There is plenty of media out there discussing what students cannot do, like write in cursive or dial a rotary phone. However, we teachers know a secret: When given the opportunity, there are amazing things that our students can do. That is why the National Honor Societies (NHS and NJHS) exist—to empower students to use and expand their leadership and character through service and a commitment to scholarship that will last a lifetime.
As an adviser of your NHS or NJHS chapter, you have the opportunity to impact your students’ lives while in middle school, high school, and long after thanks to new online features and the expansion of the scholarship program. With these new services and college planning tools at their fingertips, students have access to the information and opportunities they need for success now and later.
Being a part of NHS or NJHS can and should be more than just a bullet point on an academic résumé. “Membership is far more than an honor roll,” says Jonathan Mathis, director of National Honor Societies at NASSP. “It represents a multifaceted learning experience, joining members with equally high-achieving peers … to participate in leadership and service experiences that will impact their schools, their communities, and their own lives.”
It’s Never Too Early to Start
Parents are often bombarded with the phrase “It’s never too early to start planning for college.” This is an absolute truth. In fact, according to www.honoryourfuturenow.org, 70 percent of college admissions counselors suggest beginning college preparation by the ninth grade. As an educator, you know that college readiness is much more than securing the funding; there is a maturity and independence needed to succeed in a higher education environment, and it doesn’t always come naturally. Because it’s never too early to start, the National Junior Honor Society is the perfect way to encourage leadership, citizenship, community awareness, and college preparation at the middle school level.
NJHS strives to spark an interest in service, promote citizenship, and serves as an introduction to the concept of NHS. To drive the initiative to “Honor Your Future Now” and prepare for college early, the NJHS Outstanding Achievement Award was created for members who demonstrate the desire to serve above and beyond what is expected—leaders like Tabitha Taylor of William Davies Middle School in Mays Landing, NJ. She created a program to teach other middle school girls about autism and promoted acceptance of differences by organizing a low-sensory game night for autistic children, their families, and the community.
The NJHS Outstanding Achievement Award is awarded to 500 students in the form of a $500 college savings fund managed by OppenheimerFunds (OFI Private Investments). Students may only be nominated by their chapter advisers, so it is important to stay abreast of application openings and deadlines in early 2017.
Much like NHS, offering the challenge of leadership to middle school students can help develop skills that will set students up for success. Doug Neway, father of an NJHS student officer, says the growth he witnessed in his daughter was particularly valuable at this stage in her life. “With the emotional and intellectual development that takes place in middle school, I believe that NJHS was a great influence on my daughter. It maintained a focus and attention to volunteer opportunities, leadership, as well as good grades,” Neway says. The opportunity to act as a student officer for NJHS fostered her “advanced planning skills, accountability, and pride in the establishment,” he says. A strong NJHS program can benefit the students, school, and community as well as enhance the prospects for membership in NHS at the high school level.
Advice from Alumni: Empower the Leaders
Student-led service projects provide students the chance for project-based learning. Empowering students to brainstorm, strategize, organize, and follow through on these projects are some of the best things an adviser can do for his or her chapter, NHS members say. In fact, NHS Scholarship winner and NHS alumnus Kali Horn says advisers should “always be open and present at every meeting while allowing us to run the meeting.” This ensures that the experience is meaningful to student members. “NHS should be run by the students because it provides them with unique leadership opportunities, and they might just surprise you with the ideas they come up with,” Horn says. As for Horn’s NHS experience, her favorite service projects included “goody bags” for the homeless of metro Denver—packaged and delivered by the students—and a community yard sale of donated items with profits benefiting local food banks.
Mathis agrees, “Let this truly be a student organization. Lead—don’t DO—the students’ work. Find ways to guide chapter members without dictating or smothering the process.” Nurturing creativity and empowering enterprise is what gives this experience meaning for students and makes sponsorship manageable for advisers. When NHS and NJHS chapters empower members, everyone wins—the students gain experience and confidence, the schools gain student leadership, and the community benefits from the service.
