Justice Now

Solutions in Sight: Social Justice

Student Leadership - Training for Life

A Conversation with
Jenna Carli
March 1998
In junior high school Jenna became active is student government. That involvement led her to the California Association of Student Councils (CASC), a student run leadership training organization. Her personal leadership skills helped get her selected to participate in a unique CASC project that brought a team of United States students to Moscow to do leadership training with Russian students. While in Russia, Jenna met a group of student leaders involved in Earth Train. That program brought her to Japan and then to a rainforest in Puerto Rico. Now, at age 19, she is finishing up her first year at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee.

The InSite: How did you first become involved with CASC?

Jenna: When I was in the 8th grade I was real involved in the Student Leadership at my junior high. And we had been involved with CASC (California Association of Student Councils).

TI: I've never heard of CASC. What's it all about?

Jenna: CASC has a number of leadership training programs (junior high, high school and elementary school) that run on the state as well as the county level. CASC is a pretty broad-based organization in terms of what they can do in. They've even worked with AmeriCorps. What's unique about CASC is that it's a non-profit student led organization. I counseled at the summer camps that I attended when I was in junior high. Once I got into high school, my involvement in CASC within California became more intense. I started on the State Council and was on the Board of Directors. I helped a lot more with the California programming on the junior high schools and elementary school level.

TI: Sounds like you were very involved with CASC.

Jenna: Yes! So was our school. Because we were so involved we were given an application to participate in a leadership conference with CASC that was going to be held in Moscow. It was a program funded by a federal grant. My student activities director asked me to develop the application to go. And I did. And I got accepted.

TI: Wow! Moscow! That must have been very exciting for you!

Jenna: It was incredible. I was only 14 (it was the summer of '93) and I was actually the youngest on the trip. There were 25 people that went from the United States. We went for three weeks and stayed with host families and worked with Russian students to set up a similar youth leadership organization in Moscow.

Photo: CASC in Moscow - most of the American delegation.

CASC in Moscow

TI: The summer of 1993 was right after the fall of the former Soviet Union. Lots of things were happening in Russia at that time!

Jenna: When I was there it was right before they stopped changing the guard at Lenin's tomb. Before the ruble crashed and right before the Russian White House was bombed. Things were in upheaval, but the youth were in a position to be really inspired with what they could do in terms of leadership and what they could do [in this country that was going through so many dramatic changes.]

...youth [in Moscow] were...
really inspired with what they
could do in terms of leadership...

TI: What was the main goal of this project?

Jenna: To teach self-esteem, situational leadership skills, motivational skills. Team work, team building, meeting and presentation skills. Anything you could possibly imagine that would go into leadership. We began working with 20-30 Russian students who were also fairly fluent in English. Basically teaching them our [CASC leadership] curriculum and having them teach us back, so they could begin to run their own conferences and structure their own curriculum.

TI: How did your experience with CASC in Moscow lead you to Earth Train?

Jenna: While I was in Moscow a group of six other Americans came in from Croatia. They had just done Earth Train for Peace.

TI: What is Earth Train for Peace?

Jenna: Earth Train is about student empowerment, student leadership type curriculum, like CASC. But Earth Train has more of an interest in environmental education and activism. They stress global citizenship. They had been in Croatia and in Vienna for some United Nations conference. I had never heard of Earth Train before. I was in awe of all these people, they were all older [than me] and they had traveled to all these places and done all these amazing things! They were in college and I was in awe. I can't even remember how I started talking to Rupe Shah, but we hit it off. It was like a big brother/little sister thing. When I came home we all stayed in touch. In September Rupe called me and said, "What do you think of coming to Japan with Earth Train in a week?"

Earth Train is about student
empowerment, student leadership...
They stress global citizenship.

TI: Woah! In September? Just as you were starting high school?

Jenna: [Laughing] Just like that! My parents were unbelievably cool with all of this. So I got to go to Japan with Earth Train for two weeks.

TI: Exactly what were you doing in Japan?

Photo: Jenna in Toga Village (where the conference
work was done) with some local village children
Jenna in Toga Village

Jenna: Earth Train had done an Earth Train across the United States and they stopped in major cities and held different youth forums.

TI: Is it a real train?

Jenna: Yes! They took an actual train ride across the United States. So the idea was that there would be Earth Trains like this all around the globe. What we were doing in Japan was the preliminary work for the train in Japan that was supposed to be happening the following March (1994). When I went to Japan there were youth from seven countries represented and these youth were going to be the core staff on Earth Train Japan. We were meeting people and beginning to brainstorm and work on visionary things.

TI: Was the focus ecological?

Jenna: Some of the structured activities involved different environmental aspects. Like we were given [roles to play]. Some people were farmers. Some people were business people. We were given different scenarios for city planning type things. It was certainly a part, but the overall umbrella was that we were teaching students globally what it meant to be a leader and think globally and how to take that kind of action. It wasn't focusing in on really specific environmental issues but it was giving youth the tools to know how to take responsible action.

...it was giving youth the tools to know how to take responsible action.

TI: After the two weeks in Japan you went back home and then what?

Jenna: Some of my teachers had me keep a journal and traveling around to different schools in my area and making presentations about what I had gotten to do over the summer with CASC and with Earth Train. I also started speaking at Rotary Clubs [adult service organizations] and had a program and a slide show. That's how I stayed involved throughout the rest of my freshman year. I found out that I really loved public speaking! The first couple of times I was scared to death, but then I really started having fun with it. I loved those types of audiences (business people) because they were so receptive to what I was sharing. (Something I wasn't getting from my friends.) Of course I stayed in touch and continued to work with CASC and a lot of [them] were also involved with Earth Train. Then Earth Train became associated with some people who owned acres of rain forest in Puerto Rico and they were in the process of trying to get money to build a [rain forest preservation] program around a certain site. I was asked to be a part of the first team to go out there and start to work with these different aspects of this rain forest [program]. That was in August before my junior year (1995).

TI: What was that experience like?

Photo: Earth Train in Puerto Rico

Earth Train in Puerto RicoJenna: Completely different! When we got there we did some facility repair. There was a theater that we did repairs on. We had to clear out the irrigation pipes and then there were different parts of the forest that they were trying to do some experimental planting with bamboo to see if that would make the ground more secure so they could avoid landslides [caused by all the rain]. We did a bunch of [environmental] work to help sustain and maintain the environment of the rain forest.

TI: How long were you there?

Jenna: About ten days.

TI: How did these international experiences affect your going back and being a "regular" high school student?

Jenna: It had a huge impact on me. I often wonder what I would have been like in terms of how I looked at the world on a daily basis if it hadn't been for these experiences. Was my approach to things altered? I'm convinced it was. At first it was hard when I came back from Moscow. I wanted to share share share! I was just so full of wonderful amazing incredible experiences, but I couldn't get any of my friends to put a finger on it. They were still in Santa Rosa, California doing their regular old summer activities. Not that there was anything wrong with that. I remember thinking, "Nobody cares." You know, it's like your own personal photographs [from trips] are always going to hold so much more meaning to you [than to anyone else]. I wanted my friends to be able to feel what I felt but I realized that they couldn't.

I wanted my friends to be able to feel
what I felt but I realized that they couldn't.

TI: Did that make you feel a little bit of emotional distance from them?

Jenna: Oh yeah! And I can remember going into high school feeling like I was different from my friends. I saw the world through different eyes. My involvement in this organization inspired me and encouraged me to stay involved in the student government part of my school and some of my friends were like "Whatever!" They didn't care any more - they saw it more as a joke. I took it seriously. It became a personal passion of mine. The experience... what I got to work with became applicable because of what I got to do! I had to stand my ground and I continued to get really involved in CASC. In a lot of ways there was a huge divergent path between my friends and me in junior high and high school. But it wasn't a huge hardship. It didn't make me have any regrets at all. If anything, it just made me appreciate having had those incredibly unique experiences. When you are a 7th or 8th grader you don't really see the "bigger picture." Because of the experiences I had, I got to open my eyes to the "bigger" picture at an earlier age.

Photo: Jenna on right and Benita in the rainforest.

Benita and Jenna

Because of the experiences I had, I got to open my eyes to the "bigger" [global] picture at an earlier age.
Want to find out more about the CASC?

Email Jenna at: [email protected]

Want to find out more about the Earth Train?

Visit their website at: www.earthtrain.org


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