Strengthening School Communities
JWA's Rising Voices Fellowship helps female-identified teens develop authentic voices, strengthen their leadership through writing, and begin to influence the important conversations of the Jewish community. Of course, these rock stars are already shaking things up in their communities today. This is part of Rising Voices in Action, a month-long annual series that demonstrates the many different ways in which you can challenge the status quo, no matter your gender or age.
Our Rising Voices Fellows are active members of their high schools who work to strengthen and positively contribute to these communities. From combating negativity and unkind behavior with positive messages, to making school a more environmentally conscious place, these young women are taking the lead in shaping and bettering their school communities.
When I was in sixth grade, my two best friends from school decided they didn’t like me anymore. I was kicked out of our lunch table, and forced to sit somewhere else. Stories like these are not uncommon at my school. I, along with many of my peers, have often been on the receiving end of hate from people we’ve never even talked to. I’ve always found this hostile environment disturbing, but wasn’t sure there was much I could do to change it. My friend Bryan was an outlet for this frustration, and he often expressed how amazing it would be if, in response to all the negativity, he could start an Instagram account where he would anonymously compliment someone every day. One day he texted me: “I’m gonna do it, and I want your help.”
We worked excitedly, setting up the account and following everyone in the grade, making an excel sheet of names to make sure we got to everyone, and trying to figure out how we could ensure everyone’s compliments were equally personal. We decided to reach out to one or two people in every friend group and use them as a source for people we didn’t know well. At first, feedback was confused but positive. However, it wasn’t long before parody accounts began. Some that appeared posted “roasts” instead of compliments, others looked to make fun of the creators of the account. In the end, we decided to stop the account. Despite its short life, it had an unintended effect – it started a conversation. My grade began to question the way we judged people without really knowing anything about them. My grade dynamic has changed drastically since then, and while I wouldn’t say our account was the immediate or only cause, it was definitely a start.
It’s hard for me to think of a time when I didn’t care about the earth. More recently, I was feeling tired of being scared for my future and the future of the planet, while at the same time participating in environmentally harmful practices. This year, I decided to try and live in alignment with my values as much as possible. I began to eliminate sending anything to landfill. That means no single-use anything; no plastic water bottles, take-out containers, or even packaging on toiletries. When I started making an effort to live this way, I became judgemental of the people in my life who weren’t fully on board with my new lifestyle. I would constantly be telling my mom ways in which she was being wasteful, and eventually she stopped wanting to talk to me about my passion for environmental justice.
The truth is, no one wants to hear that how they are living is harmful or wrong, and by adopting these guerilla-environmentalist tactics, I was actually driving people away. I learned that in order to get people to take action you have to lead by example, and when people see how these changes are achievable, and make a difference, they will follow suit. This philosophy helped me start the sustainability initiative at my school. I give regular presentations to my peers and to the faculty where I discuss ways to be more environmentally conscious. I also founded the Earth Action Task Force, which has made strides in helping my school adapt more sustainable practices. We’ve installed solar panels, a reusable water bottle filler, and are currently working on setting up a compost system and on-site vegetable garden. When I consider all these positive outcomes, I’m reminded both of how lucky I am to be part of a community that is so willing to adjust in the interest of the greater good, and how important it is to be the change you wish to see in the world.
Inspired by these reflections? You can check out RVF’s other blog posts. If you love the series and want to hear more about what these budding revolutionaries are doing, sign up for our blog mailing list.
How to cite this page
Klebe, Larisa. "Strengthening School Communities." 16 April 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 20, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/strengthening-school-communities>.