Serving on the NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee looked a little bit different this year. Still, for us—Gillian Grimm and Ramya Subramaniam, student leaders on the committee—we didn’t let that stop us from digging in and making a difference.
The first Student Leadership Advisory Committee was formed during the 2016–17 school year, with the aim of cultivating the next generation of leaders, encouraging social consciousness, and molding students into global citizens. Since then, students, principals, and advisers representing the student programs overseen by NASSP have been selected for two-year terms, with the committee enacting a national initiative for the student programs to pursue. The 2020–21 Student Leadership Advisory Committee began its term in January 2020. We headed to Washington, D.C., for a weeklong trip to have deep-dive discussions and train for our roles in the committee.
This trip would lead to big community changes.
Standing For Change
As the week and meeting neared its conclusion, the committee was introduced to the idea that we would develop and lead as part of a national initiative. After we all returned home, we continued to engage online with each other and with NASSP and began to have conversations with the team at No Kid Hungry. We soon adopted this campaign as our national initiative.
No Kid Hungry is a daughter program under the national Share Our Strength organization that focuses on childhood hunger in the United States. By promoting resources and raising awareness, they work to end childhood hunger. The NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee met with No Kid Hungry, which shared many facts and stories about childhood food scarcity nationwide. They also highlighted the programs that are already available in schools and communities and discussed what we could do in our local areas. After hearing from No Kid Hungry, the committee wanted to make the best of the resources we had to launch our own national initiative. Students all gave input based on their own experiences and what they thought would be most effective at completing our goals. As we learned more information and shared more stories, we continued to adjust our strategy. As a group, we created three action plans to accomplish our goals: Lift Up, Speak Up, and Stand Up.
Through Lift Up, the committee decided that we could take advantage of the digital and social world to raise awareness of childhood hunger. As part of the program, students nationwide will be able to access statistics and tool kits to help communicate the issue of hunger in their communities. We also encourage high school students to highlight local “hunger heroes,” such as school nutrition staff and other campaigns.
Speak Up calls on students to reach out and advocate. This includes setting up meetings with officials or writing advocacy letters about specific concerns around hunger in their communities. Advocacy tools will be available for students and staff to utilize, and they can even conduct their own training.
Stand Up motivates students to take action and get involved in the hunger programs in their communities. Information will be provided to help students reach out to their local programs and find volunteer opportunities. A step-by-step guide will outline how to research and evaluate school meal programs and create action plans to increase student participation at a campus level. These three categories are important to the initiative because they are ways that everyone can get involved and are designed to pave a path and bring light to all areas of this initiative. Ideally, we’d like student councils to get involved with Lift Up, Speak Up, and Stand Up. These areas can be seen as a roadmap to helping end childhood hunger.
The goal of this initiative is not only to spread awareness but also to play a part to help eradicate childhood hunger. As part of the NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee, we want to inspire others to help in their own ways and educate other students on available resources. We hope to see many changes over the next year, including the expansion of breakfast programs available to students, creating new food programs, and uncovering new solutions for how communities can put an end to childhood hunger.
Making Personal Connections
Student Leadership Advisory Committee members come from all areas of the country, and we have all experienced different aspects of food scarcity in our communities.
I am excited to use our advocacy and changemaker training to make a difference across the United States. These goals have been carefully planned out, and I believe this agenda is the way to defeat childhood hunger. My community in Bettendorf, IA, has a local food bank that holds a Student Hunger Drive every year for schools in Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois. Pleasant Valley High School in Riverdale, IA—where I attend—has a competition among teachers and students to collect food. This past year the district received over 60,000 pounds of food. They focus on collecting quality food that their students would want to eat themselves.
The Student Hunger Drive is really important to us because it gives our district a chance to give back to our community. During the drive, there is a mobile food pantry where those who are in need can come and get food. After seeing the impact of the Hunger Drive and mobile food pantry, I realized that those in need actually sit in my own classes. Going to school with an empty stomach causes stress, anxiety, depression, and so much more for students. I believe that the six weeks of hard work in the Student Hunger Drive is nothing compared to what these students go through year-round. It’s not easy keeping grades up and being a student when you do not know where your next meal is coming from. The NASSP and No Kid Hungry organizations have given me a voice, and I want to use it to put an end to childhood hunger in America.
I live in a diverse, highly populated metropolis that boasts a plethora of different people, backgrounds, and economic standings. Living in a large city like Las Vegas, the issue of food scarcity is not difficult to identify. Due to COVID-19, food banks and school programs have been advertised all over the city, encouraging people to donate and help. The school district had to create more meal locations based on students’ growing need for food. People all over the city interacted with these locations— through donating, volunteering, or seeking food.
After seeing the exponential need during this time, I realized that there was no better time to have an initiative around childhood hunger than now. Although COVID-19 made this issue worse, it was already a huge problem before. As the No Kid Hungry team talked, I learned about the different programs, and I was able to identify some of them in my own school and community. The food share table, for instance, was something that I had seen at my school. Going forward, I want to promote and raise awareness for those programs in my school and community even when we aren’t in a pandemic and keep the awareness so more people can be educated on food issues that students face.
Not only do I hope for programs to improve their support for students, but I want to also start the conversation about food scarcity with students in my community in order to decrease the stigma around food scarcity and encourage other students to start the conversation in their own communities.
Each school community has connections to childhood hunger. Together we can use resources to make a real difference. It’s our time!
Gillian Grimm is a junior and student council member at Las Vegas Academy of the Arts in Las Vegas. Ramya Subramaniam is a senior and student council member at Pleasant Valley High School in Riverdale, IA. Both are student leaders on the NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee.