Student Leadership through Service

Posted in: News

National Honor Society at Mizzou Academy

Arthur Watanabe Nakamura
Arthur Watanabe Nakamura addresses faculty and peers

One morning, high school junior Arthur Watanabe Nakamura observed that “there was a great black cloud that covered the entire sky of São Paulo, making the day seem like night, and this cloud was brought from the smoke produced by the burning of trees in the Amazonas, making masses of wind transporting the cloud to São Paulo. This cloud not only made the sky dark, but also affected some other factors like wifi signals, airplane trafficking, and meteorology studies, making the entire society worried about the phenomenon.” 

Concerned and compelled to impact change, Nakamura got to work with his peers to create the “Escocia Project.” Escocia is a web browser focused on ecological advocacy and planting trees in areas affected by deforestation, including the Amazon. Nakamura and his peers incentivized participation with prizes and educational outreach. Nakamura says he is proud of the project. “We’ve managed to show the school and its relatives how we can reverse deforestation.” 

Nakamura is a Mizzou Academy student who studies with us from Colegio Magno in São Paulo, SP. His “Escocia Project” was part of his service initiative for National Honor Society and is featured in the latest edition of the Mizzou Academy Chapter NHS Magazine.

For more student stories about caring for the environment and ecological advocacy, we are delighted to share the release of the Mizzou Academy NHS Magazine: 2023 edition

This is the second edition of our NHS Magazine. The first was released in March 2022 and was fittingly titled “Bridging the Divide.” Under Alicia Bixby’s guidance as Editor In Chief, NHS Magazine features student-authored articles and reports on our service projects from around the world. This student-led publication speaks to the central role of community engagement, service, and leadership for National Honors Society and our values at Mizzou Academy. 

Service projects like those featured in the magazine are a hallmark of NHS student leaders, whether they are directing action nationally, globally, or in their local communities. Ava Fleury, for example, engaged in a highway clean-up outside her rural community in Jefferson City, Missouri, and Rafael Rosas organized a beach clean-up in his local community of Natal, the capital of Rio Grande do Norte. 

Rosas describes his project, “PreservAmbiente” (“Preserve the Environment” in English) as “a voluntary project made of young volunteers willing to impact their local community. Today, the project has 25 volunteers on its WhatsApp group, with its main focus being on organizing beach cleaning efforts. Accordingly, we not just cleaned the city’s coast by picking up trash and then correctly disposing it, but also talked to people in order to teach them adequate and sustainable practices to avoid environmental pollution.” 

Each year our Mizzou Academy National Honor Society students dedicate a service theme to unite our chapter members around a common cause. In 2021-22, our service theme was “Education for All.” In 2022-23, our theme was “Protecting Our Environment.” The scholars have not yet selected the service theme for the 2023-24 school year, but we can’t wait to see what important issues they choose to tackle next! 

What is National Honor Society?

National Honor Society (NHS) is the premiere organization in the United States for providing both recognition of and resources for the nation’s most outstanding high school students. NHS was founded in 1921 by Dr. Edward Rynearson, principal of the Fifth Avenue High School in Pittsburgh, PA. He envisioned “an organization that would not only ignite the flames of scholarship but also fan the sparks of service, leadership, and character in the young minds of our nation.” 

Over a century later, Dr. Rynearson’s vision continues to define the Four Pillars of NHS today: Scholarship, Service, Leadership, and Character. 

In 2023, NHS counted as members over one million students representing all 50 states. Though a national organization, “The power of NHS lies in its unique model that allows a high degree of flexibility and autonomy for local chapters to innovate and evolve while staying true to the NHS National Constitution. Each chapter becomes a creative engine, promoting Honor Society standards while nurturing a culture of initiative, resourcefulness, and ingenuity.”

Mizzou Academy, Faculty Advisor Alicia Bixby

Alicia Bixby
Alicia Bixby, Faculty Advisor for National Honor Society

National Honor Society has always been a passion for Ms. Bixby: “I was a member of NHS in my high school, and I thought that our students deserved the same opportunity even though we are an online school.” Ms. Bixby is also passionate about “volunteering to make our communities a better place, and being the NHS advisor lets me spread that [passion] to a larger community.”

Assistant Professor of Professional Practice Alicia Bixby first began teaching with Mizzou Academy (then the Center for Distance and Independent Study) back in 1997 as an English and French instructor. In 1999, with the founding of the University of Missouri High School diploma program, Ms. Bixby took on the mantle of our first high school counselor, where she has led our guidance department ever since. For Mizzou Academy graduates, Ms. Bixby is often their touchstone–their first and most consistent point of contact through to their graduation. The relationships she builds with students and families come as no surprise for a counselor who anchors her philosophy in being “a good listener.” 

Faculty Advocacy and Leadership for NHS at Mizzou Academy 

20 years ago, Mizzou Academy submitted its first request to the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) to begin a chapter of NHS. That request was denied because we are an online school. However, Ms. Bixby was determined. With persistence and innovation–and in the NHS spirit of “nurturing a culture of initiative and resourcefulness”–she tried again, and in 2013-14 our NHS chapter at Mizzou Academy was born! 

Ms. Bixby remembers: “Kaci Conley was one of our first NHS presidents, and she did such an amazing job as we were figuring out what our online chapter looked like, how to have meetings as live online chats, how to elect officers, how to vote on service projects, etc.”

Each year since, Mizzou Academy has built on its experiences. Ms. Bixby works closely with our NHS Faculty Council, which currently includes Stephanie Walter, Karen Scales, Brennan Ransdell, Nina Sprouse, and our newest member Ericca Thornhill!

