Volume 48 (2019-2020)

The Middle Ground

For some students, going to college is an expectation from the time they are born. I was one such student. My parents consistently reminded me as I was growing up that I needed to maintain good grades, earn strong test scores, and involve myself with the school and local community to be a competitive college applicant. Therefore, it was a big surprise when I learned that several of my classmates who had been in AP courses with me were not planning on attending college.
Today, I am an educational adviser with the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Young Scholars Program, which focuses on helping high-achieving students with financial need attend and thrive at the nation’s top colleges. Since my naive perceptions during high school, I have learned through my work that the norm for most of America’s students is not to attend college. In fact, Stanford University’s Caroline Hoxby and Harvard University’s Christopher Avery did a comprehensive study of high-performing, low-income students and published groundbreaking research in 2012, finding that nearly one-fourth of these students never even apply to college. While there are several reasons why, the one that I believe educators all have the power to influence the most is a lack of exposure.
At a school in rural North Carolina, where previously only 11 percent of students were expected to graduate college in six years (based on family income), there is now a 63 percent success rate of college degree attainment. As a former middle level teacher at that school, there are many things that I attribute to this success—not the least of which is the fact that our students, families, and staff were all willing to try. Some of the big things that we did to help to create a college-going school culture were to lengthen the school day and not create set “tracks” for our classes in order to ensure all students had access to a rigorous curriculum. I know that these big choices cannot be applied everywhere. But there were also many small, simple practices that I believe are easily transferable to any school.
One of the ways we were able to inspire a college-going culture was having a college shirt day where both staff and students were encouraged to wear college T-shirts or sweatshirts to school. When I look back at my elementary and middle level pictures, I notice that I was often wearing a Notre Dame or Michigan sweatshirt. The decision my parents made to buy me college gear for athletic teams that I supported helped me to internalize that one day, I would be attending college.
Furthermore, our hallways were decorated with college pennants so students couldn’t go anywhere in the school without seeing one. We even named our homerooms after the colleges that the teachers graduated from, so when we called for attendance, you might have heard me say, “I need all University of Maryland students to line up.” This was a great source of pride for our teachers, which then inspired our students to want to have the same sense of pride for their future alma maters.
We also scheduled field trips every year, starting as young as fifth grade, to visit nearby college campuses. For many visits, current attendees of the college gave us a tour and talked with our students about the steps it took for them to come from their neighborhood and attend that school. Seeing these near-peer role models is extremely helpful to students and allows them to visualize themselves on these college campuses, as well as to learn about the hard work and skills necessary to make it as a college student.
If your school does not have funding for college visits, there are ways to bring college students to you, either by inviting alumni back to speak with your students or by reaching out to local colleges to see if they have any middle level outreach programs. In fact, more and more universities in the country now have outreach programs designed specifically to cultivate middle level interest from traditionally underserved populations.
You don’t even have to just focus on local colleges, as many colleges now have “alternative break” groups that are willing to visit your school for a week. In fact, my alma mater—the University of Maryland—continues to send a group of volunteers over their winter term to my former school in North Carolina to do service. Most large colleges in the country have an alternative break program, which is a win-win exchange. These colleges are looking for community partners to teach their students about education, while your school benefits by having a week of volunteers to help and to teach your students about college. I’ve also found that the volunteers are always happy to bring college shirts to give to our students as part of their trip.
It’s never too early to have students research information about colleges. One year, I gave my students the assignment to research the college of their dreams and to design a poster with information about the college, including average GPA and test scores required, so that they would remember what is needed to earn admission to college. Students presented their assignments to the class and then we hung the posters up in the classroom so that they would see them every day as a reminder of their college dreams. I even had one student who wrote the name of his dream college on the top of every assignment he handed in to me as his way of reminding himself to only submit assignments that he felt were top quality, as a way of putting him on track to earn acceptance to that college.
Just as you might need to teach students important vocabulary about science or history, it is just as important to teach them about the vocabulary of college. We cannot assume that students will learn this outside of school. While my parents knew they wanted me to go to college, when it actually came time to apply, they, being immigrants, did not know all of the technical jargon to help me. It was important for me to have a counselor at school who took the time to teach me about the difference between early decision and early action, about grants versus loans, and about all of the other intricacies of applying to college.
Another fun assignment is to have students interview a college graduate about their college experience and report back to the class about that college and what else they learned from their interview. For students who may be the first in their family to go to college, this can be a scary assignment; it’s helpful to have a list of other teachers who have volunteered to help, as well as other people in your network who are willing to be interviewed, especially if they are in different professions that students may also be interested in learning more about.
While college may not be the right fit for all of your students, I strongly believe that it should always be a choice that students have the opportunity to make. Besides making sure that all students have access to a rigorous education so that they are academically prepared for college, giving them exposure to college campuses, graduates, and vocabulary will further inspire a college-going culture. Similar to anything that is taught in school, students will only learn what they are exposed to, so if you want them all to have the opportunity to attend college, we need to explicitly teach them about it.