NHS member Marianne Hughes of Elizabeth High School in Elizabeth, CO, reminds advisers to think local. “Really promote local initiatives that affect the lives of students and community members,” she says. “Many are willing to support distant impoverished peoples or popular service projects promoted by celebrities, but not everyone who has the opportunity to give back to their school or town takes it.” While foreign and distant causes are still an excellent choice, exposure to local challenges has a deep impact on students and fuels passion for one’s own community.
College and Career Readiness in Your Corner
When it comes to preparing the next class of students for life beyond the bell, NHS and NJHS members have an advantage: “Members benefit from access to exclusive college and career readiness tools such as webinars, virtual college fairs, the prestigious NHS Scholarship program and NJHS Outstanding Achievement Award, in addition to leadership development and student empowerment conferences and workshops,” Mathis says.
To stay up-to-date with deadlines, new happenings, and other exciting opportunities, Mathis suggests checking your email and NHS/NJHS social media regularly. Remember that the national office does not contact students directly, so it’s your responsibility to pass along pertinent information. NHS and NJHS are on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and important information about programs, services, deadlines, and other topics are communicated via social media. Be sure to repost, share, or forward important information to your students.
College and Scholarship Searching in the 21st Century
In 2015, NHS rolled out new member-only features to help high-achieving students navigate their college and scholarship search efforts. Now, with a little guidance from advisers, NHS members can utilize technology to make the search a little easier. Check out these opportunities:
- Searching for scholarships in 2016 can be overwhelming. If your students’ strategy is to Google “apply for scholarships,” they will find themselves sifting through over 52 million search results! Encourage your students to utilize the Scholar Dollars search tool at www.nhs.us/scholardollars. It filters results to legitimate scholarship opportunities for students who meet the membership requirements for NHS. As a trusted resource in partnership with the College Board and Get Schooled Foundation, NHS Scholar Dollars will ensure your students’ time will be used more efficiently.
- The NHS Scholarship is an accessible opportunity for members. Starting last school year, this prestigious scholarship was opened to all senior members in good standing with their chapter! Advisers no longer need to identify and nominate a few students-each student can apply through the NHS website. There is a great video tutorial that not only explains the scholarship, but also offers tips for the application process at www.nhs.us/scholarship. Make sure your students do not miss out on the opportunity to earn one of the 400 awards totaling $1 million to be given out for the 2016-17 school year.
- High-achieving students can easily have a long list of college possibilities. Help your students narrow the field by encouraging them to participate in the NHS Virtual College Fair. You’ll find information under the “College Admission and Planning” tab of the NHS student website.
Remember that the bigger goal for NHS and NJHS is to empower the students to be leaders in the future. The best way to help students succeed is to get them into college. It’s a team effort, and you’re playing the role of coach. NHS and NJHS are prepared to help with the encouragement, but they depend on you to empower the students to be the best leaders and citizens they can be.
Ultimately, the hope is that all NHS and NJHS alumni will graduate and go on to college with positive memories and skills from their membership. Recent NHS scholarship winner Mira Patel from Streamwood High School in Streamwood, IL, can sum up her experience in NHS in one word: cherish. “Through National Honor Society, I’ve gained tremendous insight on how I can increase my potential by giving back to society alongside maintaining my scholarship and the values that come with being a dedicated student,” she says. “The lessons that I’ve learned have altered my perspective, and I will always cherish the opportunities I was given by this prestigious organization.”
The organization has tools and support right at your fingertips. Do not miss the chance to make your NHS and NJHS chapter a benefit to students and the community. Take your students on a tour of the website to see all the potential it has to offer. Explore www.nhs.us/students or www.njhs.us/students with your members—it’s a great way to jump-start ideas and inspiration, as well as to glean information on many membership opportunities. Frequent the social media outlets for NHS and NJHS. Ensure that your email filters are set to accept all NHS and NJHS communications, and find effective ways to share this information with your chapter members. Your NHS or NJHS chapter needs you to help make 2016–17 all it can be, and it’s never been easier! Visit www.nhs.us or www.njhs.us with your students for all the support, ideas, and helpful links you need to empower your leaders to succeed.
Laura Watts in an Indiana-based freelance writer and former social studies teacher.