At the start of each school year, school leaders are faced with the challenge of engaging students in creating positive school climates and cultures. As a result, finding ways to develop and sustain student leadership becomes a necessity.

Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to identify emerging student leaders and encourage them to participate in The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s “Student Visionaries of the Year” program. This seven-week philanthropic leadership development program engages students in authentic service opportunities that positively impact school culture and climate. It also challenges student leaders to work as a team with the end goal of creating a world without blood cancers.

Candidates and teams work with school leaders, local business leaders, and community leaders to create and implement fundraising plans to support The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). With these funds, LLS drives research, education and support, and policy and advocacy while seeking cures for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin disease, myeloma, and other blood cancers.

Student Visionaries of the Year Team United with Principal Jason Martin at the 2023 Grand Finale Celebration. PHOTOS COURTESY OF BAY HIGH SCHOOL AND THE LEUKEMIA & LYMPHOMA SOCIETY EASTERN GREAT LAKES REGION

The program challenges student leaders to step outside of their comfort zones. Working with other leaders across their communities exposes them to a variety of personalities and cultures. As they solicit support for their team, they learn self-confidence, how to handle setbacks, and how to build upon successes. This opportunity helps students become flexible, responsive, and reflective—leadership traits that they can then apply in the classroom, on the playing fields, and after graduation.

Whether through presenting to boards and business leaders when asking for sponsorships, working with elementary and middle school staff to engage the younger generation, planning events, or working with local restaurants on community events, Student Visionaries of the Year helps to shape a school’s underlying norms and values—while at the same time creating connections between stakeholders and the school. As a school adopts the program, traditions and rituals are built over time and leadership service, based upon authentic opportunities, becomes part of the school’s culture.

Principal Jason Martin, center, participating in Team United’s Shave It or Save It for Cancer event for their Student Visionaries of the Year campaign.

For me as a principal, these seven weeks are one of the highlights of my year. The Student Visionaries of the Year program gives me the chance to work alongside my students and community. It highlights the values we are instilling in our school culture and creates a positive climate as the school comes together, united toward a common goal and cause. Student Visionaries of the Year allows me to be a part of the development of leaders within the school and community. The relationships I establish with those students who are part of the team serve me well as a principal, as they create a network of students eager to contribute to our school’s culture and climate. When the seven weeks of the program conclude, schools are left with student leaders, who have reached out to build relationships with other students, staff, and community stakeholders and who can continue working alongside school leaders on increasing community engagement and developing a positive learning environment.

One of the greatest impacts this program has on my school is its ability to create diverse teams. Many of the strongest teams pull students from different demographics, allowing the team to create the widest network possible as they begin their fundraising work. Students of all abilities and backgrounds can find roles within a team, as there are needs for advertising, social media, corporate asks, organizing smaller school events, or planning larger community events. Any student with an interest in service, philanthropy, and leadership can get involved.

Through LLS’s Student Visionaries of the Year program, school leaders have the opportunity to cement philanthropy as part of school culture and create young leaders.

Team United won the 2023 Cleveland Student Visionaries of the Year title, raising more than $118,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

I implore you as an educator to consider your emerging student leaders for this program. It will not only help them become more confident while collaborating toward a meaningful cause, but it will also make a positive impact within your school and your community.

Learn more about Student Visionaries of the Year at

Jason Martin is the principal of Bay High School in Bay Village, OH.