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Heads Up Students Find Their Power, Values, and Identities  

Keynote speaker Josette Neal de Stanton opened the first Saturday Leadership Academy of the year with a deceptively simple question: What do you want to be when you grow up? The prompt’s familiarity proved energizing for Heads Up students. The M.E.W. echoed with shouts—of doctor, artist, lawyer––as the students eagerly shared their passionate plans.   

Over the past month, Heads Up students have been busy at their year-round schools diving into their studies and extracurriculars. They returned to Head-Royce last weekend for their first of four Saturday Leadership Academy seminars. “The goal was to re-engage Heads Up students,” says Director Liz Solis, “and then inspire them to tackle the school-year grounded in their power, values, and identities.”  

Josette Neal de Stanton’s next question—Who do you want to be when you grow up?—required a more layered response. In peer-shares, students reflected on how they hope to show up in the world. “For middle schoolers, the question was a challenge,” says Solis, “as they had to reflect beyond their young adulthood and imagine how they might develop agency.” Guiding questions included: Who are your role models? How do those people behave?   

Josette shared her own journey as an Afro-Latina woman, athlete, Oaklander, and daughter of two active servicemen. Back when she was a middle school student, she dreamed about earning an athletic scholarship for college and thought she’d graduate in four years. Instead, her basketball coach didn’t support her recruitment, despite her talent. It took her over ten years to walk across the graduation stage. 

She was offered a full athletic scholarship to Tennessee State University and happily accepted, only to arrive and learn that her funding had fallen through. Rather than take out loans, she returned home to Oakland and spent the next ten years attending community colleges and universities––coaching basketball along the way to pay for school. Today, she runs her own business and teaches at Mills College and St. Mary’s University. She also develops curriculum for NASA’s GLOBE Program. Her success might not look like what she initially envisioned, but she’s proud of the career she has built and now helps Oakland students navigate their education on their own terms. 

After the keynote speech, Heads Up students broke out into conference-style workshops, by grade level. Please see the full list of offerings below. It was a busy, invigorating day, and at its end, students left with a new role model in Josette and a stronger handle on their dreams.  

Heads Up students now understand not only what they aspire to become, professionally, but also who they hope to become, in terms of their values and identities. Like Josette Neal de Stanton, and to quote her, the students will work towards becoming “people who see failure as an L––not as in loss but lesson.” People who are “comfortable with feeling uncomfortable and growing through that discomfort.” People “who can admit when they’re wrong while continuing to know their own worth.” People who “don’t say no to opportunities that align with their values.” People with “open minds.” People who “plan yet remain flexible to change.” People who “celebrate themselves—humbly, of course!” 


 Heads Up Saturday Leadership Academy Workshops: 

  • 6th Grade Guiding Workshop Questions: What is power? What power do I possess? How do I empower myself? My family? My community

  • 7th Grade Guiding Workshop Questions: What’s important to me and why? What are my core values? What do I value in others? How do my values inform my decisions? 

  • 8th Grade Guiding Workshop Questions: Who am I? Who am I as a learner? A community member? Who am I when no one else is looking

    • ​​​​​​​Pangea: Digital Storytelling by Brotha Safahri

    • Personal Reflection and Mask Making by Nhi Truong 

  • 9th Grade Guiding Workshop Questions: Where do I go from here? What does success mean to me? How do I set goals and see them through? 


  • Heads Up