Today’s students are citizens of the world, keenly aware that the good they do in their local community ripples around the globe. For them, the service learning movement is more than wrapping neighbors in warm coats or rebuilding flooded homes. They yearn for the power to elevate compassion into a core value of their schools, equipping their peers with the heart and skills to change lives today and long into the future.

NASSP’s global citizenship initiative emerged from that desire. The two-year project, running through 2018, empowers students to take local action and, in the process, mature into responsible servant leaders.

“Leadership [activity] for many years has been posters, balloon arches, dances,” says Greg Barker, assistant principal of Snohomish High School in Washington. “Students are doing so much around the country, and the global citizenship initiative is bringing to the forefront that we are raising global citizens.”

Creating the Global Citizenship Initiative

The global citizenship initiative originated when the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) asked its Student Leadership Advisory Committee for a project to cultivate the next generation of leaders, encourage social consciousness, and mold students into global citizens.

The 15-member committee, comprising principals, advisers, and students, met in Washington, D.C., in April 2016. The panel’s eight students represent the student programs overseen by NASSP—National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, and National Student Council—plus the National Elementary Honor Society, administered jointly by NASSP and the National Association of Elementary School Principals Foundation.

Those eight students led the discussion that would spark creation of the global citizenship initiative. Channeling school projects into five strands, they decided, would link service learning to the bigger picture of global impact. As savvy media consumers, they also helped shape the social media elements needed for sharing ideas, generating enthusiasm, and collecting data. A website launched at and #MakingGlobalChange became the initiative’s hashtag to establish a virtual common ground for sharing activity and projects.

Global citizenship, the committee determined, is “demonstrated awareness of, concern for, and involvement in the well-being and success of others beyond one’s immediate community, extending to the nation and the world.” The five strands encompass projects addressing equity, civic engagement, positive social change, empathetic actions and wellness, and awareness/perspectives.

“We tried to come up with something specific enough to be meaningful, but broad enough that it wasn’t pigeonholed,” says Felix Yerace, student government co-adviser at South Fayette Township High School in McDonald, PA.

The global citizenship initiative teaches students that small steps can be powerful, even in the face of overwhelming needs, says committee member Kathryn Procope, head of school at Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science in Washington, D.C. The committee’s student members “knew where the need was, and they were the ones driving the initiative,” she says. The resulting initiative “allows the students to define it. It is a great way to help students learn to use their voices.”

The initiative’s main purpose “was to connect everyone,” says student member James Keith Myers, representing National Student Council (NatStuCo) from Johnsburg High School in Illinois. “Chances are, people are doing projects. Since this is an umbrella, everyone can see where their part fits. It’s working toward one cause,” he says.

Ryan Battle, a student member who represented NJHS from Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science learned that, though he was only 12 years old, “my voice matters no matter what age I am or what my background is.”

“If all schools had that, then the world would be way better in a couple days,” Battle says. “If you have all kids working on the issues, then the adults and parents are going to be listening.” As he tells audiences at speaking engagements, “With your voice, you have the power to give life or destroy it. I choose to give.”

The global citizenship initiative convenes—in a virtual sense—the 33,000 schools affiliated with NHS, NJHS, National Student Council, and NEHS, plus the more than 1 million members of National Honor Societies chapters and NatStuCo student councils. Now, more than one year into this initiative, it is evident this ambitious concept is inspiring real-world action that transforms schools and communities.

Taking Action

The global citizenship initiative’s five strands encompass the range of projects that generate local impact with global benefits. “It’s very flexible,” notes student member Kendall Haase, who represents NatStuCo from Cedar Creek High School in Texas. “That appealed to us when we created it. Any school can take it on.”

Equity: Engaging or improving relations with varied and underserved populations

Snohomish High School’s Barker saw the trickle-down effect play out when his school’s cheer adviser was inspired to start a cheer squad for life-skills students with disabilities. “This wasn’t mandated,” says Barker. Parents were so excited that they reached out to local media and got positive news coverage.

Schools have long engaged global citizenship initiative-style projects, but “we do the same projects over and over,” Myers says. The initiative provided him the impetus, as student council president, to encourage “more ambitious projects.” One new project was a prom for the elderly. Student council members efficiently organized food, games, and music, but attendance was poor, so they learned that the next round will require more promotion. More important, they learned to “accept failure and how to learn from failure,” Myers says.

However, another drive that was successful collected 1,800 pairs of shoes for people from underdeveloped countries, and was “an awesome experience because it was new,” says Myers. “Everyone on student council had a hand in helping.” Myers is confident that council will succeed in taking the drive schoolwide for 2017–18, because “we’re a small school with a big heart.”

Civic Engagement: Raising awareness or engaging in civic-based activities

Inspired by new possibilities in student engagement, NHS members at New Haven High School in Missouri staged a schoolwide mock election during the 2016 presidential campaign. They prepared brochures and scripted speeches presenting the views of both parties. In one discussion, student member Emily Lewis presented issues as they might have been seen through the eyes of a Miami resident, asking classmates, “How would you vote then? How would that change your perspective?”

“We challenged the students to change their geographic region or cultural background, just to get the whole view instead of being narrow-minded,” Lewis says. “It’s practice for the research when they have to do the real thing.”

Cedar Creek High School hosted the Texas Association of Student Councils’ annual conference in spring 2017. Inspired by the global citizenship initiative, Haase and fellow student council members launched a drive to build community support for the conclave. They knew the event wouldn’t yield the kind of “immediate material results” that attract supporters, so they honed their message and sold business leaders on the idea that the conference of 5,000 future leaders would “put our little town on the map,” she says.

By the time of the conference, with community and school district support, student council had a funding surplus and reaped in-kind donations that included 5,000 pens contributed by a large bank.

“It’s all about knowing your ask and exactly what you want from people,” Haase says. “And knowing your why, the reason you’re doing it. These are your future leaders. These are future politicians and leaders of nonprofits and businesses. If you’re well-versed in it, you can sell the idea.”

Positive Social Change: Raising awareness of, or engaging others in addressing, identified social issues in the school and community

When Lewis’ marketing teacher at New Haven High School heard about the global citizenship initiative, she challenged students to develop a community-impact project. Lewis and classmates decided to focus on hunger—specifically, organizing a kickball tournament to raise awareness and funds for a local church’s weekend food backpack program. Teams paid entry fees to play. Students rounded up business support, including a snow-cone truck that sold the icy treats.

“It was super successful,” Lewis says. “We definitely wanted to seize that opportunity.”

Empathetic Actions and Wellness: Assisting people in need or crisis, or improving the environment

Students were excited when South Fayette School District was asked to raise the $22,000 needed to train a service dog for a veteran, Yerace says. During the approval process, district administration asked why students should take on the ambitious project when they already did a lot of good for the community. The answer: Because existing projects didn’t fill any of the five global citizenship initiative pillars.

“It fit into a category that was underdeveloped,” Yerace says. “We took a look at our programs and realized there was a need we were not filling. It was an opportunity to stretch ourselves.”

At Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science, students dreamed up simple, but impactful, ideas. The school sits on the campus of Howard University, and during Howard’s final exams, students packaged “survival bags” of cocoa and popcorn for distribution to Howard students with notes saying “You can do it!” In their own middle school, Procope’s students created “heart lockers” filled with donated school supplies that are free for any classmate who needs them.

“It seemed small, but as a school community it was large because it meant that the students were not just thinking of themselves,” Procope says. “It just took one idea, and the children expounded on it themselves.”

At East Brunswick High School in New Jersey, NHS students issued a torrent of ideas when a classmate suggested that they organize a Relay for Life cancer fundraiser. One idea to raise money toward the final tally included raffling off the principal’s and vice principal’s parking spots, which the administrators relinquished for a month. Students also bought raffle tickets for the right to dunk faculty members (“I got dunked,” says Principal Michael Vinella, a committee member.). On Relay day, two seniors who had undergone chemotherapy for childhood cancer spoke at a Friday afternoon rally to a rapt audience of 2,000 schoolmates. In a scant three months, the event raised $5,200.

It was all student driven, even down to handling the dunk tank contract. “That was their legacy, and it’s going to live on in our school for years to come,” Vinella says. For the 2017–18 school year, plans are underway for monthly events leading up to the Relay for Life race at year’s end.

“What we’re doing is to try to produce problem solvers and students who are empathetic and civically engaged to create positive social change,” Vinella says.

Awareness/Perspectives: Raising awareness and perspectives or promoting meaningful dialogue on identified school and community issues

As founders hoped, the global citizenship initiative is generating enthusiasm beyond the schools of committee members. One such example involves Vanguard High School in Ocala, FL, where College and Career Specialist/Scholarship Coordinator Debra Lipphardt offered NHS students the idea to create a video about halting prejudice before it begins forming.

The students, recognizing the power of media on young minds, “took it and ran,” Lipphardt says. They are writing, filming, acting, and editing the video about differences among people. Production is expected to be completed by the end of 2017. In addition to the video, students are mentoring elementary students and hosting assemblies on the consequences of bullying and how to stop it. “They’re learning that being different is OK, and to accept those differences,” Lipphardt says.


