Bijou and Isabel fairly float into my office and light on the two chairs facing my desk. They have just come from a meeting with Mr. Hughens, Director of Marketing & Communications, where they strategized with him about their social media campaign for the Sixth Year Food Drive. “We’re in charge of marketing,” they chirp with confidence, “and we want to collect 5,000 pounds of food and hygiene products to help North Carolina families.” I learn that typically the Class donates 3,000 pounds, but, as they say, “the recent hurricanes have motivated us to think bigger.”
And what is their strategy for marketing? “Facts,” says Bijou. Isabel quickly adds, “Do you know that one out of five children in North Carolina go hungry?” I admit that I didn’t know that. “That’s 20 percent!” Isabel exclaims. Bijou continues, “People have to know the facts so it will be vivid for them and so it will empower them to act.” (These really were their words—I am not making this up.) Then Isabel sums it up: “This is an actual problem, and we must solve it.”
All three sixth year classes are involved in the project, and the committee structure spans the three classrooms. Bijou and Isabel weren’t handed their leadership roles. They had to compete by writing a proposal on what they would each bring to the work. Isabel explains her approach: “I wrote that I like to raise the bar high and accomplish what I set out to do…I like to get things done on time.” Then she adds, eyes bright, “But if something goes wrong, I say, ‘Let’s try again!’” As for Bijou, the emphasis is on organizational skills and outcomes. “I want everything to turn out as close to our vision as we can make it,” she explains, adding, “I am willing to make sacrifices, and I believe we can be great if we just put our minds to it.”
Optimism and resolve dance in the air, so I ask if they have had any challenges. Relieved that I ask, Isabel immediately shares her worries about her tight schedule—that there are so many presentations and whether there will be enough time. Bijou’s head is nodding rapidly in agreement, and she references the commitment they both have to girls basketball. “Balance,” says Bijou, “we must find the balance—athletics, academics, food drive.” Now Isabel, on the edge of her chair, jumps in. “We just have to set our minds to it and stick with that!” she announces, a decidedly determined expression crossing her face. (I am seriously considering putting these girls in charge of a couple projects languishing on my desk.)
New topic. Forget the challenges. What has gone well? I want to know. Isabel leads off. “We work well together and that helps everything.” Bijou, looking a bit more pensive, says that at first she was “freaking out” with everything that had to be done. “Then,” she recalls, “we had a group discussion—a beautiful discussion, and we all realized that we balance each other.” Isabel wants to make sure I know that she and her classmates are learning to be “flexible,” that is, she explains, “we are learning to move on, remembering that the important thing is to collect the food” and have “a big impact.”
The conversation continues, and I learn that the Food Drive occurs between December 10 and 14, that the children deliver to the food bank on December 17, and that they have put in place an aggressive marketing campaign (presentations to classes, social media campaign, sandwich-board advertising, etc.). I think that overseeing and managing all this is the stuff of leadership, and I ask the girls if they are leaders. When I sense hesitation, I sum up the leadership skills they have convinced me they have: their ability to collaborate, envision, recover from setbacks, problem solve, be strategic. They watch me closely as I list their strengths.
Then I ask again. Are you leaders? Isabel and Bijou look at each other, then at me. A smile breaks out on each face, and I hear, “Yes, we are.”