Central Penn Business Journal Shares How Milton Hershey School Reimagined Student Leadership Amid Pandemic
Featuring Sharice Johnson, Coordinator of Student Character and Leadership Development; Michelle Weber, Student Government Association Coordinator, and Fonati Abrokwa ’01, Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Inclusion
While the 2020-21 school year has been unique at times, the students and staff at Milton Hershey School have found creative ways to empower each other and grow in leadership, even through virtual programs. Events, conferences, and activities that were traditionally in-person had to be reimagined to ensure health and safety while still providing an extraordinary experience for participants.
Three staff members, Sharice Johnson, MHS Coordinator of Student Character and Leadership Development; Michelle Weber, MHS Student Government Association Coordinator; and Fonati Abrokwa ’01, MHS Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Inclusion, have led the charge in providing leadership experiences for our students. They spoke with Central Penn Business Journal about the pivot to virtual programming and the importance of continuing event-based leadership and learning opportunities, especially while navigating the pandemic.
“In a student-centered community, we really have to think about what we do, how we do it, and what’s the purpose moving forward,” Weber said. “Now more than ever, our students need us, the events we have, and mentorship and connection.”
Sharice described how Girls Grace, a highly anticipated event for female Senior Division students, was transformed from a two-day in-person conference to a two and a half-hour virtual program with guest speakers, alumni panels, and workshops. An event that typically takes nine months to plan was executed with two months of planning. Johnson attributes the event’s success this year to the Girls Grace team’s unwavering commitment to the students and the goal of continuing this meaningful experience regardless of the curve balls COVID-19 has thrown.
Part of navigating the curve balls has been helping students reset their mindsets and increase their social and emotional awareness, something Johnson, Weber, and Abrokwa have all focused on this school year.
“It is our school-wide goal to amplify student voices,” Johnson added. “We want to provide them with a space to feel empowered and talk about what is most important and relevant to them.”
During the school year, Abrokwa has collaborated with Johnson and other departments on campus to create these spaces, even in a virtual platform. Students are sharing feedback that they are feeling heard and seen during conversations about racial equality and dialogue.
“As a graduate of the school, it is important that we create young leaders that are culturally competent and championing equity,” Abokwa said. “I think we’re in a time when we need more of that, and I think young people are in the position to course-correct the mistakes of the generations before them.”