A Better World Through Local Impact

Making the world a better place can start with the smallest of changes in our schools and communities. That’s why NASSP’s Student Leadership Advisory Committee launched #EngageInChange—to spread global citizenship by promoting direct action at the community level.

The first NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee was formed during the 2016–17 school year. It aimed to unite student and school leaders from the National Honor Societies and National Student Council around the desire to cultivate the next generation of leaders by encouraging social consciousness and inspiring students to think of themselves as global citizens. Dubbed the “Global Citizenship Initiative,” this program promotes the idea that by working to effect change—any change—you become an active participant in your school, your community, and the world.

The 2018 NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee decided that it wanted to focus specifically on change at the community level—thus, #EngageInChange was born. “When the committee got together to create a new initiative, we really looked at the Global Citizenship Initiative and analyzed it in order to understand why it succeeded and why it may not have,” says Jack Tucker, a student at Carroll Senior High School in Southlake, TX. “From there, we decided to not completely stray away from global citizenship, but rather refine it and give it more of a defined purpose. By doing this, councils and chapters would still be familiar with the initiative, but would also be challenged to expand and explore the new initiative the committee has decided on.”

Encouraging Local Engagement

The hashtag initiative #EngageInChange seeks to inspire service that, even if smaller in scale, can create ripples of positive change in the larger global context. Esther Abiona, a student at Early College High School at Delaware State University in Dover, DE, says, “The committee saw the great things that global citizenship was able to accomplish, so we wanted to narrow down specifically to seeing students take charge in their schools and communities—to actually be the change, no matter how small it may seem.” This is a belief shared by both the students and principals on the committee.

Chuck Puga, a principal at Smoky Hill High School in Aurora, CO, says, “Every little act of service—to the school, community, specific program—builds on the idea of being involved and engaging in the Global Citizenship Initiative.”

But how can these local efforts at the individual school and community levels become a model for world change? According to Puga, “It can be as simple as having dialogue about change [and as] large as creating many different opportunities for students to access service opportunities. As a school, we work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but also all of our clubs provide different opportunities for students, whether it be volunteering in schools, retirement homes, or children’s hospitals. We have kids who have started their own nonprofits.”

Goals don’t necessarily have to be broad in scope. For instance, projects can seek to improve school culture in order to make it a more positive environment for learning. Lauren Kimzey, a student at Hamilton High School in Montana, says, “My school is relatively small—about 500 kids—and most of the projects my council works on are small. But even with these minor activities, the attitude and environment of our school is greatly changed. Small fundraisers, bake sales, and entertaining lip sync battles are among the most popular activities we put on to help make the school a happier and more positive place.” Service is a mindset—not an activity.

More and more, students are eager to make their voices heard and improve their community in meaningful ways. Abiona says, “At my school, we specifically wanted more civic engagement and student involvement in some of the decision-making that would impact us as students. So, a few students—along with myself—reached out to our adviser, who was able to pull some strings for us and got us a meeting with the secretary of the Board of Education. In the meeting, we voiced our desires to her, and as a result of our advocacy, we will now have student representatives sitting on the Board of Education for the first time in Delaware.” And in places most in need of assistance, schools and local communities are reaching out. Nadine Rodriguez, an eighth-grade student at The TASIS School in Dorado, Puerto Rico, says, “Small school projects can become a model for a world of change, because the people who work on that project can call others to help, and word [gets] around [about] that project. The TASIS Dorado school in Puerto Rico has helped a community called ‘Los Naranjos’ and has collaborated with other schools in Puerto Rico.”

When the Global Citizenship Initiative was first launched, the Committee streamlined the strands of the initiative from five areas to three. Tucker thinks this was a great improvement and helps get the message of #EngageInChange out more effectively. “The three strands we are focusing on in this initiative were intentionally selected to challenge, motivate, and activate students around the country.” The three strands of #EngageInChange are:

  • Engagement
  • Empowerment
  • Equity

Engagement focuses on educating peers or the community about an important issue and encourages them to find solutions. “We want students to participate in engagement because in order to initiate change, you must be engaged in it,” Tucker says. “It is important, as students, for us to be engaged in the world around us so that we can evaluate issues and collaborate to provide solutions to better our future.” Sydney Neal, a student at St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown, MD, points out the importance of social consciousness in a world increasingly connected by social media and the internet. “[We] see the impact that our actions have on the local, regional, and global levels … Change always starts with one small action,” she says. “To be socially aware and conscious of how our daily actions—intentional and unintentional—impact our societies, our world, can lead to global change.”

