Written by Tonia Berman
Does high school have to be a “Race to Nowhere?” I often hear that nothing can be done to change this ominous situation. I guess that is true for those who resist change, but as educators it is our responsibility to embrace change. Change requires faith. As a parent, I have had faith in my children more than they have ever recognized. I think it is because moms are supposed to think highly of their children. As an educator, I believe that my students are capable of much more than they are given credit for. Thus when a random idea pops into my head that provides students with an opportunity for empowerment, I feel compelled to act upon it. And that is precisely how I happened upon the idea of I.S. Ambassadors (ISA). I knew we needed a group of students to represent our school at events such as Freshman Orientation, and it made sense to organize a roster rather than seeking volunteers every time such an activity arose. A few text messages and classroom announcements later, I was astounded by the outpour of enthusiasm… within 48 hours I had to close the club at 60 members and start a wait list! What did this say about our student body? The drive for leadership, developing community, and, yes, the desire to have strong college applications, was phenomenal.
Watching ISA unfold over the course of the subsequent weeks was an acute reminder that if given the proper resources and support, students can create, organize, and implement programs and activities of the highest caliber. Put it this way, I wasn’t the person to suggest we come up with a mission statement (ISA is dedicated to improving the I.S. community by promoting student involvement in both campus-wide and community-based activities. ISA fosters the union between the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders to encourage leadership and enthusiasm) or define the difference between committees and task groups. I honestly don’t remember when I first learned of the term mission statement, but it certainly was not in high school.
As the state and district continue to grapple with financial shortfalls, the students of ISA have decided to take matters into their own hands… “Let’s plan a benefit event,” a student suggested several months ago. On March 25, 2011, ISA will be hosting the first (presumably annual) I.S. Benefit Showcase. All of the arrangements, from the organizing of the food, the Facebook Event Page, the line-up of entertainment, the collection and wrapping of the silent auction items, the plans for set up and clean up, and the greeters at the door are being planned by the students. It has not been perfect. Meetings can get heated, feelings hurt. But the club is real.
No adults will be on stage the evening of the Benefit Showcase… but many of us will be sitting proudly in the audience. Generation Y-Not? Seniors will soon graduate and disperse to their respective colleges. I have faith in these students, as I do in my own children. They will have the skills and confidence to make the changes our society is in dire need of. Never doubt the power of the individual. These students realize that their voices and actions do matter, that they can make a difference, and I believe they will. I implore all high schools to provide students with the opportunity to develop student-driven programs. High school does not have to be a “Race to Nowhere.” I don’t claim to have all the answers. I do hope, however, that clubs such as ISA will make high school more meaningful for our students. Will high school always be a turbulent time? Absolutely! However, instead of settling with a “Race to Nowhere,” let’s look for alternative methods that will afford our adolescents the option to experience a “Triathlon to Remember.”