When the administrators at Vestavia Hills High School in Alabama were tasked with creating a leadership program, they knew one thing right away: They did not want to develop another program that tapped only the top students and did nothing the engage the rest of the student body.
The resulting Youth Leadership program has not only had a positive impact on the school’s culture, but also provided the school’s administrators with several important lessons. In their edWebinar, “Build a Positive School Culture with a Student-Run App,” Kym Prewitt, leadership teacher at Vestavia Hills High School, and Whit McGhee, director of public relations at Vestavia Hills City Schools, shared what they learned and how the kids continue to surprise them.
Lesson 1: Let the kids lead the way
Educators cannot make school culture better by telling students what to do and how to act. This does nothing to create honest connections among students. At Vestavia, their first step was to give students opportunities to connect, to provide them with a place to meet, and to encourage the connections. The core issues were kindness and acceptance, and the students needed to take the lead in creating a welcoming culture so they would feel ownership of the program.
Lesson 2: Schools need to lean in to how kids want to connect
Technology has the power to connect people around the world, but it can also make kids feel lonelier, especially on social media. When they see posts of classmates and friends having fun without them, they can become more isolated. When the Vestavia Hills students brainstormed on how to get their classmates more involved, though, tech was also the answer. They pitched developing an app, specific to the high school, that would provide students with all the information they needed to become more connected to the school. While all of the information already existed on school and district websites, the students explained why it didn’t work for them. Besides the fact that students live on their phones, they also didn’t want to sift through web pages, connect to multiple social media accounts, or read messages for other schools, parents, etc. The content on the app, including social media feeds, can all be found on the website, but the students love having a digital place just for them.