Free to Develop Chapter Identity

Stephanie Robertson

Stephanie Robertson, a member of the NEHS Advisory Council and English teacher at Smithville High School in Missouri, shares ideas about mentoring a new NEHS chapter advisor. Her ideas may give others ideas on how to encourage colleagues in schools without NEHS to consider starting a chapter:

I received an email from a new teacher who had inherited a National English Honor Society chapter; the “passing of the baton” to her was limited to being told that the officers “knew what to do” and “they would help her.” Not the best of places to start!

Heather and I met for lunch so we could talk about revitalizing her chapter. As I prepared notes and thought about what I could offer in the way of advice, one thing was clear: NEHS chapters have great freedom to develop who they want to be. Advisors play an integral role – especially in the beginning. I’m quite sure those of us who helped start a chapter in our own schools did it out of love for our subject area and a desire to see our top English students recognized. Exciting for adults, yes, but because NEHS is about our students, we should let them shape and form the chapter personality. It matters not where the chapter starts, but really where it is going. Many of us started chapters with just a few kids, no money, but lots of ideas while other chapters started with many students and a budget! Over time, our memberships have swelled, our ideas have come to fruition, and (hopefully) budgets have grown.

Picking a chapter name is one of the most important first steps in establishing an identity in your building, followed by deciding what kinds of activities in which to participate, attaching the chapter name to service projects, and recognizing members in big and small ways. In talking with Heather, I told her that her chapter can be whatever she and her kids want—if there are few members, recruit more; if there’s no money, do a fundraiser; start with one or two or ten activities a school year. Meet once a month or twice a month. Make new member initiation a serious, formal event, or make it an informal “meet and eat event.” The bylaws and guidelines established by the National Office set high yet attainable standards for membership, but chapters may establish local standards above beyond those recommended.

Much like the young adults we nurture every day, our chapters grow and change as well. What worked the first year may not work in the third year; what you could not afford to do last year now has become possible because of the last great fundraiser. I look at my chapter as it turns seven and marvel at its growth and strength. Heather will look back in a few years and see how far her chapter has come. May you, also, enjoy the growth and change of your NEHS chapters through the years!

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