Patrick Wu is a senior educational adviser for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. The Foundation has awarded more than $200 million in scholarships to more than 2,600 students from eighth grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive educational advising and other support services. To learn more about Cooke Scholarships, please visit Applications are now open for the College Scholarship Program and the Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The application for the Cooke Young Scholars Program opens in January 2020.

Honor Society Update: Fall 2019

Welcome to another year for your school’s Honor Society chapter! Whether you’re a new adviser stepping into the role or a seasoned adviser looking for ways to refresh your chapter, we want to highlight resources that can help make your year a success. With these, you’ll not only be equipped with tools to support your own role, you’ll engage your chapter members and promote their growth as leaders in your school and community.

Verifying Student Membership With the National Office—NEW!

Advisers and student members have both been asking: Once students are inducted into NHS and NJHS, is there a way that the national office can record members? The answer is now “yes!” Once students are inducted into NJHS and NHS, advisers can add their names to their online account to automatically verify them as Honor Society members for life. Students can also create their accounts on our website and the chapter adviser will be automatically notified to request verification. Verifying students is easy—simply log in and check a box! Have questions? Visit our FAQ page on Student Accounts, found at and

Adviser Resource Center

Your next stop for more information is the Adviser Resource Center, found at and You’ll find all the reference materials you need, including the NHS Constitution, NHS Handbook, sample bylaws, resource directories, and more. Newcomers should start by browsing the “New Chapters & New Advisers” section to become acquainted with the wealth of information and tools to help in organizing and managing a chapter. Are your chapter’s bylaws aligned with the national guidelines outlined in the NHS Constitution? The beginning of the year is a great time to refamiliarize yourself with both the NHS Handbook and your chapter’s own regulations and procedures to identify any areas that may require updating. Selection of candidates will be here sooner than you realize, so make sure you know your chapter’s selection process. Service projects are the backbone of Honor Society chapter activities, and the “Project Planning & Fundraising” section has the tools you need to get started planning your chapter’s service projects for the year. From there, visit the National Student Project Database to see what other chapters have accomplished and get inspiration.

Adviser Online Community

The Adviser Online Community ( connects advisers around the world by providing a platform to join meaningful discussions, learn how other chapters operate, and find solutions to common leadership challenges. The “Managing Your Chapter” discussion area can be invaluable for new advisers who may seek guidance on what to do during their first months with the chapter, and seasoned advisers can share advice based on their experiences. This is also a great place to find input from peers on handling difficult topics such as discipline, dismissal, and cases of nonselection. Be sure to also check out the “Empowering Your Student Leaders” discussion section to read how other chapters build teamwork and encourage their members to take on leadership roles and become involved in the community. We’re excited to see what your chapter will accomplish in the new year as you maintain and build on the legacy of the National Honor Societies. Don’t hesitate to explore the resources available to you and your chapter members. If you have any questions, please contact the Customer Care Center at,, or 800-253-7746.

Advise: Fall 2019

One cannot deny that school is a busy place. With classes, new learning initiatives, sports, clubs, celebrations, and of course, National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, and student council meetings, students and staff are constantly juggling multiple commitments.


Columns & Departments

Morning Announcements: Fall 2019

Get your principal trending!

Get Your Principal Trending!

Your council or chapter knows how hard your principal works to create a positive culture of growth in your school, and it’s time to celebrate those qualities! Encourage your council or chapter members to create a video that shares their appreciation of your school’s principal ahead of National Principals Month. The deadline for entries is October 7, 2019, and winning entries will be featured on the National Principals Month website. Then, during the month, participate in other activities such as sending an e-card or giving your principal a shout-out on social media. Visit for contest rules and details.

Plan Now for Leadership Development

Plan now for leadership developmentLEAD Conferences offer experiential leadership skills development for both you and your student leaders—all while connecting you with peers from across the country. Thanks to overwhelming demand, this year’s conferences will be coming to the Washington, D.C., area during the fall and winter and to Chicago in the springtime. Act soon—these events will sell out! If you need to obtain registration approval from your school’s administration, LEAD has a downloadable toolkit found at that can help you build your case and outline the benefits of attending.

NHS Scholarship Opens Soon

On October 1, the NHS Scholarship program will begin accepting online applications. A total of $2 million will be awarded to 600 extraordinary NHS seniors, bringing them closer to achieving their postsecondary goals. Advisers will receive an email with an application link to share with their student members who are in good standing. Visit to learn more about the NHS Scholarship program—including recommendation requirements—and encourage your students to get started!

