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Student Envoys Represent Memphis in Washington, D.C.
Written by Megan Bedford
If you are like me, you’ve been on one or two class trips in your day, either as a chaperone or back when you were a student. I was in high school band so I went on a few of these trips, and on each it seemed that someone had to be sent home for inappropriate behavior. Several of the chaperones used this against the rest of us, as a confirmation that it was unavoidable – teenagers (they intimated) are rebellious and apathetic! They just don’t care! And so we were often herded around like a gang of ex-offenders not to be trusted. As a young person who was always striving to do the right thing, this was a particularly bitter pill to swallow.
Memories of my own experience came flooding back when I accompanied 47 Memphis City Schools middle and high school students to Washington D.C., following their invitation to a National Youth Summit hosted by the U.S. Department of Education last February. This trip was nothing like the ones I had experienced as a student – no one was sent home because there wasn’t a single incident of misbehavior, major or minor. In fact I never even heard a complaint.
Here is what I did see: students who were grateful and excited for the opportunity to visit our nation’s capital; students who were extremely proud to represent their city at a national youth event sponsored by our government, and interested to network with young people from around the country. I saw high school students befriending middle school students they had never met before, and a general air of kindness, friendship, and consideration. It was an absolutely remarkable experience.
The Memphis Student Envoys proved that, given the expectation and opportunity, teenagers can and will show up as their best selves, even in high-pressure situations such as a trip to a strange place, with unfamiliar faces, far from home. For the majority of these students, it was their first time on an airplane; for many still it was their first time outside of the city of Memphis. And once we arrived in DC we had a lot of ground to cover; between the Youth Summit, a college tour, and sightseeing, students had to adjust to early starts and long days – sometimes without a chance to stop back at the hotel for a moment to rest. But they handled all of this with poise and positivity.
Part of what it means to be an Envoy is to conduct yourself as a role model, to exhibit strong character and perseverance in the face of challenge, as well as help others to do the same. The students who traveled to DC were varied and diverse in their backgrounds; some had been student council leaders while others were previously better known for their regular appearances in their principals’ offices. But to see them together it would have been impossible to tell who had one background versus the other. Without losing the brilliance of their young, creative personalities, every one of the Envoys showed true composure and character.
If there was a downfall to this trip, it was that the 47 who traveled to DC represent only a small population of the more than 800 Student Envoys in Memphis. But the good news is that this experience is representative of the larger group, and their accomplishments as well. This past year we have seen incredible transformations of young people who are making strong choices every day to be their best selves. Students who have never before been on the honor roll are realizing their potential and earning the grades they need to do so, and we have seen a significant decrease in the number of suspensions and increase in school attendance among this population. As Dr. Irvin Hamer, Deputy Superintendent of Memphis City Schools says, “if you get the opportunity to talk with one of these Envoys, you better put on your seatbelt because they will blow you away.”
The project is really gaining momentum after its first year, and we look forward to gearing up for a second year full of even more positive student interactions and achievements. This December we will be hosting a Winter Retreat for 350 high school students to introduce them to the project and certify them as Envoys. We have every expectation that they will, in the words of Dr. Hamer, “blow us away” with their insights and character.
Because seeing is believing, here is a short documentary film, co-produced by Student Envoys at MCS' Telecommunications Center. If you have trouble viewing this YouTube video, you can also click here to watch it on MCS MediaSite.
Cara Feinberg's article for Ed., The Magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Eduction
Jeff Howard's dissertation for the Harvard University School of Social and Public Psychology outlines the effects of group expectancy on individual performance behavior, affect, and cognitions.
Irvin Mull joined the Envoy Project in 2010 as a broadcast student at the Memphis City Schools Telecommunications...