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Leadership Opportunities in a Connected Community

We recently sat down with seven students in eighth grade at Central Middle School (CMS) who are all members of the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) chapter to get a glimpse into what they are working on.  
NJHS is an organization that aims to elevate a school’s commitment to the values of scholarship, service, leadership, character, and citizenship and helps middle school students become well-rounded student leaders in their school, community, and beyond. At D124, our NJHS students do amazing things with an unbelievably positive attitude. Whether it’s raising money or awareness for important causes, starting a recycling program at the school, or volunteering at district events, these young leaders never back down from a chance to help.
“I joined NJHS because I thought it was a great opportunity to give to others and it has a wonderful support system with so many people volunteering all the time,” said Abby Delgado. 
Students can join NJHS in seventh and eighth grade, with qualifying sixth and seventh graders being notified at the end of the third quarter each year that they have the opportunity to join. The process includes an application and an essay about why they think they would be a positive member. Essays often focus on community service experiences and extracurricular activities. 
“Joining NJHS gives you a way to connect with your community in a positive way and support kids in other schools,” said Sadie Baughman. “I wanted to be a leader to my classmates and the community while being able to provide things for others,” added Cole Nardo. 
There are a variety of service projects that take place throughout the year. Students connect with residents at Mercy Circle, first via Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic and now with in person visits. The group also collects pop tabs for Ronald McDonald house and medication bottles for a local organization. Other schools in the district often call upon NJHS for volunteers for events and the younger students love seeing these student leaders at their schools.
“It is great to set a good example for elementary kids when we participate in these activities that serve our community,” said Emily Mills. CMS students are always open to finding more ways to participate. “It’s important to give kids opportunities to do good things,” added Owen Nardo.
It’s not surprising that these student leaders had lots of advice for students who will be starting middle school soon, and that it centered around one main theme: get involved!
NJHS Students
“My advice is to participate and volunteer as much as you can because it feels great to do good for others and it not only shows you how to do things but it prepares you for jobs and activities,” said Abby. “Be a hard worker and a leader and get involved,” added Cole. 

Other students acknowledged that the transition to middle school can seem daunting but that CMS has a variety of ways to help. 
“It can be a little scary to start middle school, but try to try different opportunities to make friends and serve the community,” said Ryan. “Participate in stuff and talk with people from different schools to connect and build those friendships,” added Charlotte Mankowski. 
For these students, there is a sense of pride and belonging for their city and their school. NJHS and other organizations at CMS encourage students to connect with others, and to work together towards a stronger school community. 
“I think we are unique here because of how close of a community we are,” said Abby. “We are always there for each other here and when somebody needs help, we can go help them,” added Ryan. The sense of community felt around the building is clearly tied to the surrounding community as well. “Everyone is so nice and positive to each other and it creates a great sense of community,” said Charlotte. “We are a small community where everybody shows up and gets involved,” added Cole. 
These eighth graders are all working hard as they have their eyes on the next steps in their educational journey, Evergreen Park High School. Many of the students are already excited about the variety of classes, electives, and extracurricular activities, while others are looking forward to connecting with more of their peers in a new environment. It’s safe to say that for students in NJHS at Central, there is a strong desire to connect, to help, and to grow that will serve them well in the rest of their lives.
Thank you to eighth grade social studies teacher and NJHS coordinator Debbie Gibbons for her help with this feature and to the inspiring group of students who participated: Abby Delgado, Sadie Baughman, Ryan Brennan, Emily Mills, Charlotte Mankowski, Cole Nardo, and Owen Nardo.