Seeking Excelent

Seeking Excellent Student Councils

NatStuCo’s National Council of Excellence Awards program recognizes middle level and high school student councils that consistently provide quality leadership activities and service to their schools and communities. Compare your own council’s activities against these national standards. How does it measure up? How does your council engage your student body and increase its impact? Applications are now open and will close February 18. Learn more and apply today at

Celebrate Outstanding

Celebrate Outstanding Service

The Outstanding Service Project awards recognize NHS and NJHS chapters that have made significant contributions at the local level. Celebrate your chapter’s accomplishments by submitting those projects conducted from August 1, 2018, to July 30, 2019, for consideration. Five NHS and five NJHS projects will be selected. Visit and for criteria and the online application. The deadline for submissions is November 1, 2019.

New! Emerging Student Leaders

NEW! Emerging Student Leaders

Specific to middle level students, this exciting new program guides and recognizes young student council members who are making significant strides in developing their skills as leaders. Learn more at

NEW! Adviser Webinar Series

NEW! Adviser Webinar SeriesThe national office is excited to announce a new webinar series tailored specifically for NHS and NJHS advisers. The series will cover tips, resources, and advice, with valuable information to offer for both novice and returning advisers. And don’t worry—if you’re not able to view them live, they’ll be available to watch on demand the following day. For more information, including dates, topics, and registration links, visit or

Dates to Remember


18 Adviser Webinar: “Selection Procedures Overview”
19 Student Webinar: “Understanding the College Application Process”
25 Adviser Webinar: “NHS Scholarship (New Process)”
25 Student Webinar: “How to Shine in Your Scholarship Applications”
27 LEAD DC Fall early bird registration deadline


National Principals Month

1 NHS Scholarship application process open
2 Student Webinar: “Navigating the FAFSA”
7 National Principals Month video contest deadline
10 LEAD DC Fall presenter application deadline
10 Student Webinar: “First Steps in Writing Your College Essay”


1 NHS/NJHS Outstanding Service Project application deadline
5 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards student application deadline
15–17 LEAD DC Fall


1 NatStuCo Warren E. Shull Adviser of the Year Award nomination deadline
2 NHS/NJHS Rynearson Adviser of the Year nomination process opens
4 Adviser Webinar: “Discipline and Dismissal”
6 LEAD DC Fall presenter application deadline
10 Student Webinar: “First Steps in Writing Your College Essay”
19 LEAD DC Winter early bird registration deadline

Proud to Be First

Aaron Lozano is very familiar with the challenges faced by students who are the first in their families to go to college—especially those from other cultures where college attendance is less of a fixture than it is in the United States. That familiarity with the issue is born from personal experience.
Today, Lozano is a journalism teacher and student council adviser at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Memorial Early College High School in Alamo, TX—located on the Texas border with Mexico—where many students are the first in their families to graduate from high school. In fact, for many, high school is the first opportunity anyone has taken to talk to them seriously about college.
Lozano’s own family traveled around the country for years as migrant workers when he was young, then settled in Alamo where he attended high school just a few miles from where he now teaches. He went on to college and into the field of education like two of his four older siblings.
He says experiences as a “first-gen” student—and now working with them—have shown him there are several ways that schools and leadership groups can play a role in helping eligible students move on to college when it hasn’t been part of their family’s experience.
“I find that most first-generation college students, like myself, need a little more patience and exposure with the college application and exploration process,” Lozano says. “We were not raised within a college-going culture. Our parents or grandparents were never part of an alumni group or have deep-rooted ties to an alma mater. It’s unexplored territory.”
That assistance can range from helping with nettlesome financial aid forms or understanding various college features to simply normalizing the college experience. But he and others who work with these students also note that often the students themselves are driven to get more advanced education, and they should not be underestimated.
“These students are raised with the understanding that a postsecondary high school degree will not only help them realize their individual American dream, but achieve advancement for their entire family’s American dream,” he says. “Their drive for college success is not just an aspirational educational goal; it’s a drive to solidify their family’s sacrifice.”
Lozano also says given that motivation—and the resourcefulness and grit that often grows out of the experience of being new to this country—these students succeed best when the assistance is well conceived and specific to the individual student’s needs.
Rachel Fishman, a senior policy analyst who has studied the issue for New America (formerly the New America Foundation) in Washington, D.C., says high school teachers and advisers should refrain from generalizing students.
“You can’t really make assumptions about first-generation students,” she says. “By assuming too much, you can discount a strength or overlook an individual need. Each of these students is very different.”

Offer Some Simple Help

Advisers can begin helping by talking about their own college experience and answering any questions or addressing fears their students may have.
“It’s critical that we actively speak and communicate our own college-going experiences with these students,” Lozano says. “For most of them, it’s the only stories they will hear about a postsecondary education.”
Advisers and school leaders can also direct them to the proper resources to get assistance—their own school, online, or colleges they may be interested in attending. Students should understand, Fishman says, that colleges may be suffering from a slump in enrollment and are seeking qualified minority students, so they should be realistic, but set their sights high.
Some leadership groups find that a way to better educate their own members and help other students in their school gain a greater understanding of the college exploration and application process is to put them to work. Student council groups can encourage students to help organize a college fair, a campus visit, or a workshop on the application or financial aid process. Organizing a group activity with college preparation as a theme embeds the information with the members and their families and spreads the information to others in their school who need it.
“We do as much as we can for these students,” says Amber Cowgill, a leadership teacher at David Douglas High School in Portland, OR, a school with a growing number of immigrant students. “First-generation kids are unable to access the resources at home and have many parents who don’t even know where to start, let alone speak English.”
She explains to students how leadership skills can help them as they apply to college and when they get to campus, where the very different social experience for a first-generation student can sometimes cause them to struggle or drop out.

Preparing for College Life

Alecea Standlee, a sociology professor at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, PA, says the college experience—which can be so exciting and attractive to some students—can be intimidating to those for whom it is new.
“High school staff members and administrators do a good job of preparing students academically, but often don’t prepare first-gen students for the cultural expectations of college,” she says. “Students who are first generation are often working class and are thus unprepared for the middle- and upper-class norms of college.”
Standlee says advisers might survey students to find out what questions or concerns they or their families have and provide clear, fundamental information—and encourage them to seek assistance.
“Often they don’t know how to ask for help, how to utilize institutional resources, or manage the difficult schedule for college applications,” she says, and suggests that leadership teachers and advisers should provide hands-on assistance regarding the process and structures to provide support for students and families.
Angela Conley, a counselor with a special program in Houston schools that helps underserved, high-performing students get to college, says the cost of college and financial aid options are often a stumbling block because they are confusing, even for families more accustomed to the process.
Parents, she says, may be ashamed of their income levels or worried about whether their students will have enough for expenses beyond what scholarships or “free college” programs provide. They may not understand that the information will be confidential, and therefore they’re concerned about their information being compromised, especially if they are undocumented, she notes.

A Success Story

Jenny Rodriguez, a student at Orange High School in Orange, NJ, navigated those resources successfully. In fact, she was named the winner of the National Honor Society (NHS) Scholarship during the 2017–18 school year, selected from among 15,000 applicants for the prestigious award.
NHS granted more than $1.5 million in scholarships to NHS member students in the 2017–18 school year. Approximately 475 national semifinalists received a $2,850 scholarship, then 24 national finalists were awarded $5,150. From that group, Rodriguez was chosen to receive the top award of $22,650.
Rodriguez, a first-generation student who has now completed her freshman year at American University, continually helped classmates and was active in a number of organizations, says Marcey Thomas, NHS adviser for Orange High School. Rodriguez was vice president of the school’s NHS chapter, served as a key leader in a variety of service projects, and worked as a youth group leader, all while maintaining an excellent GPA.
“There were long days that stretched into even longer evenings of service and activities. I knew that I could count on Jenny’s creativity, empathy, and integrity,” Thomas says, ticking off the many major projects she led and small ways she helped classmates, noting that her involvement in NHS allowed her to utilize and get credit for those skills.
Rodriguez says as she applied to college, she needed help with “the complexities of financial aid” and “learning how to ask for help from others without the worry of judgment.”
“My parents did not finish college and they are not aware of the college process,” she says. “Because of this, I looked for support from others who did know and who were able to guide me through this long process.”
However, Rodriguez, who has documented her experience in national publications, thinks that first-generation students also should be recognized for their abilities.
“I believe that there is a danger in underestimating the ability of first-gen students. Needing assistance should not be equated to not being capable of achieving greatness,” she says. “I have seen how underestimating some students has led to adults having lower expectations, which can also lead to the student lowering their expectations of themselves.”
She said that, for her, it was important to have a strong belief in her own abilities.
“The most important thing is to remember that being first-generation does not mean that we are unable to follow in the footsteps of others, but that we have the challenge of creating our own for the first time.” —

Jim Paterson is a writer based in Lewes, DE.

