Paving the Way to Excellence

They go hand-in-hand: National Honor Society and its younger companion, National Junior Honor Society. However, the passage to high school does not guarantee membership into NHS. The younger set must earn their spot, and advisers can offer a helping hand.

In high school, the selection of clubs, sports, and other extracurricular activities widens from a one-lane road to an eight-lane highway. Some students are pulled in other directions because they have a stronger interest in the thespian troupe or playing trombone. Others may go into academic overload, feeling like they can’t juggle a more rigorous course load of classes like trigonometry and AP English with clubs.

While there’s no definitive data to indicate the number of students who carry on their membership from NJHS to NHS in later years, the National Honor Society has a clear-cut edge over many other high school organizations, according to representatives from the NHS national office.

The NHS national office describes it this way: “National Honor Society is a distinctive, multifaceted learning experience that provides a springboard for life. Members enjoy unique benefits such as access to college admission planning webinars, as well as the opportunity to seek scholarship support, leadership development, and service-learning experiences. By continuing to demonstrate the scholarship, service, leadership, and character that earned them membership, they are able to best prepare themselves for college and career success.”

That’s where NJHS advisers come in. Advisers can help steer NJHS members in the direction of NHS. Lori Elvrom couldn’t agree more. Her NHS membership at Curtis Senior High School in University Place, WA, is teeming with 240 members. She and co-adviser Keeley Flaherty had no trouble luring students to NHS. “The culture at our school is ‘it’s cool to be smart,’ and it’s considered very cool to be in Honor Society,” she says. Coincidentally, the Curtis Junior High NJHS chapter shares these views, and the Elvrom-Flaherty adviser team is considering collaborating with the junior high’s NJHS to share sage advice with the outgoing group of NJHS kids to help prep them for NHS.

Offer a Sneak Peek into NHS

NJHS advisers can solicit a local NHS adviser to be a guest speaker at their chapter’s end-of-year meeting. Of course, each NHS chapter has its own panache, but the four pillars of membership are consistent. Be sure to review the requirements for NHS candidacy (see sidebar), and make that part of the presentation as well. Encourage the NHS guest speaker to present a PowerPoint or Prezi slideshow with photos and relevant information to illustrate his or her chapter’s volunteer work efforts, fundraisers, and activities.

To offer a glimpse from a different vantage point, advisers can draw in a group of NJHS alumni who have become NHS members to share their experience with the current chapter. They might offer a “compare and contrast” outline of the two Honor Societies.

Keep Those Grades Up

Since NHS membership is only open to high school upperclassmen, NJHS advisers must stress the importance of maintaining good grades. Remind outgoing NJHS students that good grades are important in their freshman and sophomore years to set them up for NHS candidacy (and, coincidentally, college applications).

“Any student who wants to be ready for NHS should focus on their grades and building good relationships with teachers,” says 2014 NHS Adviser of the Year Jennifer Roberts of Hallsville High School in Hallsville, TX. “Many students don’t realize how important their grades are.”

“Like NJHS, an invitation to membership in NHS begins with academic eligibility,” according to representatives from the NHS national office. “In addition, students must demonstrate service, leadership, and character. Those who are scholastically qualified will be asked to document this as part of the selection process. So, the same academic and social attributes that originally earned a student membership in NJHS must be maintained in order to be considered for NHS membership and the opportunities it affords.”

Since a team of select teachers are the ones who sift through the stacks of NHS candidates and eventually select members, Roberts suggests that students should get to know their teachers and present themselves in a positive light.”

I don’t mean for students to suck up,” she says, “but just a genuine relationship so teachers know you. Students need to be aware of how they are perceived. NHS members need to be examples of good. I think integrity is doing the right thing even when nobody’s looking.”

Take the Lead

Encouraging students to step up and be leaders is another key component that NJHS advisers should promote to their middle school students.

Ashley Matthews is big on building strong leaders within her NHS chapter of 200-plus members. In her dual role as both school counselor and NHS adviser, Matthews takes pride in becoming acquainted with the entire student body at Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School in Tampa, FL.

The Brooks-DeBartolo chapter has linked up with another organization at the school that focuses heavily on leadership to allow each NHS member to serve as a mentor to underclassmen—someone to support youngsters with anything from academics to social concerns.

