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Student Leadership in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Milton Hershey School's Sharice Johnson poses for a photo before an event before pandemic.We all know real heroes don’t wear capes. In a world battling the COVID-19 pandemic, heroes wear hospital scrubs and protective masks while treating patients on the frontlines. They deliver needed supplies and food to our doors and stock shelves at grocery stores.

But for the rest of us, it can be frustrating that the very action needed to help solve the current crisis is actually inaction. Health officials continue to recommend people stay at home and practice social distancing as the best way to contribute.

From the lens of a student, the current situation can leave them feeling helpless. But that doesn’t have to be the case according to Milton Hershey School Student Program Leader Sharice Johnson.

Johnson, the creator of the school’s Girls Grace leadership conference, works with high school students to help them embrace and nurture their leadership abilities. She shares that student leadership, just like any other type of leadership, doesn’t end during a crisis, but is more important during it. “Student leaders can find their voice to help create a sense of hope, positivity, and inspiration for others.”

Milton Hershey School students pose for a picture during the fourth-annual Girls Grace Leadership Conference before pandemic

Johnson shared ways students can continue to be leaders, not just among their classmates, but for their families, community members, and others.

  • Think, act, and do positive things – It’s as simple as being positive. Create a positive message to inspire others. Positivity is contagious. Once you create positive messages, they will flourish with others. One example on the MHS campus includes seniors and Transitional Living staff who created a sign along Route 322 that reads “Hope is not canceled” to uplift others.
  • Model good behaviors – Leading by example is always powerful. Modeling the good health practices we all need to follow right now can remind and encourage others to do the same. It’s as easy as washing your hands for 20 seconds or holding others accountable to do the same. It could be that example that gets through to a younger sibling or another student in a student home.
  • Use your voice – Many student leaders have already established trust and respect with their peers. When they speak, other students listen so it’s important for student leaders to use their voice to help others. They can use social media as a platform to connect and lift up other students. Students encouraging other students to focus on online learning has had a tremendous impact.
  • Take care of mind, body, and soul – In order to be a leader to others, students must first take care of themselves. This means taking a holistic approach to health—mental, physical, and emotional. Working out, even if just a walk, can not only reenergize us physically, but can also reset us mentally. It is also important to deal with emotions around this pandemic. That can mean students talking to someone about their feelings or writing down their thoughts in a journal.

The Compass Project, the school’s character and leadership development program, combined with extracurricular opportunities have nurtured leadership skills among MHS students. Johnson says students should draw on the skills they’ve developed and bring them to the forefront during this challenging time.

“Now is the time for students to show what they have learned while at MHS,” said Johnson. “Teachers, houseparents, mentors, and others have given students the tools and resources they need to be successful and now is the time for students to put them into play.”

As a mentor to many students on campus, Johnson also emphasizes that adults should continue to reach out to their mentees to encourage them and to let them know they are supported. “I continue to send students emails and hold Zoom meetings. As a mentor, part of my job is to check on students to see that they are okay.”

“We must remind our students that they have already faced challenges in their lives and this too shall pass. We are resilient and we are champions, because we are Spartans.”

Johnson was recently announced as a 2020 Women of Influence honoree by the Central Penn Business Journal in recognition of her leadership and mentorship in the MHS community and beyond.

Read More on the MHS Coronavirus Response

Milton Hershey School does not discriminate in admissions or other programs and services on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, sex, religious creed or disability. Read important MHS policies on equal opportunity and diversity, equal employment opportunity, and more.