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Who’s Your Hero? High School Students Lead the Way

by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.

The Harvard Business Review shook the ground a lot a few years ago with an article that pointed out that corporations appoint people to supervisory positions at an average age of around 30, but these lucky people were first sent for supervisory training at an average age of 42! [1]These individuals were doomed to spend fully one-third of their management career without ever undergoing training in how to be a supervisor and leader.[2]

Among the high school student population, some coaching occurs in leadership, but most of has to do with such things as drama club, or sports leadership, such at captain of various teams.  Very few programs focus on training leaders at the high school level in the art and science of protecting public health and saving taxpayer dollar in the environmental space.

The kids are not waiting!   

In Concord, New Hampshire, high school students thought that the schools' recycling efforts were wimpy.  Without faculty involvement they set aside one day, and emptied all the trash bins on campus onto a tarp on the school's front lawn, and sorted what they found.  Out of 275 pounds of stuff they collected from garbage bins that one day, 250 pounds of it were recyclable.  Only 25 pounds  (less than one-tenth) actually needed to go to the landfill.   The adult leadership of the school was impressed, a bit embarrassed, and set in motion efforts to role model better behavior for the students.  Subsequent landfill dumping (and costs to taxpayers) dropped enormously, and recycling went up.[3]

A few students at a freshman dorm at Harvard noticed that huge amounts of old pizza, half eaten sandwiches and other food scraps were being thrown out every day.  They also noticed chemical fertilizer being applied to the plants outside their dorm.   The freshman set up a worm farm in the dorm basement, and put special "put old food here" bins in the lounges.   Every morning student volunteers carried the waste food down to the basement.  The worms eat the food scraps, and make an organic soil amendment that is better than chemical fertilizer.   This is then applied to the landscaping plants outside the dorms instead of chemicals.[4]

In Acton, Massachusetts, a group of high school students, concerned about air pollution from coal fired power plants and teacher pay cuts due to energy costs asked administrators for data about energy costs.    The students were appalled to find out that none of the school leaders had this data.   

The students organized themselves into teams and armed themselves with hand held "Kill-A-Watt" energy meters they got from e-bay for around $24.00.  They went around the school and measured energy use.  They inspected classrooms, computer labs, and other spaces, and found such things as lights in closets that were always on because there was no "on-off" switch, entire computer labs and printers were left running over weekends, and many obsolete and expensive light bulbs.  By school years end these students had saved the school $33,000![5]

Trayvon Martin, the young black male killed in a controversial shooting in early 2012.  He was a Krop Senior High school student.    Shortly after he was killed, Blake Mars, a sophomore at the same school, planned and coordinated a yearlong series to combat racism.   The events included power point slide shows about how the student body could work together to overcome its divisions.

Events included "Mix-it-up" lunch days, when students were encouraged by fellow students to move to lunch tables of people they did not know, and discuss why they usually sat with people like themselves.   A "wall of intolerance" was created, where students were urged to write out every nasty name they have ever been called, along with the story around the incident.  During a multi-racial ceremony that included group singing, the wall was then knocked down.[6]

The students wanted to create a better society.  They worked in the arena of everyday behavior.   In some cases they pulled these impressive efforts off in spite of the adults around them, not because of them.

And there is the lesson.   We can all make America great, by picking a problem, naming it, and taking it on.  In an age where many ask who the role models are, perhaps we need to look to our kids.

1 http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/12/why-do-we-wait-so-long-to-trai/

2 Assuming an average supervisory career starts at age 30, and lasted until retirement at age 66, for a total of 36 years in management, 12 years without training is 1/3 of their management career.

3 http://www.schoolrecycling.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Press-Release-TOLD.pdf

4 http://green.harvard.edu/news/worm-composting-comes-freshman-dorms

5 http://www.nwf.org/Eco-Schools-USA/Become-an-Eco-School/Case-Studies/Case-Study-Archive/Energy.aspx

6 http://trayvonmartinfoundation.org/meet_the_winners/

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