Sidebar: Follow these tips for helping first-generation students with the college exploration and application process:

Start early. There are a number of excellent online resources where students can explore careers and colleges, and even middle level schools are beginning to take trips to nearby colleges to explore campuses and get students excited about their prospects—especially those students with limited exposure to college.
Include families. Whether you are holding an event for a leadership group, a class, or the whole school, involving parents is key—especially parents who have not had much exposure to college. A college information night sponsored by your students might be a good way for them to combine a service project and a learning experience.
Save, then post. General information about college often remains the same, and schools sometimes keep a library of information online and solicit additional tips from others—like students who attend a particular college or parents and staff members who have enrolled at the same schools that students are considering. Good fundamental information can be helpful for families new to the college experience, and they should be directed to it early and often.
Go local. Within your own school, staff members often have experiences that can be helpful for students or families, and alumni can be some of the best spokespersons, offering very current information from a student’s perspective. School staff also are most likely to get another student’s attention with warnings or tips that wouldn’t be heeded from another adult, like a parent.
Support, but aim high. It is important to provide extra support to any student where needed, and sometimes it may be best to gather information about concerns with a survey or questionnaire. But don’t make assumptions about the interests, ability, or engagement of students because their knowledge or enthusiasm seems to be lacking. It may be that with the right information or encouragement, they will be some of the best prospects.

NatStuCo Update: Fall 2019

In order for your student council to meet the needs of their school community, advisers need to be equipped with the tools that will enable them to best serve their students. Whether you’re new to the role or returning, the national office has an array of resources that will empower you as you strengthen your student council and guide your students to find their voice.

Adviser Resource Center

The Adviser Resource Center ( serves as your road map for effective council operations. If this is your first year, be sure to explore the “New Advisers” section, which has checklists, timelines for new student councils, a survival guide for new advisers, and more. As the school year gets underway, one of the most important tasks for your student council will be planning projects and activities, such as service projects, spirit activities, fundraising, or special events. The Adviser Resource Center provides tips on getting started, the 12 W’s of project planning, the National Student Project Database for brainstorming ideas, plus additional resources. Then, publicize your council’s activities by using tips on how to tap into local media and leveraging social media to celebrate your council’s accomplishments! The Adviser Resource Center is also home to the Career Exploration Series, where former student council members share their career path and how student council, high school, and college prepared them for postgraduate life. These videos are an excellent starting point to guide discussions with your students about their career goals.

Adviser Online Community

The Adviser Online Community ( provides access to a network of fellow advisers from far and wide, enabling you to connect with peers on everything from sharing best practices to seeking solutions for your questions and challenges. Be sure to check out “Managing Your Council”—whether you’re a new or returning adviser—to get advice or share insights. This is a great place to find discussions or start conversations about day-to-day council activities and how other councils handle officer elections, coordinate events, and more. In “Engaging Your Leaders,” advisers can discuss how they encourage student voice in their school community, from team-building activities to organizing events.


One way to promote student voice at your school is with the Raising Student Voice & Participation (RSVP) program, which provides students with the opportunity to share suggestions, ideas, and opinions—and then take that collective voice to effect real change in their schools and communities. RSVP guides students through a series of three schoolwide summits that allow them to share their observations of school or community issues, offer recommendations for improvement, and build a framework to put those recommendations into action. The program creates a foundation for student engagement and follow-through that allows students to see how their opinions can be heard and how real change can be implemented. Learn more at

Through these resources and programs, new and veteran advisers will find everything they need to provide their students with leadership opportunities and the chance to cultivate student voice. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Customer Care Center at or 800-253-7746. We’re excited to see what your student council will accomplish!

That's Not What I Meant


Despite tensions in the current climate, society continually strives to embrace diversity. Smoky Hill High School in Aurora, CO, prides itself on celebrating diversity, and in doing so, students and staff are able to form close bonds and become a family. Subsequently, our diversity can also be a breeding ground for microaggressions—something we are working to fight against every day.

A microaggression is “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary). These go beyond race and can include gender, disabilities, sexual orientation, the car you drive, and even the clothes you wear. Microaggressions occur often out of misinformation and a lack of knowledge, and they can leave a lasting impact.

People tend to hesitate when talking about microaggressions because they fall on the same spectrum as prejudices and discrimination, but we can help prevent prejudice and discrimination by addressing microaggressions head on. No one wants to feel like they are discriminatory, and through education and awareness about microaggressions, people will feel more comfortable having discussions because they will understand that there is a difference between a microaggression and discrimination.

Another distinction that needs to be made is between diversity and inclusion. Diversity is having all of the different pieces—in this case, individual students with distinct personalities, backgrounds, and interests—next to each other. Inclusion is when we’re able to put those pieces together to create something new and greater. When people are more inclusive, it is easier for people to go to one another and identify a problem and a solution. Starting the conversation about microaggressions is the first step toward an inclusive community.

