Lawrence School students love going on GYLI summer institutes. My students and I agree that our summer experiences invite us to consider our humanity in relation to our essence, the essence of others, the essence of all living beings. Our lessons urge us to consider our responsibility to our communities.
We return from our trips with full hearts, a sense of purpose, and Leadership Learning Plans (LLP) which are geared towards transferring learning to real projects in communities and schools. While in our summer bliss, we make these plans and talk about all of what we want to accomplish during the school year. As their teacher and advisor, I serve as another member of the group and a resource.
We have created a leadership community that encourages students who don’t travel during the summer institutes to take part in the LLPs. Through the experience of working collaboratively on the projects, non traveling students also learn how to apply the four GYLI pillars and contemplate their responsibility to their school community. We come together for weekly lunch meetings and group members don’t have to sacrifice their peer connections in order to tackle leadership work and commitment.
The most important thing that these students do is show up with intention. They show up for themselves and they show up for each other. From there, I provide encouragement, enthusiasm, and guidance. I remind them of the fact that we are meeting because they set goals and as leaders they have to model what it means to be reliable and to follow through with their plans. When plans are met with challenges, I teach them how to reflect, overcome, or reconsider. However, the focus never strays from the importance of active engagement. A week does not pass that we are either in large groups, small groups, or pairs either planning or executing our goals.
Some of the students in our leadership group are focused on sustaining projects that were created by earlier groups while others are working on implementing new ideas. Sustainable projects have become our focus since we want incoming 9th graders to experience first hand what it takes to create, implement and sustain a project that continues beyond their high school years.
Some examples of this are Our Circle: Peer Support Series and our Compost System.
Our Circle: Peer Support Series was created by Dan, Gina, and Nate from class of 2017. This project’s focus is to create a fun and safe space for students to discuss topics that are important to them. GYLI students work collaboratively to create topic proposals and meet with administrators. They plan for food, icebreakers, and discussion points. They also advertise and coordinate all details of these events. Since 2017, our students have held events focused on Anxiety, Depression, Substance Abuse, Suicide Ideation, Multicultural Identity using Dr. Ulric Johnson’s 5C of awareness, Substance Abuse and its Effect on Sexual Misconduct, and Gun Violence/Gun Control. An event led by David (class of 2020) on Systemic Racism is currently on hold due to COVID-19 but I am confident that this event will be successful in the fall of 2020.
Our compost system was also created in the Spring of 2017 by our soon to be graduates Carrissa, Olive, Alex, Chandler, and Garret. It is part of our permaculture initiative and includes the planting of pumpkins and apple trees. The goal is to teach the school community the importance of compost and its ability to reduce waste.
In the spirit of nurturing our leadership culture, 9th graders joining the GYLI group become responsible for running the compost system and then passing it down in the following year. The daily work of this project in particular creates a sense of belonging and after three years, the majority of our high school student body knows about the compost system and contributes to it.
Other groups have also created a Clean Water Initiative and a Black Student Union. All of the projects require a lot of time. I asked Sophia, who is now a college freshman and served as a Year 1 intern last summer, about her take on activism in school and her work on LLPs. She said that in the 10th grade, she didn’t see herself as a leader. Her leadership potential was pointed out to her by a teacher during one of the Our Circle events. Those words of encouragement sparked in her a desire to contribute to GYLI leadership efforts. She acknowledges her responsibility as a leader to ignite leadership potential in others, to highlight the good in people, and to serve her community. She said that our projects are successful because students have fun while working, success is dependent on our commitment to each other and because teachers and administrators are supportive and enthusiastic about the projects.