Students and educators are already seeing collateral benefits.

Increased involvement: The global citizenship initiative provides an entryway into involvement for those who might not know where to start. Structured projects provide “a safe place” for students to contribute and test their talents, Barker says. Lewis sees student council candidates “who don’t normally go beyond their boundaries.” One reclusive classmate of hers jumped in to write speeches, conduct research, and develop pamphlets for the mock election, and “he was swimming to the top.” The next spring, he was inducted into National Honor Society.

Transferable learning: Involvement in the global citizenship initiative efforts is “very much life-skills oriented,” teaching students the essential behaviors for leadership and citizenship, Barker says. “It’s not just about dress-up days and assemblies. This is way beyond that, and it’s getting younger and younger. Our kids are entirely capable of doing this.”

School and community spirit: East Brunswick High School’s Relay for Life rekindled a school spirit that had “fallen by the wayside,” says NHS co-adviser Leslie Anderson. “There was such great energy, knowing we can impact all these people just by working together.” At Howard Middle School, Battle found that his classmates no longer focused on their own locale, but on the entire city. “Instead of Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest, now you have a whole area needing help, so they felt they could empower and aid their own communities,” he says.

Cost-effectiveness: Even in the smallest towns or in schools with high numbers of disadvantaged students, global citizenship initiative projects can be low-budget, but impactful. Battle’s classmates asked what they could do that didn’t require much funding, but would still “help our communities where we need them the most. Someone came up with the idea for a coat drive because it was winter.”

Leaving a Legacy

As the global citizenship initiative continues through 2018, all schools are invited to find ideas and post their own projects to social media using #MakingGlobalChange. Each month through December 2017, one Instagram post that uses the hashtag and demonstrates global citizenship in action will win $100 for a charity of their choice.

The global citizenship initiative’s student leaders know they are grooming their successors for ongoing impact. Myers is laying the organizational groundwork that empowers successor student councils to strike their own paths. “I could offer them things to do and ideas and projects, but you don’t get as much learning unless you do it yourself,” he says. “If you give them the opportunity, then they’re able to thrive.”

Haase, a senior, says, “I love the idea of leaving a legacy. I certainly hope I’ve done that at my school, but also, in this way, kind of on a national level. I put my input into this global project, and you see the ripple effect. That one conversation we had about global citizenship in Washington, D.C., has touched so many lives.”

M. Diane McCormick is a writer based in Pennsylvania. 

Probing the Initiative’s Impact

In fall 2017, NASSP released a report examining the impact of the global citizenship initiative titled “Creating Conditions for Success: Supporting Students Making a World of Difference.”

The report encapsulates the factors essential to the success of projects designed to create local change for far-reaching impact. It includes:

  • A review of a project’s creation and which of the five strands—awareness and perspective; empathy; equity; social change; or civic engagement—it embodies.
  • Examples of projects showing each strand at work, their impact on communities, and how they can be replicated.
  • Lessons learned from advisers and principals. Collectively, school officials agreed that successful implementation requires good ideas and information on the causes being supported; connections with like-minded service organizations eager for new champions; and understanding of the student experience.

The report reveals that based on data from advisers of the National Honor Societies and National Student Council, chapters and councils performed more than 8 million service hours, raised over $6 million for charitable causes, donated approximately 118,000 pints of blood, and collected nearly 2.5 million pounds of food for those in need.

The report will be disseminated to charitable and service organizations, philanthropic concerns, education and general news media, and school leaders. The report’s foreward directs a message to readers: “As we enter into the next phase of the NASSP Student Leadership Initiative, we anticipate various points of engagement for you to assist and exponentially increase the impact of our student leaders.”

NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee 2015–2017


Ryan Battle, NJHS, Washington, DC

Isabella Cortese, National Student Council—Middle level, Sandy Valley, NV

Kendall Haase, National Student Council, Bastrop, TX

Kimberly Knuth, National Student Council, Sioux City, IA

Emily Lewis, NHS, New Haven, MO

James Keith Myers, National Student Council, Johnsburg, IL

Stephen Phraner, NHS, Athens, AL

Stephanie Woodland, NHS, Kalispell, MT


Greg Barker, assistant principal representing National Student Council, Snohomish, WA

Kathryn Procope, principal representing NJHS, Washington, DC

Dr. Michael Vinella, principal representing NHS, East Brunswick, NJ

Suzzie Bossie-Maddox, NASSP Board Liaison, WV


Janet Mantecon, NHS adviser, Miami, FL

Jamie Pascua, National Student Council adviser—Middle Level, Sandy Valley, NV

Felix Yerace, National Student Council adviser—High School, McDonald, PA