The “That’s Not What I Meant” campaign is working to stop the use of microaggressions within the walls of Smoky Hill and beyond. This began with two girls who noticed all of the little hurtful comments that are said between classes, during lunch, even between friends. We wanted to bring these comments out in the open as a way to address, stop, and prevent microaggressions from spreading. We have been able to partner with our school’s Diversity Leadership Team to hold teacher training and presentations and spread more awareness.

With help from AT&T, a Fortune 500 company that focuses on creating a loving environment within its diverse workplace and in its local communities, this campaign can grow exponentially and become one of great change. We were able meet with employees and talk about what they experience in the real world and the workforce. We also had the opportunity to meet with the vice president of AT&T, and it was amazing to see how someone so high in power was able to relate to us—it solidified that there really was a problem outside of high school. We sent a survey to school and business sectors, and the results revealed that once people are given a definition about microaggressions, they were able to identify times when they either expressed one or experienced one. As people come to understand the meaning of a microaggression, it opens up doors for greater discussion.

As of right now, we have an Instagram account (@thatsnotwhat_i_meant) that sends posts that talk about microaggressions. We’ve recently started adding people’s stories about a time where they felt like people were making the wrong assumptions about them and the impact that the program had on them. We also took this campaign to the DECA (formerly Distributive Education Clubs of America) state competition this past February and have written an 18-page informational manual. At the DECA state competition, we were able to qualify for finals, but unfortunately did not make it to nationals. Despite this, we were able to see the impact that our project had not only on our judges, but on those who heard our message.

We need further support from the community to take this campaign as far as it will go, hopefully nationwide or even global. Those who work on this campaign want to make an impact, no matter how small, by taking an already loving community and making it one of greater understanding. People can help by just talking about microaggressions in their schools, workplaces, communities, and more. Our main goal with this campaign is to spread the word about microaggressions, and we believe that once there is enough knowledge about this issue, we can embody a truly inclusive and kind environment.

Kimberly Marfo is a 12th-grade student at Smoky Hill High School in Aurora, CO.

Sidebar: Start Your Own Campaign

There are many ways to start your own “That’s Not What I Meant” campaign or a similar program at your school. Don’t feel discouraged, and be sure to challenge yourself. Make sure you do it because you want to, and not because you feel like you have to. Here are some steps you can follow if you want to start a campaign of your own.

  1. Make a Plan
    • Is there a problem in that area that you can identify and solve?
    • Who are the people affected, and in what way are they affected?
    • Is the environment affected?
    • Is this a common problem locally, nationally, globally?
    • What are some viable solutions?
    • How will you implement them?
  2. Find a Sponsor
    • Talk to a teacher, counselor, etc.
    • Find someone who has time (people always want to help, but they may not have enough time to fully commit to sponsoring you).
    • Find someone who has a passion for your campaign.
  3. Start a Conversation
    • Take ideas to your school’s administration (superintendent, principal, vice principal, etc.).
    • Share your idea(s) with friends and family.
    • Reach out to the community.
  4. Organize
    • Spread your message and the importance of solving the problem.
    • Create and organize events with help from your sponsor(s), administration, classmates, etc. (It’s perfectly OK to start small.)
    • Promote the events through posters, class competitions, etc.
    • Try to involve the entire community.
  5. Branch Out
    • Reach out to a local company or business, especially those that have a reputation for service or believe in your cause (AT&T supported diversity, therefore they appreciated our campaign and were eager to help).
    • Get in contact with someone from the organization, or someone with a connection.
    • Plan a visit to talk to employees about their experiences and get input/suggestions on your idea(s).
    • Connect back to your school and community.
  6. Have Fun
    • Only do something you absolutely love and care about. Otherwise, you will not enjoy it and your campaign will not be as successful as possible.

From the Directors: Fall 2019

Our Advise publication welcomes you to the new academic year with a mix of returning and familiar faves as well as new features. We are proud to debut our new student column, “Active Voices.” Our inaugural piece is authored by Kimberly Marfo, who talks about her campaign to build awareness about the negative effects of microagressions. We also put a familiar name in a continuing feature—our “A Conversation With …” series—where Director Ann Postlewaite will be sitting in the interviewer chair. The fall issue begins with our NHS Rynearson National Adviser of the Year, Donna Murphy, who turned her chapter around to grow not only in numbers, but in heart.
This is the time of year when seniors have college applications on the brain, and you and your colleagues will be asked for recommendations. Ashley Pallie from Pomona College and Calvin Wise from Johns Hopkins University provide a helpful look at how admissions committees read recommendations. And even though college may be further off for middle level students, college aspirations are still important to build for young teens. Patrick Wu of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation talks about the value of building a college-going culture early.
We are privileged to begin the year with you as we share many exciting program updates. More importantly, we can’t wait to showcase the great things happening in your chapters and councils all year long. Our issues may be less frequent this year as we move to a quarterly publication, but our content and love for advisers will be broader and deeper in scope!
Nara Lee
Director of National Honor Societies
Ann Postlewaite
Director of Student Programs

