Earbuds Down, Leadership Up

By Pablo Fonseca

Walking through the halls of a high school, you come in contact with many different students and personalities. There’s always at least one kid like Azzara in every class: she keeps to herself, a bit rough around the edges, always with earbuds in, shutting out the world. That’s how she was, a 9th-grader who seemed to have built a wall around herself. We aim to develop healthy relationships with the students and break through those walls as Teach One to Lead One mentors.

In T1L1, we’re all about showing kids they can be leaders, no matter where they come from or how they act. We use all kinds of activities to get this point across, and role-playing is one of our curriculum components. It’s one thing to talk about principles like Compassion; it’s another to act them out. So, there we were, in the middle of our session on the principle of Compassion, looking for a volunteer, and Azzara’s hand shot up; this was new.

Now, Azzara had yet to jump at these opportunities. So, I noticed when she pulled out her earbuds and stepped up to the front with a softer look. She was about to help me lead the role play, and we were all curious how this would go down.

As she got into character, something clicked. It was like watching someone flip a switch; Azzara’s usual hard shell melted away, and she got into character to act in the skit. The other students watched, and I could see they were getting it. This wasn’t just a skit; it was proof that anyone could embody these principles if they just tried.

That moment wasn’t just a breakthrough for Azzara; it was a wake-up call for all of us. Sometimes, we forget that every student, even the quiet ones with the tough exteriors, has a leader inside waiting to come out. The T1L1 program is built on the idea that these kids can find that leader in themselves with the right encouragement and the right lessons.

Seeing Azzara take charge gave me a new perspective on what we do and why it matters. It’s not always about the big, dramatic changes. Sometimes, it’s about one kid, one moment, one step forward.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the school year and seeing how Azzara and the other students keep growing. They’ve all got so much potential, and moments like these remind me how important it is to keep pushing, mentoring, and believing that these universal principles can create life-changing experiences.

Her story, which is just beginning to unfold, is a clear example that the right words and small time investment can reach anyone. It’s a reminder to all of us in the teaching and mentoring fields that our work has real power. Azzara’s just one student out of many, but her story is a big deal. It proves we can lift these kids up with faith and hard work, help them pull those earbuds out, and watch them soar. 

Her story is a reminder that truth really changes lives.

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