empowering a Student-Led Culture Shift

Two pairs of friends cross paths on John Jay’s sunny front lawn.

“Hey, today’s the Pep Rally! Are you going?” one student asks the other group.

“No, I’m not into sports,” her classmate said.

“What? It’s fun! And it’s not only about sports! Come with us!” The students walk away together.

“Love it!” said teacher Steve DelMoro. He and a group of fifteen students are sitting around picnic tables in front of John Jay High School, role playing ways to challenge the status quo. He tosses a balloon towards two other students: they’re up next.

Leaders Evolving and Developing John Jay

This is John Jay High School’s Spring Leadership Conference, sponsored by LEAD JJ, which stands for Leaders Evolving and Developing John Jay. The club’s work is to build students’ leadership skills and help them use these skills to create a more inclusive, enjoyable and rewarding school experience for everyone.

Everyone is welcome to leadership

More than fifty students gathered that morning in John Jay’s theater, where the conference began. While the club’s advisors had invited sports team captains, club presidents and student council representatives, many of the students there were tapped in more unusual ways.

The club’s advisors looked at who had signed out early from last spring’s JayFest. They reached out to those students to find out why and ask them to be part of the new wave of student leaders. “We pulled them in so they can be involved in shaping events that resonate with them,” said Spiros.

Re-envisioning all-school events

Now in its third year, LEAD JJ’s small and steady changes are already becoming rich, inclusive traditions. The fall Homecoming Club Carnival & Pep Rally and spring JayFest both include relay races, food and a massive game of musical chairs. They showcase the performing arts as well as varsity teams and highlight new teachers as well as those who are retiring.

This year, LEAD JJ launched a winter event, Unity Day, designed to help students identify what they have in common. Later that afternoon, the club would be re-envisioning Freshman Orientation. 

“These events allow students who have varied interests to come together,” said junior Colby Coltrone. “It has been super meaningful to see these events unfold and to see everyone having fun, interacting with new people and making new friends as a result of the work that we all put in.”