When Kelsey was a high school sophomore, she was a leader. Some would call her bossy or pushy, but I knew the minute I met her she was special. She was in Student Council. She was my Civics Club president. She was the vice president of Interact and a member of National Honor Society and in charge of any student organization that fit her interest. She was one huge force of attitude and emotion. High school was not always easy for her. She had big ideas and ambitions, and sometimes people got in her way. It took Kelsey time to learn to work with her peers in a harmonious way; they just didn’t always work at the same pace and she didn’t take disagreement from others well. But, Kelsey was never afraid to take a risk: she was willing to talk about failure because it didn’t scare her. As I got to know her and as she became a junior and a senior, she showed that she had one of the biggest hearts of any student I had ever worked with.
One of the most important things to Kelsey was mentoring younger, strong female student council members. Student council kids are always close. They share a love for school – an only positive-seeing exuberance that not all kids have. In the years that I worked as a student council advisor, I never saw more tears, laughs, loves, or heartaches. However, Kelsey helped define the way these kids worked with one another. She keyed in right away on supporting young women, helping them be the best versions of themselves. There was nothing superficial about it; she developed relationships that lasted long after she walked across the graduation stage and left Lake Havasu for ASU. I know this because one of the young women Kelsey has mentored was my daughter, Zoe, who also shares many of the same bold, bossy, take-the-world-on traits that Kelsey has. Kelsey helped her with college applications and scholarship essays, wiped tears away when college choices didn’t work and welcomed her with open arms to ASU when she made that decision. But it didn’t stop with Zoe. It was lots of students. Kelsey supported kids from afar in so many ways. And from that, Zoe has taken on mentoring younger girls. Zoe, too took on a nurturing role in supporting young girls and now that Zoe is at ASU, I hear from my girls all the time, “I went and saw Zoe at her dorm!” And the legacy has been built. Girls helping girls. These high stress, ambitious girls working to build each other up, not knock each other down. It has been a ripple effect all started with Kelsey who unknowingly has left her legacy of leadership on our school.
Adults work so hard on school culture, but many times our policies and plans overlook the kids who truly are in touch with what is happening each and every day across campus. Another student, Ciella, saw bullying as a problem, and when she was a freshman started an all-girls anti-bullying dance and assembly at our school. We’ve done it for seven years now. And now we are working on ways to make it more inclusive, to support more students. Who knew that students themselves would work to resolve problems in a proactive way?
Another student, Jordan, started our Gay/Straight Alliance, which has now become our Pride Alliance Club as we have more diverse students joining. We just had our first Spirit Day to support LGBTQ youth. One student’s idea for a meeting has turned into a very well-attended after-school club where kids have found a safe place to express themselves. No amount of professional development on supporting diverse students could do for these kids what Jordan did.
Karen graduated college last year. As a senior in high school she would always badger us to make sure we were wearing purple shirts on Friday. Here we are five years after her high school graduation and Purple Shirt Friday is just what we do at our school.
Amanda, a president of National Honor Society so many years ago, began a school wide service project after she had attended a student leadership conference and became inspired. She involved the entire freshmen class to work with NHS to complete some sort of service around our community the day before spring break started. This Day of Service has been passed down many times through many different students, one of them a leader named Ashlee. Ashlee has now come back to our school to teach English and is now the National Honor Society Advisor and the adult leader for Day of Service. So, our student-led legacy has grown up and given us a transformative teacher leader on campus.
Dustin was a student of mine my second year teaching at Lake Havasu High School. He was challenging. He was unengaged. Graduation was around the corner, but I did not know if he was getting there. He ended up graduating and moved away. A decade later he came back into my life when he began working as a life coach and founded a charity I am now a part of. He has come back to our school many times to speak to kids about leadership, giving, hoping. I’ve had students from all different crowds tell me they are inspired to be better versions of themselves after talking with him.
Sometimes students have no plans to make a positive impact on our schools and they just do. We just never know who will be our brightest leaders, so our job as educators is to bring whatever positivity we can to all students without expectation or reservation.
Every student who leaves our doors should leave a mark on our school. Every student should feel like they have the power to make positive impact, no matter how small. Some students will never know about the power only they have to change our hearts and our culture. When we can inspire kids to want to leave a piece of themselves behind in their schools, they will always be tied to us. When we recognize students for the positive changes they make, we in turn change their hearts and inspire others to leave a legacy behind them. Our schools are filled with Kelseys and Dustins and Ashlees, the trick is not to figure out who the kids are with the ideas, but to let all students know their ideas and their hearts matter.