iEducate Delaware is an initiative of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware recognizing the unsung heroes of public education statewide. These individuals represent a diverse cross section of parents, educators, community leaders, and other inspiring individuals from up and down the state, who are dedicating their time, commitment, and leadership to Delaware’s public schools. Each honoree received a $2,000 grant to support her work and was honored at last week’s Vision 2015 Fall Conference, hosted at the University of Delaware. To learn more, visit www.ieducatedelaware.org.
Town Square Delaware will feature the winning entries from the five honorees selected. The second honoree is Margaret O’Dwyer, and her entry appears below:
Pushing the envelope means taking a risk, never giving up, finding creative solutions to challenges and thinking out of the box. I believe it also means being a champion of change even when others want to stay with the status quo.
Education is the foundation of every democratic society. Only an educated populace can effectively self-govern and maintain individual rights. A strong education system, accessible to all, is the source of economic mobility for the individual and economic prosperity for the society. In order to compete in the global marketplace, we need to focus on making the most effective changes in our education system in America.
Four years ago, I started alumni interviewing for Georgetown University. Through this process, I met many talented high school seniors and learned about their interests and activities. Although many students had academic, athletic or other achievements, few had leadership experiences or exposure to training in this area. In addition, I observed that a disparity existed between students from different schools. Clearly, some seniors were less comfortable talking to an adult about their experiences or they did not have an appreciation for the importance of demonstrating initiative and/or other leadership qualities.
Even though some organizations offer leadership courses, only a small number of students seem to know about them or have access to them. I saw a need and an opportunity. It began with an idea and a conversation over lunch last November and eventually transformed into a project plan. In January 2012, we incorporated as the Delaware Youth Leadership Network (DYLN) Inc. Two short months later, we launched our website and introduced DYLN to 37 high schools in New Castle County. In April, we were excited to receive our 501(c)3 status from the IRS.
DYLN focuses on three areas: exposure to inspirational speakers and mentors, development of life skills and creation of a network of young leaders across Delaware high schools. We selected our first class of DYLN Scholars at the end of May, after fourteen hours of interviews. The most exciting thing others can learn about DYLN is that we are proof that ideas can turn into action and action leads to change. With change, we can positively make a difference in the lives of young people in Delaware.
Delaware students are impacted through this work in many ways. They gain exposure to inspirational speakers and mentors who provide different perspectives of leadership, and they build self-awareness of a student’s current leadership strengths and opportunities. The students develop leadership and life skills, such as public speaking, communication and collaboration skills, and DYLN creates a peer group of leaders across a wide array of high schools in Delaware, thus promoting leadership characteristics through positive connections. We would like to continue to get greater participation from area high schools. In the future, we hope to expand DYLN to the other counties, Kent and Sussex, in Delaware. We hope that our story inspires others to discover a passion and take a risk. With the right attitude, an innovative spirit and a great team of people, it is amazing what can be accomplished.
Margaret O’Dwyer is the Co-Founder of the Delaware Youth Leadership Network