Amy Krueger has earned the 2019 Rynearson NJHS Adviser of the Year award. Krueger has served as an adviser of Rockwood South Middle School’s NJHS chapter in Fenton, MO, for more than seven years. Through this role, she has motivated, inspired, and supported hundreds of student leaders in making a difference for one another and within their community. In 2017, her chapter won the Promising Practice Award for their Enrichment Seminar Day.
Advise: Tell me a little bit about your NJHS chapter.
We are a larger chapter in our district, compared to the other middle schools. We have about 110 members. The kids can be eligible either at the end of their sixth-grade year or their seventh-grade year based on their cumulative GPA of 3.5. They are notified at the beginning of the school year, and then we give kids the opportunity to fill out the packets. We have a faculty council who reviews those and usually gives them word by October if they have been accepted, and then their induction usually happens in early November. So, we start off the year usually with about 37 eighth graders from the year before. … We get established with their leadership, do officer elections, and start the school year with a vision. And then, when the new inductees come in November, we just hit the ground running with the committee work that we have and introduce all those kids into the different committees. We have probably nine working committees right now.
Advise: And what are those committees?
Krueger: We have a Lakeview Solstice committee, which comprises the kids who put on the parties at the retirement home—probably about four parties a year. They make the trivia questions, they make all of the music selections, they make the Bingo cards. We go shopping together—they come up with a budget and I meet them just with the credit card from the school for NJHS, and we buy the snacks and the prizes. The kids run the whole party. We’ve got one [committee] that is a pet outreach, and they make homemade dog toys and cat toys and sometimes do drives for the different things the Humane Society might need.
We have a committee called Elementary Outreach. We have four elementary schools in our quadrant, so the kids make appointments with the teachers and see when they can go down and help those teachers. We have a committee on recycling this year—it’s a big undertaking in terms of the formal recycling committees. We asked the middle schools to donate [repurposed spirit wear] that they’ve grown out of so that we could launder them and give them back to the elementary schools for the counselors to give out. We do a great Rockwood South cleanout—and we give all of those donations to St. Vincent de Paul, which serves this area in terms of their little thrift store, for all the warm-weather clothing. We just started a Best Buddies chapter last year. … The Best Buddies organization is national, where you pair students with disabilities with students who don’t have disabilities. So, just a lot of interaction. Our kids are learning how to entertain kids who are nonspeaking, nonverbal, and/or have hearing disabilities.
Krueger: We have a school spirit committee and they plan Spirit Weeks, but they’re also trying something new. We’re going to work with the counselors and see which kids have improved their grades the most and then try to put together an opportunity for them to socialize and highlight them. Our big committee that we have is Enrichment Seminar Day. We made this program up, and we were lucky enough to earn a Promising Practice Award for it. We invite students in the elementary schools to come and have our students teach them two sessions in February. It’s on a Saturday, and our [NJHS members] go into the schools and advertise this, and parents can enroll their kids to come for two 50-minute sessions. Our members make the lesson plans and they offer things like soccer skills and cheerleading and kickball, but then also computer skills, art classes, cooking classes. … It is probably the biggest accomplishment that we’ve had in the organization since I’ve been sponsor. It’s been a really great opportunity for our kids to show their leadership abilities. I mean, kids will lead kids anytime, and those little kids just think the middle school kids are so cool.
Advise: How large is your executive office? What are their responsibilities?
Krueger: We have a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, historian, and parliamentarian. You know, I put a lot of pressure on the kids—I think sometimes they run for these things and think, “That’d be really cool to be an officer in this organization and represent NJHS,” and then we sit in our officer meetings—they have an additional meeting each month the week before our general membership—and the secretary’s putting the agenda together, we’re looking at the calendar. We’re planning things; the treasurer’s counting any funds that we have from fundraising. The president and the vice president pretty much are organizing—they’re the ones who are making announcements and leading the charge. We make executive decisions quite frequently. I always let the executive officers decide how many service hours are going to be required of the kids. This year they upped the ante, which was kind of cool, and they went from 12 [to] 15 hours, and then they made it 12 hours for the new inductees.
