In a year when students staged walkouts to show their support for gun control and young adults ages 18–29 greatly increased their participation in the midterm elections (31 percent in 2018 versus 20 percent in 2014, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement), it’s not surprising that student activism was on everyone’s minds in 2018. But student voice and engagement aren’t new concepts to principals or to NASSP.

The vision of NASSP is to foster great leaders in every school who are committed to the success of each student, and the new Building Ranks framework includes dimensions on student-centeredness and collaborative leadership that encourage school leaders to empower students and the entire school community to collectively achieve that vision of learning for all.

At Palm Middle School in Moreno Valley, CA, the administrative team hosts student forums or town hall meetings during lunch where students can voice their opinions and concerns on any topic affecting school climate, culture, or equity, says Principal Mallanie Harris. A student advisory committee representing grades 9–12 shares their thoughts, opinions, concerns, and suggestions at Smoky Hill Middle School in Aurora, CO. Students there also participate in an athletics and activities council and the Diversity Leadership Team 9–12, which meets regularly with teachers to discuss issues of race, diversity, and equity, says Principal Chuck Puga. Similarly, Kevin Gaines, the principal of Hart County High School in Hartwell, GA, has two student representatives who voice opinions on the School Governance Team, which also includes, parents, teachers, and business leaders from the community.

At the 2018 National Principals Conference, Digital Principal of the Year Dwight Carter talked about the student advisory board he created during his time as principal at New Albany High School in New Albany, OH. He met with students from all four grade levels on a quarterly basis to talk about their concerns and changes they would like to see in the school. Other principals at the conference shared how they empower students to have a voice at their schools, how student voice has enhanced their own school leadership, and the importance of student advocacy.

NASSP has a long history of promoting student leadership through the National Honor Societies, National Student Council (NatStuCo), and NatStuCo’s Raising Student Voice & Participation (RSVP), which is a tool for student councils to better understand the needs of their entire student body and to solicit ideas for making improvements in their schools and communities. During the 2016–17 school year, we formed the first NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee comprising middle level and high school students, advisers, and principals. The committee’s goal was to unite student and school leaders from NHS, NJHS, and NatStuCo around a desire to cultivate the next generation of leaders by encouraging social consciousness and inspiring students to think of themselves as global citizens.

The 2018–19 NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee is focused specifically on change at the community level. The group created a hashtag initiative, #EngageInChange, which seeks to inspire service that, even if small in scale, can create ripples of positive change in the larger global context.

“At my school, we specifically wanted more civic engagement and student involvement in some of the decision making that would impact us as students,” says Esther Abiona, a student at Early College High School at Delaware State University in Dover, DE. “So, a few students—along with myself—reached out to our adviser, who was able to pull some strings for us and got us a meeting with the secretary of the board of education. In the meeting, we voiced our desires to her, and as a result of our advocacy, we will now have student representatives sitting on the board of education for the first time in Delaware.”

The Student Leadership Advisory Committee hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill in January where they discussed the importance of civic engagement. Jack Tucker, a student at Carroll Senior High School in Southlake, TX, shared the work he had done as a campaign volunteer and intern for his state senator. His school organized a voter registration drive aimed at registering all eligible students before the midterm elections. Sydney Neal from St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown, MD, talked about a social media campaign she led to promote issues of importance to young women, and the Maryland Association of Student Councils’ visit to the state capital. During the event, the committee urged Congress to fully fund the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants under Title IV, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which provides funding for civic education in addition to other allowable activities that provide students with a well-rounded education, safe and healthy schools, and technology to enhance their learning.

Amanda Karhuse is director of advocacy for NASSP.

Check out pictures and video from the Student Leadership Advisory Committee briefing on Capitol Hill in January:

Sidebar: 2018–19 NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee


  • Esther Abiona—Early College High School at Delaware State University, Dover, DE
  • Devlin Andrews—Coventry High School, Coventry, RI
  • Tiffany Garcia—Palm Middle School, Moreno Valley, CA
  • Lauren Kimzey—Hamilton High School, Hamilton, MT
  • Sydney Neal—St. Mary’s Ryken High School, Leonardtown, MD
  • Nadine Rodriguez—The TASIS School in Dorado, Dorado, PR
  • Jack Tucker—Carroll Senior High School, Southlake, TX
  • Billy Wermuth—North Penn High School, Lansdale, PA


  • Kevin Gaines—Hart County High School, Hartwell, GA
  • Mallanie Harris—Palm Middle School, Moreno Valley, CA
  • Julie Kasper—Century High School, Hillsboro, OR
  • Robert Motley—Atholton High School, Columbia, MD—NASSP Board liaison
  • Chuck Puga—Smoky Hill High School, Aurora, CO


  • Melissa Arroyo—The TASIS School in Dorado, Dorado, PR
  • James Fahy—Dickinson High School, Dickinson, ND