This academic year, students found their voice and discovered a new means of empowerment, thanks to the National Honor Society and National Junior Honor Society State Summit experience. Five locations hosted the State Summit in 2016–17: southern California, Ohio, Massachusetts, Texas, and New Mexico. This innovative leadership development experience will be coming to more locations in 2017–18. Here, two student delegates at the Texas State Summit reflect on the day, giving a glimpse into the summit from the student perspective.
Holy Trinity Episcopal School, Houston, TX
During the Texas State Summit I enjoyed learning about conservation and social justice efforts. The State Summit helped me understand my relationship with the environment. The State Summit also helped me develop leadership skills and more.
I was assigned to the Champion Social Justice Efforts conversation, as well as the Operation: Conservation talk, and I will gladly share my experience.
From the Social Justice Efforts conversation, we had two marvelous teachers: Nicole and Stephan. Nicole loves photography and travel. She went to Indiana University of Pennsylvania for college. Stephan went to Texas Tech and loves to mess around with software. He is a huge Beyoncé fan.
In the class itself, we learned the difference between equality and empathy. The key to empathy is to understand the feelings of the other person before yourself. Equality is when everyone gets the same amount of something. Empathy is giving whatever it is to someone who needs it. The example they gave was a taller son standing on one stool to see a baseball game. A medium height son and small son got the same size stool. Both the tall one and the medium one could see with just one stool, but the little one couldn’t see the game with one stool. Out of empathy, the taller son gave his stool to the little one so everyone could have what they needed to see the baseball game.
In the Operation: Conservation room, we had two fantastic teachers: Karen and Bertrand. Karen told us, “I love to help build homes in Africa. I took part in helping to save butterflies.” Bertrand told us, “I am from Los Angeles. I spent my life to studying to help the environment. I helped build a dam that cleans out water.”
We learned about saving resources that we take advantage of every day, for example, electricity. We know electricity as a simple flick of a light switch, but electricity takes lots of resources. That’s why we use solar panels to get electricity from the sun rather than from coal and other options that use resources from the earth. We also need water for our sinks, bathrooms, showers, etc. We talked about saving electricity by unplugging chargers after they have been used, turning off the light after leaving a room, and more simple ideas that would help save a lot of electricity if everyone participated. That is why we need to preserve our resources around us. In that classroom, we brainstormed ideas to help people with the same problem.
To sum up my experience, we went into separate color groups. There, we came up with our own problem and worries for the world. We decided on one important topic and presented it in front of the other color groups. All the ideas were great. In that one day, we came up with loads of ideas that are going to be put into action—and action into service.
Holy Trinity Episcopal School, Houston, TX
Going to the Texas State Summit was a new experience for me. Our NJHS chapter has never left campus for anything other than service learning opportunities. I was a little scared, but super excited to not have to go to class. I had no idea what to expect, but got a little nervous when I realized that we would be attending workshop sessions without our advisor. As students, we are accustomed to being with adults and allowing them to speak for us and make all the decisions. Heading to those sessions without my advisor pushed me to speak up and find my voice.
My voice comes out in many ways. Sometimes, I shout. At times, I mumble. There are even those times when I whisper (although my sister would say I always shout). In choir, I join my voice with the people around me to bring enjoyment to others. I’ve always thought about voice in that context … the noises produced by the vibration of my vocal chords. At the Texas State Summit, I learned a new way to think of my voice. I learned that I can join my voice with others to change the world. I want to use my voice as an instrument that makes the world around me a better place.
Everyone has different thoughts and opinions, so my voice is important because my thoughts and opinions can show a perspective that others do not have. As a student, I spend much of my life doing as I’m told. I guess you could call it “on the job training.” I am surrounded by capable and confident leaders who are teaching me to follow in their footsteps.
By allowing me to use my voice, they are training me to step up and take ownership of and pride in my thoughts, opinions, and eventually, my actions. At the summit, our workshop leaders gave us the tools to speak up and act.
In the car on the way home from the Texas State Summit, our advisor asked us questions about what we had learned and what we wanted to do with that knowledge. I spoke up and described a program I want to start on campus. We all started talking about it and making plans. It felt good to have everyone want to be a part of something I started. The program we talked about is focused on helping children who learn differently make friends and become a part of our school community. This is important to me because my sister has Williams Syndrome. My perspective on this topic is a little different than my friends. I have insight into the need for this program that they don’t have. I used my voice to share my perspective and now we will change the lives of these students in our community.
I also learned that by listening to what others say, I can learn about them and their world. I can learn about their perspective. Honoring and respecting the voices of others is a part of the process of turning the tide on the hate in our world. Our voices are unique to us and should be shared with others and respected by all. Only by truly sharing our thoughts and ideas can we make our mark on the world and make it a better place.
How does your school help students to find their voice?