Advise: Wow. That’s spectacular.
Krueger: On our Google Classroom, our community asks [NJHS members] to help with so many events. Three elementary schools had events going on—two on a Friday night, and then one on Sunday. We had 57 kids serving that weekend.
Advise: So elementary schools or community members reach out to you as the adviser asking for students to come help with the service project?
Krueger: Right. They tell us the date, the time, how many kids they need, what the activities are going to be, and then we make a Google Doc and attach it to our Google Classroom, and just say, “This is how many spots we need. Make sure you have transportation.”
Advise: Is one of your officers there as well, or do students just report to whoever is requesting?
Krueger: They just report to the parent. They’re supposed to take their service logs with them. They don’t always, but they’re supposed to get the signature from that person. Sometimes those sponsors of those activities will send pictures back to me, or say, “Oh, they did a great job!” Or they’ll send a list of kids who actually participated.
Advise: What advice would you give to a new NJHS adviser?
Krueger: I would say let the kids come up with the events. They can go crazy and be too big with their ideas sometimes, but the more [you empower] the kids, it takes it off the sponsor’s shoulders. That took me a while to not keep my thumb on them. I needed to realize that they could make those contacts with the principal; they can make the contacts with the secretaries to put it on the calendar. They could contact the area people that they needed to. [As the adviser], listen to the idea and hone it, but let the ideas come from the kids.
Advise: What would you say has been your most impactful experience as an adviser?
Krueger: I think it’s mostly just watching what the kids can do and the ideas that they can have and pull to fruition. They’re so relaxed about it. They can pull a lot more off than I initially thought that they could, and I think the most satisfying and the most impactful thing is seeing that they don’t think it’s such a big deal to serve. They want to do it. I think if we could bottle that in this generation and make sure that all the kids believe that, there is an intrinsic value to it. They don’t have any affectations. They’re just themselves.
Advise: Do you promote another way for your students to use their voice in school issues or things that are going on?
Krueger: The kids give speeches when they’re running for office, and they will run the meetings. I said [to one student officer], “What do you think that we should have done differently at this meeting?” And she said, “Well … you maybe talked a little too much at the end of the meeting. It kind of kept us over time.” And I said, “I get that. I said you guys can completely do that.” So, I have to be a little thick-skinned because I am a talker.
These kids, though, serve in a lot of organizations in the school. That’s probably where they have the most voice. These kids are in plays. These kids are in Scouts. They’re in school sports. I think that they use their voice mightily and their actions mightily around the school, because they’re kind of the “it” kids.
Advise: What would you say are some of the toughest issues that are facing your students today?
Krueger: I think the same thing that I just said—that they’re the “it” kids and they participate in a bunch of activities—I think we splinter them into many different activities. I feel for them that we don’t teach them necessarily to specialize. It’s great to have a taste of all different opportunities, but then to teach them then to hone it into, “What can I do well? What can I give my time to, keeping academics first?” Living in the moment and serving because it’s the right thing to do instead of, you know, publicizing. I think our kids do a very good job of that. I think they really are into service. But I do think that we’re splintering the kids’ attention and setting them up for a little bit of disappointment. They know exactly who they are. They know their ills, they know their temptations. But [we want] to channel their passion into activism that’s appropriate.
Advise: Any other advice or information you’d want to give to an adviser with middle level students?
Krueger: I think that it’s OK to hold kids to a point of excellence. We’ve gone through some growing pains here under my sponsorship in terms of the selection process and the disappointment when kids are not in it, which speaks to our chapter being an admirable chapter with all of the service that the kids are capable of doing. But to hold the kids to a point of excellence, [you have to] hold the organization to the pillars for which it stands. Because there are lots of things for kids to be involved in today. With that specialization, there are a lot of kids who make great grades, but that doesn’t mean that they’re lovers of serving. So, I think hold to the selection process with a genuine heart for the organization, but know that you can hold kids to excellence, and they’ll meet that part.