Empowerment aims to use student voice to take action, such as registering students to vote when they turn 18 or getting involved with the school board. Tucker describes it as his favorite of the strands because “a world without student voice is a world without a future. Students are the future of the world,” he notes. “The committee wants students to feel empowered to make a change and become passionate about issues facing our society. As the rising generation, it is our societal responsibility to be a voice and an advocate for what we believe in and help create a brighter future.” Neal related it to the March for Our Lives demonstration that took place on March 24, 2018. “For students to see the immense number of peers, parents, educators, and legislators that rallied behind the movement was jaw-dropping. However, in the aftermath, people forgot that student advocacy is not always on the national level. Students also, and most importantly, fail to see the power that they hold themselves. Students are innovative and creative, but too often are not empowered to make the changes they know need to happen.”

Equity is about acknowledging the world being a place of unequal opportunities and resources. “Equity is critical in order to achieve global citizenship,” Tucker says. “Equity focuses on inclusiveness and making every person feel a part of something bigger than themselves. The committee is challenging students to create an atmosphere on their campus that brings everyone together to unite for a common good.” For some students, this is a personal matter that they care deeply about. “As a minority and a female, being included and accepted is not always a given,” Neal says. “In a world that is increasingly biracial, multicultural, multilingual, and accepting of many different sexualities and religions, we are finally beginning to see the true value of people. As students and student leaders, it is our job to facilitate this inclusivity and equity, not to be mistaken with equality. Recognizing the individuality of people and being able to accept that truly is the biggest key to making global change. Global means encompassing all.”

Providing Support

Students who wish to #EngageInChange will need resources and opportunities. One of the best sources of this is in the support they get from their advisers and administrators. This can be anything from encouragement and validation of ideas to assisting in the implementation of plans. “As a student, it is easy to get discouraged and think your ideas are insignificant,” Abiona says, “but the best thing an adviser can do is to always listen to their students and believe in them. That will make students more eager to participate and bring their ideas to the table.”

Having guidance from advisers can also help in cases where projects don’t have the intended outcome. It may seem counterintuitive to think of failure as something positive, but it can provide a learning opportunity for students, something they can grow from in the future. “Sometimes projects do not always succeed, and that is okay,” Tucker says. “Not everything is always going to turn out exactly how some might have wanted it to. As advisers, it is okay to let your students fail. This will only help them grow and become better leaders and change-makers in our world.”

Getting Started

Participation in the initiative is not limited to schools affiliated with NHS, NJHS, NEHS, or NatStuCo. Those interested in getting involved can visit the National Student Project Database (www.nhs.us/student-project-database) to start brainstorming or to share their own project. The database contains more than 7,000 projects and activities conducted by students, for students.

When brainstorming your project, ask yourself how it channels engagement, empowerment, and/or equity. For example, a project focused on engagement might address bullying, healthy eating, safe driving, mental health, suicide prevention, recycling, or eating disorders. A project aimed at empowering students might involve holding mock elections to raise awareness about peoples’ voices in the community, or a voter registration drive to ensure eligible students are able to vote in upcoming elections. A project striving toward equity might reach out to help underserved populations to ensure equal access for all.

Imagine how you might accomplish positive change in your school or community. Test the limits of your ingenuity, and reach out to advisers, administrators, and other community members to help achieve your goals.

When we all unite to #EngageInChange, those small improvements at the community level can make a world of positive difference. Share your stories using the #EngageInChange hashtag on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to inspire others to effect positive change across the nation and around the world.


Sidebar: 2018 NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee

FULL LIST OF COMMITTEE MEMBERS

Students:

  • Esther Abiona—Early College High School at Delaware State University, Dover, DE
  • Devlin Andrews—Coventry High School, Coventry, RI
  • Tiffany Garcia—Palm Middle School, Moreno Valley, CA
  • Lauren Kimzey—Hamilton High School, Hamilton, MT
  • Sydney Neal—St. Mary’s Ryken High School, Leonardtown, MD
  • Nadine Rodriguez—The TASIS School in Dorado, Dorado, PR
  • Jack Tucker—Carroll Senior High School, Southlake, TX
  • Billy Wermuth—North Penn High School, Landsdale, PA

Principals:

  • Kevin Gaines—Hart County High School, Hartwell, GA
  • Mallanie Harris—Palm Middle School, Moreno Valley, CA
  • Robert Motley—Atholton High School, Columbia, MD—NASSP Board liaison
  • Chuck Puga—Smoky Hill High School, Aurora, CO
  • Julie Kasper—Century High School, Hillsboro, OR

Advisers:

  • James Fahy—Dickinson High School, Dickinson, ND
  • Melissa Arroyo—The TASIS School in Dorado, Dorado, PR