An NASSP Student Leadership Initiative

Today’s Generation Making Changes for Tomorrow

Education policy is almost always made by individuals outside of the classroom, meaning it is up to students to effect real, positive change for themselves and for those who follow them.

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Today’s Generation Making Changes for Tomorrow

By Sydney Neal

Empowerment is defined as the “authority or power given to someone to do something.” Students can work together to empower themselves to improve their learning environment and are often the most effective in doing so. After all, they are the ones who spend hours in the classroom every day. Education policy is almost always made by individuals outside of the classroom, meaning it is up to students to effect real, positive change for themselves and for those who follow them.

The student perspective is what makes our voices so incredibly powerful as we address the issues about which we are passionate and knowledgeable. For example, I am part of my state student council and serve as the state vice president. In one instance, I was standing next to the state treasurer during a student council event when someone asked me if I was the treasurer’s “secretary.” I was immediately taken aback and offended, especially because I am extremely passionate about women in leadership. Unfortunately, this is an issue that I experience often, yet it gives me personal knowledge that empowers me to create a platform for awareness. As a female of color in leadership, I have the unique perspective and agency to effect real change. Discrimination against women in leadership is also a universal issue with which many people can connect.

When empowering fellow students to engage in positive change, how you do it is imperative. For me, I knew the best way was to lead a women’s leadership forum in my community. Through this event, other women had the opportunity to become empowered, uplifted, and inspired. It included a service project, a women in leadership panel, student slam poems, and advocacy activities for women’s issues. The forum was an event that addressed an issue that mattered to me, so I made sure that it suited my audience and achieved my goal.

Other ways of empowering students include starting voter registration drives, holding community discussions, or participating in advocacy events. The most important questions to answer as you plan your student empowerment activity are, “What is our call to action? What are we asking students to do or walk away with?” You can use your answers to these questions to guide your planning process and ensure you are making change that effectively addresses your issue of choice.

When and where are also important factors for empowerment. To maximize effectiveness, make sure to publicize your issue and plan to address such issue when it is most relevant. For example, an LGBTQ awareness event would be most effective in June, which is Pride month. Additionally, creating change often starts by bringing the issue to those in power through a demonstration or, on a more personal level, outreach to representatives. To find your representatives in Congress, simply put your zip code into this link.

Empowered outreach is not just phone calls or writing letters, either. Using hashtags such as the one we used for the women’s leadership forum, #MDWLF2018, social media can be one of the most effective ways of contacting representatives at the local, state, and federal level, and has become one of the fastest and most expansive platforms to create momentum and empower students.

Why is student empowerment so important? We students are an untapped source of power with so many unique experiences: eating lunch in the cafeteria; doing homework; or participating in school sports, clubs, and activities. These experiences allow us to see issues that our school faces as well as the expertise to address them. Creating effective change in schools starts with us, and the benefits will last for years to come.

What are you going to do to better your school and your community?


 

Sydney Neal is a junior at Saint Mary’s Ryken in Leonardtown, Maryland. She is the Vice President of the Maryland Association of Student Councils, is on the Maryland Youth Advisory Council, is a member of National Honor Society, and is a member of the NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee.