Student Leaders in Greenville County Schools: Perspectives from Student Body Presidents

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Today we interview three Greenville County student body presidents, exploring their perspectives on school pride, leadership, and community impact. These leaders from Greenville Senior High Academy, Carolina High, and Eastside High School share insights on their diverse schools, mental health, and community engagement in shaping a student’s journey. Discover how these students are not just future leaders, but influential voices in today’s educational landscape.

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Transcript

Katy Smith:
I’m proud of all of our episodes of Simple Civics Greenville County and the great leaders, activists, volunteers, and government officials that we talk to, but this conversation is a really special one.

We are joined by three student leaders from Greenville County Schools, high school seniors who serve as student body presidents.

Morgan Joy, he is student body president at Eastside High, Mary Wesley Few at Greenville Senior High Academy, and Ashley Garcia at Carolina High School.

They lead student bodies that are very different from each other and in very different parts of our community, but they have shared lessons of leadership, especially servant leadership and all that goes with it.

And they have words of wisdom for those of us who are long out of high school about how we can support today’s students and make room for them to lead in our community.

I hope you’ll feel as encouraged about what’s going on in Greenville County Schools and our Gen Z leaders as I was talking with them.

Katy Smith:
[0:00] I’m so glad to be here today with three student body presidents from three of our 15 Greenville County high schools.
I’m here with Mary Wesley Few with Greenville Senior High Academy.
I’m here with Ashley Garcia from Carolina High, and I’m here with Morgan Joy from Eastside High School.
Thanks so much to each of you for taking the time to be here with me today.
Okay, so each of you is a leader in your school, and some of our listeners know Greenville County schools very well.
They might work there. They might have kids there. Some might even be students.
But I suspect that the vast majority haven’t walked into a school in a really, really long time.
So I wonder if you can just start by telling us what makes you proud of your school or of Greenville County Schools as a whole.

Morgan Joy:
[0:43] So what makes me proud is that I think is like unique to our school district is how we like engage our students in the making of like policies and trying to like improve our schools.
One of the programs is inner high council which we’re all three on. That’s a pretty great thing. I feel like that’s unique. I don’t know I’ve talked to people from other school districts and stuff from around the state and they don’t have a bunch of stuff like that and it kind of… you can’t really like accurately make decisions about students without getting the voices of students so I think that’s super important. About my school itself, we have a program called Principal’s Cabinet, and it’s where, like, a more…
I want to say more diverse array of students compared to the people that go to Inner High because it’s not just, like, student leaders and people on student government. It’s, you know…
The athletes, the super smart people, the people that spend most of their time in the principal’s office.
And I think that that’s such a group of people that don’t get the representation they need because those are the people that, in my opinion, like need policy to benefit them like the most. So that’s something at my school that I like.

Katy Smith:
[2:02] That’s great. Ashley, how about Carolina?

Ashley Garcia:
[2:05] For Carolina, I have to say it’s near like between two things it’s near our tradition or diversity. I mean to start off 50 percent or more of us are Hispanic Latinos and then the rest of it second top is African American so I feel like we’re one of the many diverse schools and we take a lot of traditions. We take like Hispanic Heritage Month very seriously, back history months very seriously just because we want to celebrate each other we want to celebrate our ethnicity. And then we also do a bunch of traditions like we custom made our our own graduation gallons each year, which is very special because it’s something unique that only our school does.
And then even on freshman year, we start off with a tradition where we sign posters with our name saying, hey, we’re committed to graduating.
We’re committed to working hard these four years in order to achieve a high school diploma.
I definitely have to say one big impact is definitely the career centers.
We have Donaldson Career Center and our new one where it really helps out a lot of engineering students.
And that’s something that a ton of of districts, no matter how much funding they have, they don’t do that. They don’t take the funding that they have to put it right back to the students to make them earn high-paying jobs, make them earn jobs that they actually love or are going to enjoy.

Katy Smith:
[3:18] Yeah, it’s so interesting to think about how different just Eastside and Carolina are from each other from your student population.
And that’s what customs make sense there. But to think that the district offers these overarching programs that are there for any student who’s interested in STEM or arts at the Fine Arts Center or whatever it may be, that really is a great strength of our district. How about for you, Mary Wesley?

Mary Wesley Few:
[3:40] I agree with Ashley with our tradition. Obviously, Greenville High is one of the oldest schools in the district, so we do really try and honor that and explore our tradition and make sure that our students know about it, which I love.
And also, I think being downtown and being a school that’s so closely connected to a growing community, it’s a really easy way for us to be involved.
And so I think that that’s another great aspect of going to Greenville High.
And it’s one that I really wanted to lean into, especially there are always events happening on Main Street and Fleur Field and things that we get to be involved in.
And I just, I love being able to connect with people that are outside of our school.
So that’s one thing. And I think Greenville County as a whole too, I think one of the big things that I think about is whenever I talk to my teachers, I notice that all of them are so thankful to be here.
And that’s such an important thing now, especially with COVID and we need teachers more than ever.
And I think that people want to move to Greenville County.
They want to work here over other school districts in the state because Greenville County Schools really does care for their teachers and they make sure that they are surrounded by great people and administration and everything.
So those are two things that I’m super, super thankful for.

Katy Smith:
[4:56] That’s really great. I appreciate you noting that about your teachers, because I do feel like the school community, parents, faculty, administration, staff, and students is so vital and vibrant in Greenville County.
And I think y’all here at the end of your school career are evidence of that.
Awesome. Greenville County Schools is in the midst of an important strategic planning process that happens only every few years that you all got to take part in.
And of course, when this one’s done, you all will be gone. You’ll be off to college, off to your lives, but you guys have a unique and important perspective as current student leaders.
So what are the experiences and opportunities that you’ve had throughout your education that have enabled your success as a leader?
And what do you think Greenville County Schools should do to make sure those opportunities continue for students after you?

Morgan Joy:
[5:42] I would say for opportunities, we talked about this a little bit at the strategic planning meeting, I was there.
Making sure that we have high expectations on our students while also meeting that with like a high level of support and guidance for them.
I think it happens too many times where like a student is underperforming in school or like they don’t have the best grades or their behavior isn’t the best.
And we put an expectation on them that’s low.
And that’s the only expectation that they’re going to get because that’s what they think of themselves.
So I think trying to push higher expectations onto people, even if they are underperforming while also like supporting them through that and guiding them through it. I think that would definitely help a lot of those kids.

Mary Wesley Few:
[6:31] I definitely agree with that. I think that the support of students is so important.
I think that especially now with school being such a competitive aspect of life, we all have to work so hard to make sure we get into the best college or that we get a career path that we’re going to be able to excel in and enjoy later on in our life.
I think it’s changed a lot since like our even our parents were in school, just with how competitive it’s gotten.
And so I think that like a lot of the times when teachers and students, I think they like drag it down on themselves and put the pressure on themselves to, I guess, perform to a certain level.
And a lot of the times some of those things are not, they’re not in their control.
And so supporting others and letting them know that like they are working their hardest and they’re working for a common goal and that like they are successful, even if they aren’t in their eyes, I think is super important.
And I think that they do a very good job in Greenville County of doing that, which I’ve felt personally.

Katy Smith:
[7:32] What about you, Ashley?

Ashley Garcia:
[7:33] I definitely believe just having the type of person that’s just there for you, whether that’s a college career counselor or just a teacher or staff member, having a person there that’s just forcing you to get out of your comfort zone a little bit, even when it comes to clubs, when it comes to job fair that Greenville County hosts, it’s great to just know that there’s a resource that’s going to help you.
Even if you know that your career choice, the road you’re taking, it’s going to be hard.

Katy Smith:
[8:03] What is really neat is the things that each of you said to me really reflect what the current strategic plan has, which is really customizable paths for students based on their own career goals or academic goals and recognizing students come with a myriad of challenges and backgrounds and opportunities, but helping everyone do their best with whatever that is.
So that’s really neat and so great that you all got to weigh in on this upcoming strategic plan based on your great experience.
So good. So what would you want community members to know about you and your fellow students?
For all those people that haven’t been in a school a long time, they might be a little out of touch about what people who are 18 years old and younger, what they’re dealing with.

Mary Wesley Few:
[8:42] I think with this, it’s something that I’ve noticed just like being student body president this year is that you want to make such a difference in your school and in your community.
And sometimes you don’t know how. And so I think when I have had older people reach out to me, it’s helped me to know what the rest of the community wants because I can know what our student body wants.
I can see how people feel and I can try and reflect in a way that’s going to benefit them.
But a lot of the times when we’re trying to help our communities, we need them to reach out to us.
It’s really hard to just constantly go out and try and like see what other people are feeling because if they don’t tell us then we can never know. And so I think it’s really important that if older people that are out of touch from schools in a way that they can come in and if they want to be involved that they come to us and they reach out to us so that we know because we can’t fit anyone’s expectations or really help benefit them in our community unless we know exactly how they are feeling.
And so when people have reached out to me, I’ve found that so helpful because now I know this is something I need to take care of.
I can put it on my to-do list and I can set a goal for myself to help them.

Katy Smith:
[10:02] Ashley, what do you think? What would you like people to know?

Ashley Garcia:
[10:05] I definitely think this generation, it’s like one of the most strongest, bravest, yet vulnerable generation there has been.
I mean, we’ve done a lot of changes, but there’s also plenty of different changes.
Like college is so much different than if you were applying like 20 years ago.
The community is so much different than 20 years ago. So I definitely think allowing future generations to know that it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to think that this situation is different and then I need more help.
I feel like back then, there’s just an idea where you just have to man up.
You always have to be brave. You always have to stick it to the very end.
Now in today’s world, we’re learning that it’s okay to give up a little bit.
It’s okay to move on to the next plan. It’s okay to learn from your mistakes and keep going.

Katy Smith:
[10:53] As a member of GenX, I can say that that man-up attitude is true and the different things that you guys are facing.
It’s just, it’s a different world now than it was when I was coming up.
What do you think, Morgan?

Morgan Joy:
[11:04] I would say the one thing that I want the community to know about myself and my fellow students is that when you say like your generation is the future, like y’all are the future, that’s true.
But you’re disregarding the fact that we’re also the present and we’re also what’s going on right now.
And I think that’s so evident in like our advisory programs where we put such a high focus on like college or like the next step where a lot of times the next step for a majority of people is completely unknown. Like for myself example I would say that like I’m a fairly successful student, I make good grades, I’m a student leader and I still have no clue where I want to go to college and I leave in like this summer. But I know everything will work out it’ll be fine. Yeah, exactly, because I have a path paved for myself. Anyway, I would say that students have like passions and stuff that they want to accomplish in the present.
And when someone says like, oh, just wait, you’re too young.
You can do that later in life.
I think that that’s shameful because we need to take initiative and there’s no better time than the present to like figure out who you are and what you want to do with your life.

Katy Smith:
[12:21] That’s a really interesting point, because when I hear you’re the future, it’s said with kind of a like you expect some sort of Whitney Houston song to be swelling behind you.
But it’s also kind of like, hang on, it’s not your turn yet.
You know, your your turn is in the future and you guys are ready.
You are leading now and your voices are already important.

Mary Wesley Few:
[12:39] I was going to say, I think that’s super important on like a mental health aspect, too. I think that a lot of people, they kind of think like we’re the future.
But especially with high school students now, I’ve noticed that like our present is we kind of try and push it off to the future.
And I think that like we do need to focus on our present and just realize that like there are things that we are going through right now that we need to deal with and we need to like learn how to accept and move forward with so that we can be better in our future. I think that’s a huge thing.
Just distinguishing kind of like this this needs to be done now.
This needs to be a priority.
And then and then we can better deal with it in the future as well.

Katy Smith:
[13:25] So you guys are a part of a mighty group of leaders in our 15 Greenville County high schools.
What have you learned about leadership in your roles?
And what would you say to other students who are coming up behind you about the benefits of getting involved in school and community?

Ashley Garcia:
[13:39] Honestly through leadership it’s been a very like difficult process it’s not easy at all but what I’ve learned about it is that if you have good time management skills, if you have the want and need to make a change, then everything’s just going to align for you.
And I definitely feel as though a lot of people, especially people who in the past haven’t tried out for things, haven’t joined clubs, they often feel as though they can’t have a leadership position, that they’re very introverted.
But that’s not always necessarily true. It may just be like trying to be a good member of a club.
It may just be being representative in a club. You know, you don’t always have to run for positions.
I feel like that’s a big idea that a lot of people have is that they have to do campaigning. They have to earn people’s votes.
And sometimes it’s just being there that matters.

Katy Smith:
[14:27] Oh, my gosh. I like want to underline that a hundred times because leadership is a position, but it’s really the way you show up in the world.
I mean, it’s in your family. It’s in your workplace.
It doesn’t mean someone gave you a title. It’s just caring and doing what’s right. So, yes, 100 percent.

Morgan Joy:
[14:43] I completely agree with what she said. I think that too many times when people think about like a leadership position, they think of like the president of the United States, like someone who’s like all-powerful.
When in reality, like if you’re a leader, like you’re very likely to be like the most vulnerable person in a room because of the criticism and like the adversities that you face on a day to day basis.
But one thing that I would say, like the future student leaders need to know that I kind of learned the hard way, and it took me a while to learn, is sacrifice.
And the fact that you have to sacrifice some opportunities to better your chances at others.
And you can’t do everything, unfortunately. Can’t be two places at once.
So if you really want to be good at one thing, then you might not be able to do something else.

Katy Smith:
[15:34] That’s a really good point. It’s like the heart of time management and being strategic with your decisions, for sure.

Mary Wesley Few:
[15:40] Yeah, totally agree with those. I think me personally, I talk about this with people all the time because they tell me how much I’ve grown as a person in these aspects of my life.
But time management and communication were two things that before the year I was not super good at.
I’m still working on it. I’m definitely not the person that’s going to respond to your text right away um honestly it might take me days but, I really have had to like, I guess, strap myself down and like think this is the time for this time for student council.
This is time for academics and athletics and whatnot.
Time management has been such a big thing for me to learn and which is going to be helpful in college, I’m sure.
But I think those are two things that are just super important to have as a leader.

[16:29] And I’ve realized that and I’ve tried to better myself in them.
But I think also the biggest lesson that I’ve really had to learn is that a lot of the times I think that like my gut instinct is best and as a leader I think a lot of the times you have to put that away and you have to think about what everybody else is thinking so I guess just like listening and making sure that you’re being representative and that you’re taking the step that’s best for everyone even if it goes against what you really want to happen or what your initial plan was.
And I think that that normally ends up for the betterment of everyone else, even if it’s not what you want.

Katy Smith:
[17:08] Y’all, this is really profound stuff. I’m so impressed with what you’ve learned.
And what is so great is like, you’ll continue to learn it as you know.
I mean, you’ll keep going through these lessons and bring it to the next thing that you do. It’s so great.
So folks who listen to this podcast are service-minded members of our community, or I like to think so. That’s why they’re listening to something that has civics in the title.
So how would you encourage them to get involved in schools and to support students?

Mary Wesley Few:
[17:33] Like I was saying earlier, I think students do try and kind of like get out into the communities.
I think being a part of other organizations is a really easy way because it’s hard for schools to find one singular person to support versus if you’re a part of a nonprofit or an organization through a church or just another department.
I think that that is a really good way of like, us reaching out to you and how we can support you because the reality is students do want to help um even if they’re helping their elders because I think that some people think that students are you know less wise, their opinion is not worth it but a lot of the students they want to learn and they want to get involved and learn from the people who are more experienced. And so I think if you’re connected to a bigger organization where we can have groups of people teaching younger people, I think that’s super, super helpful in my eyes.

Katy Smith:
[18:34] There are so many great nonprofits that people can volunteer with that connect with schools.
And then it’s really a two-way street that nonprofits need to make opportunities for students to come and volunteer.
And we really need everyone to be engaged in schools, both giving opportunities to students and then pouring into schools with volunteers, with donations, and the like.

Ashley Garcia:
[18:53] I definitely agree with what Mary Wesley said, especially about letting the youth be involved in different types of communities.
And I especially think lowering the age limit on some organizations would be great.
I know some animal care shelters, they only allow people above 18 to help out when in reality, you develop the matureness by the time you’re 16.
You develop the need to want to help out at a very young age.
And I definitely think allowing younger people to be influenced about the community, to learn about Greenville, to learn about how Greenville is such a great society and how it helps us to grow and keep growing definitely is one of the needs that we need to have now.

Katy Smith:
[19:34] That’s a really good point. It is hard to find when you’re ready to help places that will let you do it when you’re a freshman, sophomore, or junior in high school.

Morgan Joy
[19:42] I completely agree with that. I would say that, along with like the volunteer side of things, the business side of thing, like if you are a business owner, maybe opening up an internship position for a high schooler so that they can kind of see like what they want to do in the future while also like having fun in the present and like bettering themselves in the present.
For parents, I would say that supporting your kids through the decisions that they want to make even if they’re not always what you want for them… I would say that like it’s it’s much better for you to like try to clear the path for them than try to like pave another one and have to like push them along because they don’t want to go and that kind of goes back to what I said about like the high expectations and like the support.
Like if your kid wants to be an astronaut or something crazy like that, just be like, okay, you have to make really good grades in school, maybe enroll in some of these programs.
And no matter even if they don’t make it up there, they’re going to do something great with the success that they’re having.

Katy Smith:
[20:50] Yeah, the opportunity for internships is a great one.
And it’s one that’s much needed. And there’s a great vehicle that people can use to offer internships if they’d like.
And it’s a great partnership with the Greenville Chamber and Greenville County Schools called Launch Greenville that makes it easy for people to offer internships.
And we’ll put a link in the show notes so people can check out the website to learn how to offer internships.
But even outside of that, with all the CTE education, I mean, there’s so many things with our career centers for employers and community organizations to link.
And so I would encourage anyone who wants to make that opportunity available to do so.
So you all have seen so many great community members and parents volunteer in schools. Think back over your K-12 experience.
Can you think of a memory of when someone outside the school came in and made a big difference in your life?

Mary Wesley Few:
[21:37] I have a distinct memory in, I think it was seventh grade, either sixth or seventh.
And we were having career day and we had like all these, all these interesting people come in.
But I remember everyone was super, super just excited about a nurse coming in.
And the nurse, we did not know this was going to happen, but the nurse brought in like a staple gun for when someone gets injured or gets a cut or something and they don’t need stitches and I remember like watching that, and I was like wait for this is such a cool aspect that like I don’t see like in the movies and stuff and it’s maybe that’s just like such a weird thing for me to think back on but, I don’t know if that was the exact moment, but like that is something that I think back on and like now I want to be a nurse in the future.
And so like, I think that was like one of the first real-world experiences I got to have.
Even if it was just me remembering that they had a nail gun or if it was like the opportunity that a nurse came in, it opens the door for a lot of students to see what they really do want to do with their future careers.

Katy Smith:
[22:43] That’s amazing. I mean, when you think about that nurse taking an hour out of her day or his day to come in and like give a peek into an operating room, that’s really… that’s really cool. What about you, Ashley?

Ashley Garcia:
[22:54] For me, it’s a little bit similar to Mary Wesley career-wise, like career inspiration.
For me, I was a part of beta club in seventh and eighth grade.
And through the club, there was a community that came in that was offering tutors to tutor for second graders.
And I was fortunate enough to be a part of the program and it really inspired me especially at that time because I wanted to be an education major, I wanted to be an elementary school teacher so getting to influence these children not only helping them with their schoolwork but also influencing them to have a bit more time management, to be a bit more creative with things… it really inspired me to want to do something with kids in the future. Not just plain out education but something connecting it to the medical field or connecting to business field.

Katy Smith:
[23:39] Wonderful. What about you, Morgan?

Morgan Joy:
[23:41] I have an example, but I don’t remember it too well because it was in like the early elementary stages of my education.
And it was it’s called math superstars.
It’s when like parents come in and they like teach kids about math.
But it’s not like… most of the time when like early elementary age kids think about math, it’s like, oh, boring.
Like when math superstars came in, like everybody was super excited about it.
And my mom was one of the math superstar people who, like, came in and taught people.
And I remember she loved it a lot, and, like, everybody liked it.
[24:14] Learning from like her and other parents who were in that program rather than like sitting down like doing worksheets or something. So I think like engaging the community and the education aspect of things as well is super awesome

Katy Smith:
[23:46] Yeah and you know what I think is neat about your example is you not remembering the specifics of it but you remember how it made you feel and so volunteers coming in even if someone comes in as a nurse and they don’t decide to be a nurse but kids will remember like someone took time out of their day to make my day more interesting and fun and someone who had no reason to be here, but they decided to invest in me in some way.
I think that’s really special. I do think about, I’m sure y’all have heard of the terms helicopter parents who hover over, and then there’s the snowplow parents who clear the way.
You’ve heard that term, that the parents are clearing the path completely.
And I think a new style of parenting, which seems to be very clear in y’all’s lives, that you’ve really named the path you want to take.
And your parents have supported you in that journey.
I think for all adults to do that more, like how can we help you do what you guys want to do?

Morgan Joy:
[25:16] And I think that’s like a major reason why I’ve succeeded as a student leader is because like when I’ve gone to my parents and I’m like, hey, I want to run for this or hey, I want to do this thing.
They’re not like, uh, that might cause some work for us or like, oh, maybe you should, maybe you should focus on your school.
They encourage me and they’re like, okay, if you want to do this, then you’re going to have to step up to the plate and you’re going to have to do this to do this.
And I think that is so much better than discouraging someone and taking away like those passions and those aspirations that people have.

Ashley Garcia:
[25:50] And I definitely think like staying informative about what’s the school doing to help the student choices is one of like a big important thing.
Like I know my mom, they always send out the school messages every Sunday, even though English isn’t her first language, she’ll literally listen to it and ask me questions, even though it doesn’t revolve about me, but at least I know that she’s trying, that she’s trying to stay informative about the topics that schools are teaching.
I definitely think that’s like one of the biggest aspects that parents can do nowadays.

Katy Smith:
[26:18] That’s great. Okay, so to wrap up, if you guys had to choose one word to share with our listeners about the benefit of them supporting students in schools, what word would it be?

Mary Wesley Few:
[26:29] The first word that comes to mind is domino, like domino effect.
I think that setting the stage for our generation is just going to set the stage for the next generation and the next and the next.
It is true that like as we grow up, we’re going to be in the same position as our parents and our grandparents were at some point.
And so I think that just nurturing all young people and teaching them lessons that you wish you would have known earlier is just the best way to make an effect in our community. And it truly will be a domino.
I can see it now with like people babysitting even two and three-year-olds that are our age.
And we have jobs in our community where we interact with all different sorts of people.
And so I think that that’s the most important thing is as long as you affect one generation, it’ll continue on.

Katy Smith:
[27:21] Yeah, that’s great.

Morgan Joy:
[27:24] I would say that my one word would be engage, and that’s fairly similar to Mary Wesley’s word domino.
Because I think if you engage students and you give them opportunities to succeed, then that is the first step in them actually taking steps to get to where they want to be.
I think that you have to engage people in order for them to have some inspiration on where they want to be.

Ashley Garcia:
[27:52] For me I said initiative that was the first part I thought of just mainly because, like I was saying throughout this podcast it’s just like taking that one step even if it’s like little or small where that’s communicating with people, trying to do different things, trying new pathways, doing internships. Just trying to do something with your life just trying to be different in a way.

Katy Smith:
[28:18] Wow. I just am so grateful to you for leading in the present.
I mean, you all have made such a difference in your schools for your fellow students, for faculty members, staff, administration.
And I cannot wait to see what you do with whatever comes next year once you graduate. I know it’ll be great wherever you land.
And we are really grateful to you for taking the time to let listeners know ways that they can lead and support schools. So thanks so much.

Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of Podcast Studio X.

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