Take 10

Make Them Proud to Be First

Advisers should follow these tips for helping first-generation students with the college exploration and application process:

  • Encourage college attendance aspirations as early as possible—as young as fifth grade.
  • Include families in events or classes that share college information.
  • Save and post fundamental information so it is easily accessible.
  • Utilize local resources such as alumni or school staff.
  • Provide support and don’t make negative assumptions about ability or engagement.

Show, Don’t Tell

Experts Ashley Pallie (Pomona College, Claremont, CA) and Calvin Wise (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD) shared the following advice for advisers who are asked to write letters of recommendation:

  • Be specific and provide examples.
  • Stay away from common generalizations.
  • Stick to one page.
  • Avoid form letters.
  • Highlight a student’s grit and resilience.
  • Be aware of school group readings.

Inspire a
College-Going Culture

Patrick Wu, educational adviser at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, offered some great advice for inspiring a college-going culture at the middle level. Consider the following:

  • Have a college T-shirt day where both staff and students are encouraged to participate.
  • Decorate hallways with college pennants or name homerooms after the teachers’ alma maters.
  • Invite alumni or local college representatives as guest speakers to your school.
  • Educate students on college-specific jargon such as the difference between grants and loans.
  • Have students interview college grads and report back to the class about what they learned.

Eliminate Microaggressions

Student Kimberly Marfo shared her journey toward creating an inclusive school community. She gave the following tips for others to follow in her footsteps and create their own “That’s Not What I Meant” campaign to combat microaggressions or similar issues at their school:

  • Make a plan by identifying the problem you wish to solve and possible solutions.
  • Find a sponsor or several sponsors.
  • Start a conversation and share ideas.
  • Organize events and spread your message.
  • Branch out to local organizations and community members.
  • Have fun!


Always Reach Higher

When we started “Reach Higher” out of the Obama White House, our goals were clear: First lady Michelle Obama would use her voice and convening authority to build a college-going culture to help the United States once again lead the world in college completion. To do that, we were going to have to build a movement. This meant focusing on college and career exposure for students, helping students navigate financial aid and college affordability, helping students become academically prepared beginning on day one of college by taking rigorous college-prep classes in high school, and supporting and elevating the school counseling profession, which is focused on helping students make the successful jump to postsecondary education.
We officially launched the Reach Higher initiative in May 2014 at a College Signing Day rally with more than 2,000 graduating high school seniors at the University of Texas, San Antonio. A year later, we launched “Better Make Room”—a social media campaign designed to authentically reach and amplify the voices of Generation Z students.

College Signing Day

Since the beginning, we at the Reach Higher initiative have looked for creative ways to celebrate and highlight the importance of higher education. To do so meaningfully, we knew we needed to transform culture and celebrate students authentically. Events like our College Signing Day—a day to celebrate students making the commitment to continue their education after high school, whether at a community college, a four-year university or college, an industry-recognized certificate program, or through the military—have become a national movement. Schools, colleges and universities, and organizations in all 50 states (along with the U.S. territories and countries around the world) shine a spotlight on their students by hosting an event to celebrate the power of higher education. College Signing Day makes students the stars of the show by having schools recognize their academic accomplishments in a way that has been traditionally reserved for athletes committing to colleges.
That one College Signing Day event in 2014 turned into 600 events in 2015, then 1,200 events in 2016, then 1,250 events in 2017, and then 2,250 events in 2018. This year, we’re proud to have had more than 3,000 registered College Signing Day events hosted by schools, colleges/universities, and organizations. Hundreds of thousands of students have participated and taken to social media to show their college pride, which is why our timelines and feeds were flooded with photos and messages of students declaring their plans using #CollegeSigningDay and #BetterMakeRoom. In fact, for the past several years, we’ve actually trended on social media and reached over a billion impressions. When we are living in a social media world, we believe that it’s critical to use these platforms to celebrate education the same way we celebrate something like the Super Bowl. It’s extremely powerful to see this movement continue to grow every year.

