This is part of a series of blogs from Noble campus representatives to give a deeper look at campus life.
Staff celebrated as a group of 20 new student leaders – dressed up in their own versions of success – strutted down the halls of Gary Comer Middle School. Nervously, the middle school students gathered in the fitness room, getting ready for their first Principal Honor Society summit. As they loaded the bus, their muted chatter filled the air with excitement and anticipation for what the day would bring.
And what the day brought was great opportunities for these students to learn about leadership and an amazing discussion that centered their voice on an important school-wide rule.
The Principal Honor Society (PHS) is run by Principal JuDonne Hemingway with support from the rest of the Gary Comer Middle School administration team. It is a group of student leaders who are responsible for leaving a positive impact on their school community and serving as a voice for their peers.
In January, the PHS met together for the first time at their opening summit. During check-in, scholars shared their feelings of being “excited”, “nervous”, “scared”, and “ready for the experience and a great opportunity to interact with other people and experience different events.”
To kick off the summit, the group of students played a game to build community. Then, they got into the meat of the summit – meeting Ms. Jillian, a youth advocate with InnerG Unlmtd. With her, PHS scholars discussed what leadership, scholarship, and service meant to them and how they can embody these traits as a student leadership group. During the talk, Ms. Jillian stressed that “heavy is the head that wears the crown.”
The PHS students shared their thoughts on what leadership means, generational gaps in expectations and communication, and how to resolve problems. Scholars also learned that sometimes being a good leader means knowing when to step back and support and follow.
PHS Scholars pose for a picture at their first summit.
A sign put up at the PHS summit during the talk with Ms. Jillian.
After these discussions, the student leaders were charged with building a better future for themselves, their communities, and their school. For their first step towards this, they started with their first major discussion: giving their input on a school-wide rule around wearing hoodies in the building.
As a school, GCMS is committed to becoming an antiracist organization, so one question they’ve been asking staff is “Should we allow the hoods on hoodies to be up inside the building?” When examining the issue, the GCMS leadership team felt like a voice was missing from the conversation – the students.
“Our 8th grade PHS scholars have the responsibility and opportunity to leave a legacy at GCMS, to pave the way for future scholar leaders to come behind them. Giving them a voice into a school-wide decision is illustrative of my commitment to truly have them serve as consultants to the Principal. Their voice will be at the center of this decision. It will be a part of their legacy,” Principal JuDonne Hemmingway said.
Including student voice is not only important to GCMS staff, but to PHS members as well. One PHS member, Aaliyah Baylor, said, “It is important to have student leaders because students don’t get heard, and this opportunity allows students to speak their minds and help lead others to do the same”.
Akira Murray, another PHS member, echoes the importance of student leadership: “Having student leaders is important because not only are adults making decisions, but students get to share their perspective as well”.
PHS scholars deep in discussion during the summit.
At the summit, the PHS had a conversation with Principal Hemingway about the pros and cons of having hoods up. They were then put in charge of talking to other stakeholders at their school and curating a final opinion by their next meeting in February. At that meeting, the students overwhelmingly voted to allow hoods up in the school building. Now, the final decision on hoods is being reviewed and discussed by staff.
While they wait on the staff decision, PHS scholars are working on other ways to help their school community, like cleaning up their school building.
These actions and decisions will not be the only way PHS scholars leave their legacy at GCMS, though. They will also complete a capstone project. For the project, PHS scholars will present a solution to a problem in their world, city, neighborhood, school, or at home by the end of this school year. The scholars will be creating their own organization to solve problems such as: homelessness, gun violence, body image, financial insecurity, affordable healthcare, money for disease research and family support, safe babysitting spaces for children of addicts or domestic trauma, and mental health support.
In follow-up conversations with the scholars, this is what they had to say about their first summit:
What was your favorite part?
“Discussing our capstone projects”– Avonna Bovastro
“Whole group conversations around what Leadership, Service, and Scholarship means. Also, getting donuts” – Aaliyah Baylor
“Talking with Ms. Jillian” – Akira Murray
“Talking with the group about our ideas”– Princess Jade Price
“The discussion on hoods” – Carieon Smith
“Participating in group discussions and lunch” – Anthony Marshall
What are you most looking forward to about PHS?
Scholars had a variety of responses for what they are most looking forward to, the most common responses were:
- Making friends and becoming more of a leader
- Visiting other schools
- Having a chance to impact change in the school around expectations and rules
- Building their own organizations to help solve a problem for their capstone project
Read more about our students at Noble Schools: