when I asked the former prefects if they thought he’s be able to express himself to other students, they all said “‘oh yeah, you don’t have to worry about Axel.”
Arellano hopes to attend Virginia Tech to study engineering, and the prefect program surely will be a feather in his cap. For now though, he’s focused in his responsibility at Middleburg Academy.
“He’s going to have a great year,” Colley Bell said. “he is making a difference here.”