I’m a 17-year-old high school senior and I chair a nationally renowned non-profit board.
While I’d love to claim credit for the high-functioning board, it’s the quality of the organization it serves – Boise, Idaho’s One Stone School – that makes the board so awesome.
How a high school student ended up in this role might seem surprising to people not familiar with One Stone. But once you’ve learned a bit about the school, it seems only natural that a student should chair its board.
In fact, the organization’s bylaws require that a student lead the board, and that students comprise its majority.
For those of you not familiar with One Stone, it’s a tuition-free private high school in central Boise. The school is in just its second year, but it grew organically out of a non-profit organization that has been around since 2008, providing Boise-area high school students with hands-on experience designing and implementing large-scale service projects through its Project Good, running a creative studio called Two Birds, and incubating start-up businesses.
That’s how I came to One Stone, through Two Birds and Project Good. In fact, I’m not even a One Stone student. I attend Bishop Kelly High School, a private Catholic school.
My older brother was involved in Project Good, and he and my mother loved it, so when I was a sophomore I decided to give it a try. I was looking for a community service project, and this seemed like a good fit.
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I had no idea at that point how involved I’d get. But that first day, I fell in love with it. It was a place where my ideas held weight. It couldn’t have been more different from my usual classroom experience. In a classroom, you’re in a kind of a bubble, doing schoolwork, talking to other students.
But at One Stone, you’re making real world decisions with real world consequences. In Two Birds, for example, my ideas are used to help create a product for a client, and at Project Good I helped create a day-camp for terminally ill kids. It can be hard to return to the more sheltered world of a traditional school after diving into the activities at One Stone.
After I’d spent a year involved in One Stone projects, during the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I was asked to join the One Stone board. I’d served on student council at my school, but this was experience on a totally different level.
If I had to come up with one word to describe my first board meeting, it would be intimidating. There was a lot of information thrown at me about the organization’s financials, budget, tax forms, and the fiduciary responsibility of a board member. Intimidating might be an understatement!
But it didn’t take me long to get comfortable with the finances and other aspects of being a board member. I can pick through a budget vs. actuals document without breaking a sweat. I can keep up with the lingo.
Last June Theresa Poppen, who co-founded One Stone with her husband Joel, asked me if I would be willing to become board chair. Of course I said yes.
Chairing my first meeting was the most nervous I’ve ever been at a board meeting; maybe as nervous as I’ve ever been in my life. Getting everything prepared, and making sure everyone knew where and when the meeting was and would be there felt like a huge responsibility.
But it went well, and I feel I’ve grown into the role. It is still nerve-wracking at times, chairing a meeting, but I’ve gotten more comfortable with it. I try to run a tight ship.
The practical experience I’ve gained chairing this board is invaluable. It’s by far the biggest leadership role I’ve ever played, and it has taught me a lot about the role a leader plays in the real world – creating shared values, a shared mindset among board members. It has been a radical learning curve.
One of the most meaningful aspects of chairing the board has been watching how the relationships between student and adult board members evolves. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Students have a lot of on-the-ground knowledge to share with the adults, and the adults have the experience and wisdom to help guide us.
My work with One Stone has reinforced my longstanding interest in starting my own business. The practical experience I’ve gained on the board has increased my confidence that someday I will be able to start a business that makes a positive contribution to society.
Written by Pete Oliver, a 17-year-old senior at Bishop Kelly High who is the board chair at One Stone.