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From Students to Advocates: Reflecting on the Rising Leaders Initiative

From Students to Advocates: Reflecting on the Rising Leaders Initiative

August 4, 2023
Congratulations to the first Rising Leaders cohort on a year well done! I can speak for all of us when I say that it has been an honor to have been a part of the inaugural cohort. Since many of us are from only recently founded charter schools (I was in my school’s second graduating class), we are familiar with being on the cutting edge. I can’t wait to see the incredible things future cohorts are able to achieve. For the five Seniors—Stephanie, Lauren, Alayna, Dayanna, and I—this program has cemented our aspirations for advocacy and prepared us as we are released into the real world. 

After I was offered a position in the cohort, I had no clue what to expect. All I knew was everyone had such impressive accomplishments, and I was afraid to mess up. However, after the awkward introductions, I was honored to be with these people. From learning about the history of the power of youth advocacy to preparing for media interactions, I was amazed by the sessions organized to prepare us for the world around us.

For me, the importance of the tools I was equipped with from these lessons became apparent following the shooting at the Covenant School, a local elementary school near where I live. Devastated and outraged, I saw students and the greater Nashville community around me mobilize to respond to these horrors, but many were lost on what to actually do. As a gathering was organized at our state capitol, I used the tools I learned from the Rising Leaders Initiative to find my voice and speak to a crowd of hundreds of Nashvillians that day.

This wasn’t an isolated event where the Rising Leaders Initiative empowered us to make a difference in our communities. My fellow Rising Leader, Daniyal Hussain, spoke directly to Senators from New Mexico, unafraid to go into the belly of the beast. With media training from one of our first Rising Leader sessions, he was able to emphasize his concerns about IB funding at charter schools and de-escalate moments of tension. The tools given through this program fostered a sense of confidence and power to make change in New Mexico.

Not to mention the clubs created by this cohort. Ranging from those made to increase political and social engagement to learning about inequity in education, this program planted the seed for our charter schools to prosper even after we graduate. Youth engagement is one of the most potent tools to make a change, and it’s all guided throughout this cohort. 

It’s been an honor and a privilege to have been a part of the inaugural cohort of the Rising Leaders Initiative, surrounded by such incredibly talented and motivated people. We’ve been empowered to make change in our communities, find our true calling, and explore what it really means to be an advocate. Congratulations again to everyone, and never forget the lessons we learned here! 

2022-23 Rising Leader Dylan Conard is an alum of Valor College Prep in Tennessee, a freshman at Princeton University, and a member of the inaugural class of the Rising Leaders Initiative. 

The Rising Leaders Initiative is a one-year advocacy training program for charter high school students who want to become active participants in education policy decisions in their local community and state and develop skills to guide their educational and professional pathways. Meet the full Class of 2022-2023

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