As our NHS chapter grows and evolves, so too does its reach and impact for our local, national, and international student body. With so many Mizzou Academy students spread out across the globe, NHS has become a powerful source of community and connection for Mizzou Academy students.

Reflections: Student Voices on the Impact of Service 

NHS service projects speak to the central role of community engagement in the NHS mission. In reflecting on the impact of their projects, here’s what a few of our student leaders had to say:   

Student Snapshot

Barbara was a 16-year-old high school student in São Paulo Brazil when she chose to do a service project on education by offering English language classes to her community. She even created the curriculum. Her thoughts on the project: “With this experience, I learned a lot about my privileges and how much of an obstacle social inequity can be. I enjoyed being of use, interacting with different people, and practicing teaching, and I hope to have made a difference in the community, helping my students with their honorable goals. Altogether, I’m very grateful for this experience.”

Student Snapshot

Diego Goto, a high school student in Paraná Brazil, chose to deliver a presentation to underprivileged teens–a program called CELEM, Center for Modern Foreign Languages–offered by his state’s government. He was grateful to hear that “teens were inspired to join CELEM. Hearing that the teens were impacted by the presentation and wanted to join made the experience so much more fulfilling.”

Student Snapshot

Mariana de Moraes Sarmento Silva chose as her service project to teach ninth grade students writing and current affairs at a non-governmental organization (NGO) called “Matemática em Movimento” (loosely translated as “Mathematics in Movement”). She was “overwhelmed with the positive response I received. They [students] were truly grateful and wanted to spread the message to their peers. It was such an honor to meet wonderful people who were eager to learn, and to be able to bring the knowledge to them!”

Student Snapshot

As a high school student herself, Yasmin Czervenny Schoemberger tutored younger students preparing for high school. She discussed everything from time management to English skills. Her project reflections include: “I was able to help them, and through their hard work, all of their grades improved, as well as their assignments. They have become more responsible and committed, excited to pass on their advice to the incoming freshman.

Student Snapshot

For their service project, Fernanda Takeuti and Isabela Pozza provided English language classes to second grade students. Their reflections include: “First of all, my respect and admiration for teachers grew exponentially. When I found myself in a teacher’s position, I had to control the students’ excitement while keeping them attentive. That was a tricky task! Being in a teacher’s shoes made me reflect that we do not value our educators’ efforts enough. Furthermore, I noticed how childhood is still so precious and lively. I was touched by their energy and enthusiasm to learn something new as I questioned why we end up losing this passion as we grow up. We still study and discover new things daily–even in more quantity and complexity, but have we lost our childlike wonder and curiosity for knowledge? Teaching those kids suddenly made me want to find that same enthusiasm and apply it in my studies and life.”

Student Snapshot

Shivi Pandey is a Mizzou Academy alum from India. Their government provides health and life insurance, pension plans, and even rural banking prospects. “For my service project, I wanted to find a means of passing on the information of these welfare opportunities to about 50 staff workers in my complex (housekeeping, maids, gardeners, etc), and facilitate their ability to avail it.” Their project reflections include: “The overall experience truly reaffirmed my belief that if some effort is put into connecting the underprivileged with the appropriate resources, then they will actively strive to fulfill the rest, planting the seeds for their future self-sufficiency.” Attendees of Shivi’s presentation are pictured. 

A Surprise NHS Pinning Ceremony 

Group Photo
Mizzou International Experience (MIE) alum smile with Brian Stuhlman and Dr. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver

Arthur Watanabe Nakamura (from the “Escocia Project” described earlier) was among the twenty or so students asked to gather for a surprise presentation at Colegio Magno last month. As the students arrived, they were stunned and delighted to see members of the Mizzou Academy team waiting for them. There was lots of hugging and warm greetings. Many of the students knew Brian Stuhlman (Middle School Coordinator) and Dr. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver (Executive Director) well from visiting our campus for the Mizzou International Experience (MIE) program. At first the students thought this reunion and the snacks organized by school coordinator Luiza Dutra were the surprise. But Fishman-Weaver gathered the group together and shared that she and the team had a special announcement. 

“We’ve traveled here today,” she shared, “from Mizzou to Magno to congratulate each of you.” 

The students looked at each other as Fishman-Weaver continued: “You are members of our Mizzou Academy National Honor Society, and we are so proud. As NHS members, our expectations for you are high, and you continue to reach and exceed them again and again. And while we celebrate your academic achievements, today we want to focus on your service and leadership initiatives. Your work to make the world and your communities a better place is among the most important learning you will do in high school.”

Several students were new NHS members whom we welcomed to the 2023-24 class, and a few, like Nakamura, were returning members. With help from Stuhlman, Stephanie Walter (Director of Teaching and Learning) and Lisa DeCastro (Elementary Coordinator), the Mizzou Academy team then launched into an enthusiastic pinning ceremony for the new NHS members. 

Several students shared how touched they were that our faculty traveled so far to congratulate and encourage them. While Ms. Bixby wasn’t with the travel group on this trip, every NHS pin the students received included her signature and best wishes. As the student reporters for the inaugural NHS Magazine so aptly captured, there are so many ways our NHS chapter is “bridging the divide.” 

Mizzou Academy NHS members at Colegio Magno pose for a photo at the surprise pinning ceremony

Over the years, our NHS chapter has welcomed students from the United States, Brazil, Honduras, Canada, and India.  We currently have 138 student leaders in our 2023-24 NHS class, and the impact they are making in their local communities–and in turn across our global community–is astounding.