Beating the Odds

During the summer months, we work to combat “summer melt” by hosting a Beating the Odds Summit. Summer melt is a phenomenon describing students who graduate from high school with college plans and commitments but never show up on day one for college. Studies indicate that between 20 percent and nearly 50 percent of low-income high school grads who have college plans fail to matriculate in the year afterward. Our Beating the Odds Summit is an event created by Ms. Obama for first-generation students to help with overcoming major obstacles on their journey to college.
We wanted to provide first-generation college students with the tools and resources they needed as they worked to transition to college. Similar to College Signing Day, we make sure to livestream this event, to reach as many students as possible beyond those in the room. Ms. Obama shares her powerful story and advice as a first-gen college graduate, while students also hear from a panel of first-generation students sharing lessons learned from their current experience in college. We host workshops throughout the day and talk about the importance of internships, break down some of the college lingo (e.g., office hours, course catalog), and emphasize the importance of not being afraid to ask for help. We know that first-generation students often show up on campus and do not know how to navigate it. This convening is another important effort in demystifying college-going and college success for students who may not come from a college-going culture.

Getting the Word Out

We know that the way students are obtaining and retaining information is constantly changing. Our plan for Better Make Room was to leverage the power of social media by using platforms such as Snapchat and YouTube, while also working with celebrities and influencers to share important messages about higher education and financial aid.
We’ve had the now-former first lady Michelle Obama do everything from rapping about why students should go to college to discussing the importance of completing the FAFSA on talk shows to sharing her advice to first-gen students heading back to school on college campuses. We’ve worked with our celebrity partners and influencers to share inspirational messages on their personal social media accounts, and film videos highlighting key messages about the college-going process. Our goal is to reach these students where they are and have them hear messages from people who inspire them to pursue higher education.
We also work to lift up and share the inspiring stories of high school and college students all over the United States. We recognize and understand how important it is for students to see themselves as being college material, especially if they are the first in their family to pursue higher education. So, we created a Better Make Room takeover series, called #BMRtakeover, to share the powerful stories of everyday students along with those beating the odds. Their stories serve as inspiration for others who are thinking about college or working to complete their college degree. Every week, one high school or college student shares his or her story by writing a blog post and taking over our social media channels, sharing everything from words of advice to Snapchat sessions showing a day in their life at their school or on their college campus.
Continuing our goal of reaching students where they are, we created a free texting tool called UpNext that offers personalized support to high school seniors, rising college freshmen, and current college freshmen on all things college access. We send them text messages—basically small nudges—with information about the college search and application process, federal student aid, even student loan repayment information. We know that in order for a message to resonate with Generation Z, it must be personalized and authentic. So, we have current first-generation college students serve as peer advisers for every student. They help send out every text and answer these students’ questions. We also have advisers from the College Advising Corps to help answer student questions. This evidenced-based intervention helped us reach more than 150,000 students this past year alone.
In 2017, we created a Better Make Room Student Advisory Board to give our nation’s young people the opportunity to have a seat at our table. We ultimately selected a diverse group of high school and college students from all over the country to become ambassadors at their schools and on their campuses. Throughout their time as board members, these students hosted their own College Signing Day events, shared helpful FAFSA resources with their peers, started social media campaigns, and amplified the voices of students in their community. We’ve even had a couple of National Honor Society members serve on our board!

Crucial Supporters

We know building a college-going culture is not possible without the important work being done by teachers, school counselors, and advisers in and outside of the classroom. You are the people working on the ground every day to make sure our nation’s young people have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. It’s not an easy job. We do our best to lift up and celebrate the school counseling profession by hosting professional development convenings and honoring the School Counselor of the Year with the American School Counselor Association. We believe that there cannot be an effective college-success strategy in place if we are not empowering school counselors—from elementary through high school—to show students a pathway to success.
While this obviously includes helping students and families understand how to navigate the college application and selection process, we know that educators and counselors alike are doing essential work around social-emotional learning, too. This includes helping students develop the grit and the growth mindset to bounce back and be successful in college and throughout their lives. To help disseminate these practices, we also create helpful toolkits, share the inspiring stories of educators, and impart important information for educators on our Reach Higher social media accounts.
Reach Higher and Better Make Room are still going strong! We announced in fall 2018 that we would be joining the Common App, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to access, equity, and integrity in the college admission process. By uniting as one organization, we’ve been working on accelerating progress toward our joint goals of inspiring a college-going culture, bringing joy to the admissions process, and supporting students in achieving their dreams. For many students, the dream of higher education seems out of reach. We believe our partnership can help more students understand and successfully navigate the process to apply to colleges and universities and earn a postsecondary degree.
Young people are our future, but they’re also our present. As higher education professionals, it’s imperative that we make sure to incorporate student voices and understand the impact our decisions make on the students we serve. Together, we can continue to build this Reach Higher movement and ensure that every student can pursue their dreams of obtaining higher education.

Eric Waldo is executive director of Michelle Obama’s “Reach Higher” initiative and chief access and equity officer at The Common Application.