In the book,“The Story of Kennett” Joan Holliday and I found that the focus of getting Kennett right was through the kids.After the 2016 election,a couple of the local political organizations,Kennett Area Democrats (KAD) and OxGrove Democrats,had something of a surprise as change swept the country. In response to that event,they wanted to encourage the kids to articulate how they areaddressing the challenge of Mahatma Gandhi to be the change you wish to see in the world.
So, an award was set up with the Kennett Education Foundation and the local high schools for a student who best answered the question. Maybe the kids might start to think about some of the big issues of our day likeglobalization, climate change, gun violence, racism, sexism and health care.To our delight and surprise they covered all of these issues. Well, maybe not globalization so much, though one student developed a platform for the web that will publish the high school newspaper and TV programing on the internet.
The graduating seniors were asked; “How have you been the change in your school and community?”Over the past three years, about 120 kids have submitted their essays.Theirresponses have been impressive and have given great hope that these Generation Z’s will enter the adult world with a sense of responsibility for its future and the skills to make it better.
A good number of these “golden kids” are driven to be the change by the institutions they are part of. In many cases, they have to donate so many hours of volunteering to be part of The National Honor Society, or they join the Humanitarian Club, or Rotary’s Student Club. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts usually have a number of students finishing their Eagle project or Golden award. I’ve seen as many as 40% who commented that they were encouraged by their church/religion to make a difference in the world. I guess you don’t have to be a church-goer to be good, but it doesn’t hurt.
Some of the inspiring young people included a student who started an ice hockey team for Special Needs kids. Another student grew the LGBTQ club to 60 kids by making all members feel welcomed. An Eagle project provided data on who was buried in local cemeteries for an online database.
A student helped start up a Black Student Union, learning he not only had to fight the inertia of starting up a new organization but he also had to put up with classmates saying it was a racist organization. How do you explain to white kids that the entire school has been a White Student Union for generations? People need a place where they can feel safe and share their ideas with others who understand them and their experiences.
Young women are a major share of the 120. One young woman found she was the only female student in a STEM engineering class and she felt STEM should be much more equally representative. She partnered with the Society of Women Engineers to form an SWE club at the high school.A student kept a club going called Big Sisters, Little Sisters where high school girls would mentor and read to kindergarten girls.
After one of the terrible mass school shootings, a couple of young women worked with the administration to coordinate a walkout from the school. This was their way to demonstrate their anger and belief that something must be done to keep mass shootings from ever happening and not accepting them as the new normal. It seems that each class has its own personality where some years there are lots more participants in the Be the Change award than other years.
Although some are saying what they think adults want to hear, most are trying to tell their own story in dealing with how they are grappling with who they are and want to be. Each essay can be so personal. One young man whose parents were from Mexicofelt guilty that he hadn’t done more to help his friends navigate high school because he focused all his time on himself and his grades, doing well in school and getting into an Ivy League college. But he had the self-awareness to recognize he was positioned to be the change in his world better than his peers.
Each student has their own journey andthere are always tradeoffs. I can only imagine what it is like for university admission teams to read these types of essays. (Princeton has 30,000 applications each year.)
The essays capture how these students showed initiative, innovation, and the ability to communicate new ideas as they found a sense of who they are and of purpose in their lives. Most of all, the students were able to execute and translate this new-found vision of themselves into an impact on their school and community.
The 120 self-selected students do not represent a large sample size against the 3,000 plus students who have matriculated through these schools over the past three years. However, I am still encouraged that education in Southern Chester County is winning the fight for the hearts and minds of the students.
I believe the power of this question can be life changing. So ask your kid or grand kid to write 800 words on how they are the change they want to see in the world. You should do the same because if you haven’t affected change yet, this is a good time to start your journey.