Recently, members of NASSP’s Student Leadership Advisory Committee visited Capitol Hill to meet with their respective members of Congress and participate in education-focused advocacy. The Student Leadership Advisory Committee has helped shape NASSP’s Student Leadership Initiative: Global Citizenship and continues to be an important voice on behalf of young people. In the posts below, learn about what a few of the committee members did while advocating on Capitol Hill.
Cedar Creek High School
It was a last-minute flurry of activity outside of Texas Sen. John Cornyn’s office, swapping my practical shoes for sophisticated ones, digging out the folder of information for Sen. Cornyn’s staffer and my own notes, a lifeline I was determined not to need. I steeled myself to push open the doors and the most comforting assurance came to the forefront of my mind: “Congressmen are just people. Talk to them like you’d talk to anyone else.” True as this is, it is hard to forget that congressmen and congresswomen have very influential positions. They have power, endowed by their constituents, to make decisions that impact the lives of millions.
Going into the legislative advocacy day on Capitol Hill, I labored under the assumption that power was consolidated into the congressman himself, and perhaps his advisers. However, I was wrong. Students are constituents too. We have not only the right but the responsibility to advocate for causes close to our hearts. We sit in the classrooms and directly feel the effects of many decisions made and laws passed on Capitol Hill, so it is up to us to ensure our voices are heard. Student advocacy is an overlooked and underutilized tool that can have great effect. As student leaders, we have boundless passion and energy. When channeled into advocacy, that enthusiasm could effect substantial, positive changes at a local, state, or even national level.
The Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science (MS)²
I had a great experience on Capitol Hill. Our purpose for going up there was to talk to Congress members or their staff about the Every Student Succeeds Act. We highlighted the fact that ESSA states that there will be a grant program under the Title IV act to help state governments provide students with a well-rounded education, support safe and healthy students, and support the effective use of technology. Also, we reminded them that ESSA needs $1.65 billion to make it successful and we hope they fund it at least at that amount.
Being on Capitol Hill was fun, and two out of the three staff members said that their congressman or congresswoman supported ESSA. One of the Congress members that supported it was my congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton.
I did not get to have much conversation with her, but at least I took a picture with her. I talked to her staff member and he was very nice. He let me ask some extra questions about his job too. I learned from him and the trip that members of Congress and their staff want to listen to us kids on topics. I think it’s because the decisions that they make will affect our futures, so they want to hear from us to see if they are making the right decisions for our futures. I was also able to meet John Lewis on the way to our meeting point. It was very fun and inspirational to meet him; I wish I had given him my business card. Thank you NASSP for this opportunity. #NASSPStudentVoice
Johnsburg High School
Being able to advocate and experience Capitol Hill on the inside was such a privilege and perspective-changer. Not too many people get to meet with representatives like we did. Although our meetings were arranged by the NASSP advocacy team, any individual can try to plan a meeting with any representative. Senators are very powerful, but local representatives have quite a bit of influence on you too. Also, it would probably be easier to schedule a meeting with them. Doing things in person is the best way to do something—that was the most special aspect about our visits. The most valuable lesson I learned about advocating and meeting representatives was how much you as an individual can do. I met with staffers, who are representatives of our congressmen and congresswomen. It is best to ask to meet with a representative because they are much more likely to meet with you and take action if you are speaking for many people.
My favorite meeting was with Sen. Dick Durbin’s staffer Chad Phillips. Chad was very kind and really cared about what I had to say. This made the meeting more comfortable and shattered the stereotype of “they don’t care.” It was my favorite meeting because it was dedicated to me. Sen. Durbin is from my state, and it went well. If I had to say one thing, it’s that they truly want to hear from the student. I was sitting in on another meeting with a teacher on my committee and the staffer kind of stopped them and asked, “Can I hear from the student?” This surprised me because I wasn’t even expecting to talk and I wasn’t even from the state of the teacher and staffer.
You can advocate and represent just like I did. Start with school administration, your school board, and your city council, and try bigger offices. I can’t thank the NASSP advocacy team enough for planning these meetings. My fellow students, we are powerful and desired to be heard. We are constantly proving how influential our young, fresh minds are and adults are starting to recognize it.