Living Large

We all know how much goes into managing a chapter of National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, or student council. It can be a daunting task, particularly when your membership reaches more than 100 students. As a chapter adviser for the last seven years, I’ve seen membership grow and finally plateau at about 115 members annually. Every year there are new challenges, but something I’m always working on is how to effectively manage that many students while giving them worthwhile experiences and leadership opportunities. Consider implementing some of these ideas to make the most of your time, even with a large chapter.

Hold Springtime Induction Ceremonies and Elections

If possible, hold your induction or officer installation ceremony in the spring before the end of the school year. We do this at Daniel Wright Junior High School in Lincolnshire, IL, and then we hold a meeting for the election of officers the following week. It’s a quick turnaround, but it makes the following school year much easier and the graduating officers are still in school to run the induction or installation ceremony. Because these students sat through the same ceremony the year before, they know what happens without much preparation.

By having members and officers secured before the end of the school year, work can continue over the summer. When you have 100 members, they are thirsty for community service hours and concerned about how they will accomplish them with so many of their peers looking for hours as well. In our city, several community groups such as youth sports associations and the town hall reach out to me over the summer for volunteers. Just a few quick emails and a Google Doc sign-up is all it takes to help students earn their hours. This helps students stay organized and manage their time. Students are often involved in so many clubs and sports that they may struggle to complete their hours during the school year. By giving them a head start over the summer, many students complete their community service hours before the school year begins.

Furthermore, when officers are elected the year before, you can work with the administration to create a schedule that will help your group. My first year as an adviser, I only saw one of my officers on a daily basis in class. After that year, I requested that I teach the NJHS president sometime throughout the day so we could at least touch base every day. When events were just around the corner, this proved crucial to the success of the event. After a few years, the schedule at the school changed, and an advisory time was worked into the day. Working with the administration, I was able to have an advisory period consisting of all the NJHS officers and the members of a mentor group I had created.

At Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, IL, the NHS chapter has more than 550 members annually. Head adviser Brett Erdmann has a 12-member student executive board that he meets with during eighth period each day. During these meetings, students plan events and learn skills to effectively expand the capacity of the organization to serve the community.

Make the Most of Meetings

With more than 100 students and five officers in NJHS, each officer has about 20 students to manage. Besides taking attendance at meetings, my officers’ main charge is to organize all the completed service hours by their assigned members. Last year, my secretary exported the NJHS roster into a Google spreadsheet. After sharing it with the officers and me, the records for all hours were located in one spot. In a district with 1:1 technology, every student’s hours are readily available. At the beginning of each meeting, officers access the spreadsheet and review hours with their assigned students. In an even larger chapter, this would be logistically impractical. At Stevenson, Erdmann says they use the UGIVE platform (www.ugive.org) for students to search for, register, and log their service hours. Sarah Verschoor, a student who graduated from my NJHS chapter and the Stevenson NHS chapter, liked using the website. “UGIVE is awesome!” she says. “It makes it really easy to get involved and tallies all your service hours in one place.”


Advise
features an activity for meetings in nearly every issue (see “Put This Into Practice”). A hurdle I’ve encountered with these activities is that they often end in discussion. Breaking students down into groups of 20 with one student leader (an officer on the executive board) in a large common room has proven nearly impossible. It’s easy for students to get off task and it’s difficult to hear other students. To combat this, I began breaking the groups down further-groups of 10 students is much more manageable.

By keeping the list of all students who applied for an office on the executive board, I’m able to use said students to lead more successful meetings. With a group of 100, I have nearly 40 students who apply for office annually. I rotate these students through as activity leaders during the meetings. These students have already asked for a leadership role, and they appreciate that their desire to lead has not been forgotten. With this setup, more students are included and students have more meaningful discussions in smaller groups during meetings.

Provide a Variety of Opportunities

When deciding what your chapter or council will accomplish during the school year, start by reflecting on the speeches students gave during the election process. My students are required to mention one idea they have for improving the community—locally or globally—in their speeches. While there is always unintentional repetition across speeches, it lets me know what students are passionate about. When the executive board meets, we discuss how we can creatively address those issues.

At our school, we suffer from fundraising fatigue. With so many other organizations like student council and the parent-teacher organization (PTO) doing fundraising or collection events throughout the year, I try to steer my students away from basic fundraising. I ask students how they can use their talents or give their time to make a difference in the community and involve as many students as possible. Verschoor was not an officer during her time with me in NJHS, but she recalls having the opportunity to run her own service project. “I was so excited to be able to organize and lead a service activity, and it really ignited my passion for service and leadership,” she says.

Taking on one or two big events throughout the school year, as opposed to straight fundraising, gives more students opportunities to take on leadership roles. As an adviser, the first time working on an event with students can be overwhelming. Guiding students through an event that they plan, organize, and operate is a growing experience for all as you watch students discover how to make the event a success.

For example, our chapter hosted an orientation event for incoming fifth graders where the younger students could participate in activities related to the extracurricular activities and fine arts programs. There were 12 events students could choose from, and each student participated in three events. The NJHS officers sought out volunteers to run each activity. The volunteers had to create an activity for the club or fine art they were representing and had to complete paperwork to order supplies for three sessions. This information was added to an event proposal, which was shared with building administration and presented at a PTO meeting to acquire funding. During the event, more than 100 incoming fifth graders did science experiments and art projects, as well as performed the school fight song and played a piece of music after one 45-minute practice. The event was a huge success and provided 40 NJHS students with the opportunity to be leaders.

Another great thing about this event is that the template can be easily replicated for a similar type of activity. We used this template again to invite girls in grades 1–5 to participate in activities with eighth-grade girls. This time the event had a $10 registration fee, and all net proceeds went to a Boys and Girls Club in Chicago.

There is no shame in recycling ideas and using the resources at your disposal. After learning about the freshman mentor program at Stevenson, I re-created the program at the junior high school level. I invited former NJHS members who were part of the high school program to lead an orientation for members. Two students are assigned to each fifth-grade classroom. They teach lessons during advisory once a month on topics ranging from organization to cyber safety. Students created the lessons from a list of topics that fifth-grade teachers provided. The mentors help students with library orientation, lunch mix-ups, and getting everyone involved at school dances. Depending on the number of fifth-grade classrooms, this gives about 20 students a leadership opportunity in an easy-to-manage way. Once the program was up and running, it only required a few emails to schedule monthly lessons.

Support Member Leadership

With a large membership, it won’t be possible for all members to take on a leadership role during the school year. An adviser can easily feel stressed out trying to come up with opportunities for all students or feel disappointed in what the chapter is accomplishing. This past year, I had a student with glowing recommendations and I was expecting her to do great things in NJHS. But as the year progressed, I did not hear much from her. Little did I know that she was initiating and running events for another student council-type club in the school. When I discovered this, I began spending time during meetings to allow students to talk about what they are doing so NJHS can support their work. This year, I’m taking the next step and having a student be an NJHS ambassador for student council and other activities to keep the communication open and to foster inter-curricular support.

Being an NJHS adviser is a great responsibility that grows with increasing membership. With strong organizational skills and the ability to delegate to co-advisers or the executive board, the paperwork becomes a basic part of the job. The real task is creating a chapter that allows students to embody the tenets of the Honor Societies and student council. Creating and distributing leadership roles so each student has a unique and meaningful experience as a member of your organization makes the work of having such a large chapter both manageable and rewarding.


Erinn Vincent is a Spanish teacher and National Junior Honor Society adviser at Daniel Wright Junior High School in Lincolnshire, IL.