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Student Leadership

Greetings from Atlanta, the host city for the 2018 National Association of Independent Schools’ Annual Conference. This year’s theme is particularly salient: “The Leadership Journey: Guides, Pathways, and Possibilities.” The conference is designed for school leaders to reflect, to think strategically about their schools, and to consider all of the voices of powerful leadership that exist within a school community.

A conference focused on leadership makes it easy to think about Capstone. To listen to Navi Radjou, scholar and innovation and leadership advisor, speak about the distinction between being smart and being wise, and the critical import of the latter, it seems natural to consider the wisdom of our eighth grade students as they prepare to educate us about their various topics of interest with a wisdom that far exceeds their years. Capstone week is always a special one at Belmont Day, and this year promises the same.

The past few weeks have also presented the adults in the BDS community with a different exercise in leadership. Over February break, while the nation reconciled the sadness of the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, and watched students organize a national movement in its wake, Liz Gray and I received a few emails from some seventh and eighth grade students interested in adding their voices to the chorus of young people around the country. They urged us to consider joining the 17-minute National School Walkout to be held on Wednesday, March 14 at 10 a.m.

One email concluded: “I am hoping that BDS can participate in the National School Walkout. This would show our support for the call for Congress to enact gun control legislation to prevent future gun violence around the country. The walkout could be voluntary, but I think that it would be a good idea for our school to participate in this movement.”

On professional development day the faculty had the chance to discuss the students’ request, and we ultimately agreed on two critical things—we all want to support the students and we need to get out of their way. What followed in the next two weeks has been incredible to watch. Four students, two in seventh grade and two in eighth, have submitted a three-page proposal to Liz and me. They have considered ways for supportive faculty to be engaged if they are unable to participate in the walkout because they are teaching in their classrooms. They have galvanized the voices of their peers with tremendous respect and responsibility, understanding that this is an opt-in event, and that there may be students who do not want to participate. They have drafted excellent communications that will come later this weekend along with a note from me, and they have been in ongoing dialogue with a small team of teachers, who are there, as always, to guide and support them along the way.  

Quite intentionally, those teachers are not taking the reins. This is an exercise in the power of the student voice. The national movement, and certainly the energy of our students here at BDS, hearkens back to countless moments through history where the voices of young people have affected profound change. As I sit and write in the shadow of the Center for Civil and Human Rights—an institution that celebrates the voices of students and their role in our history—the power of those voices is palpable. Our students are using their voices for leadership, and next week, whether by way inspiring Capstone presentations, or by way of a student-led walkout, they will be heard loud and clear.

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