The partnership has had great success, Matthews says, and has led students to seek leadership roles on a larger scale. Some have applied to serve as representatives on the City of Tampa’s Mayor’s Youth Corp, which occasionally gives them a chance to speak up about city issues.

To further hone skills for real-world leadership, Matthews’ NHS members take on roles at hospitals and businesses and intern a couple of hours a week. Students shadow the authority figures and/or help in the billing or marketing departments as part of a collaboration between the school’s NHS chapter and “Executive Internships,” an elective course at Brooks-DeBartolo.

Another thing advisers can do to prep NJHS members for NHS is to plan for chapter participation in the next round of Leadership Experience and Development (LEAD) Conferences (www.leadconferences.org). Attending these workshops can prepare students for a lifetime of leadership and help them gain a wealth of knowledge from notable speakers and hands-on training. Although LEAD participation does not guarantee NHS candidacy, it equips members to become vigorous pacesetters. (And those newfound leadership opportunities look great on an NHS application!)

Collaborate on Community Service Opportunities

Also keep in mind that National Honor Society leadership doesn’t have to be a one-man show. Instead of organizing chapter activities solo, align with other individuals and groups either within or beyond the school campus.

Consider teaming up with the school’s guidance counselors to seek out volunteer opportunities that meet members’ interests. Do this for outgoing members to get them ready for NHS. One student may be interested in the Adopt-a-Highway cleanup program, while another might be better suited to plant a vegetable garden at the nearby public library or embellish handmade greeting cards to send to veterans overseas. “A lot of kids we see join NHS because their parents want them to join. Then, they get out there (and start volunteering) and say, ‘Oh this is cool and this makes me feel powerful. This makes me feel good. This makes me feel useful,’ ” Elvrom says.

Another idea: Pair up with the school’s student council adviser to recruit students from both organizations to form a summer reading club at the local elementary school, for example. Doing so allows outgoing NJHS members another taste of leadership and ensures that their service continues. Or, consider having students host a study session for a mammoth exam.

As the school year winds to a close, host an exclusive session for outgoing NJHS members only. Invite a few current NHS members to meet with outgoing NJHS students. With blank NHS candidacy forms in hand, the older set can introduce the admission process for NHS candidacy—sort of like a dress rehearsal for the big event. This preparation offers potential NHS members a glimpse into what’s required to join NHS.

Advisers can pull together a bundle of resources in a cool NJHS “swag bag” for outgoing members, too. Include a list of nonprofits and other nearby opportunities for community service. Consider using www.createthegood.org/volunteer-search or www.volunteermatch.org as resources. Throw in an exit survey to gather feedback from students about their NJHS membership experience. This can be a valuable way to glean helpful information for the next school year. Toss in an NJHS bookmark, pen, or other item to commemorate the student’s years of membership and service to the chapter. Visit www.njhs.us/store for more ideas.

The journey of achieving the five pillars of membership does not have to come to an abrupt halt at the close of middle school. Students can look forward to carrying the torch as a National Honor Society member. The experience is sure to build character and cultivate strong leaders.

—Ebony Brown Windom is a former newspaper writer. She is the current middle school English Language Arts teacher and NJHS adviser at her school, Academy at the Farm, in Dade City, FL. 

Sidebar: Requirements for NHS Candidacy

Students in grades 10–12 who meet the requirements for membership outlined by their school’s chapter are eligible to be invited to join NHS. Each chapter is required to publish its qualifications for membership, which are based on the four pillars of NHS:

Scholarship

Per national guidelines, at a minimum students must have a cumulative GPA of 85, B, 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, or equivalent standard of excellence. (Each school chapter is allowed to require a higher cumulative GPA.)

Service

This involves voluntary contributions made by a student to the school or community, done without compensation.

Leadership

Student leaders are those who are resourceful, good problem solvers, and idea contributors. Leadership experiences can be drawn from school or community activities while working with or for others.

Character

The student of good character is cooperative; demonstrates high standards of honesty and reliability; shows courtesy, concern, and respect for others; and generally maintains a clean disciplinary record.

Students who meet the scholarship requirement will have an opportunity to complete a form detailing their accomplishments in and commitment to service, leadership, and character.