The Rigor and Reward Found in Engagement

Dave Wendelin
Director of NEHS

The beginning of the school year brings with it the promise of continued growth for National English Honor Society (NEHS), the high school level English honor society sponsored by Sigma Tau Delta. We now exceed 500 chapters and expect this year will bring new milestones of participation for thousands of new and continuing members. Why does this growth occur? What motivates students to join NEHS or, for that matter, ? Why commit to the demands and expectations of honor societies such as these?

Kylene Beers, former president of the National Council of Teachers of English, recently posted on Facebook a segment of her latest book (written with Robert Probst), Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading (Heinemann, in press): "The essential element in rigor is engagement. The rigor has to be achieved by engaging the readers in a process that is sufficiently interesting or rewarding that they’ll invest energy in the work." While these thoughts are specific to the way readers become invested in texts, they also apply to why students commit to challenges—because the challenges are engaging, important, and energy-giving. In the world of English studies, be it at the university, two-year college, or high school level, students engage in rigorous learning and in vital activities because they find the work interesting, stimulating, fulfilling. For Sigma Tau Delta and National English Honor Society members, it is English studies that provide the rigor and the reward.

On the NEHS website, the following appears:

The NEHS motto, "gelast sceal mid are," is Old English for: "duty goes with honor." The motto represents one of the earliest forms of our language—it affirms and celebrates an obligation to use one’s gifts in service to others. Service to peers, school, and community are part and parcel of the NEHS mission—and, indeed, in the grammatical structure of the Old English phrase, "duty" actually precedes "honor."

Like Sigma Tau Delta members, students engaged in NEHS find the rigorous academic life so exciting. They are "honored" to engage in "duties" that touch the lives of others. The following are a few examples of such work:

  • Tullahoma High School chapter, Tullahoma, TN, collected school supplies for students in need as well as books for troops overseas.
  • The Mother McAuley High School chapter from Chicago, IL, completed fifty-five holiday-themed booklets to include in food boxes for distribution in Chicago and created PowerPoint learning resources to send to Africa.
  • The Littleton, CO, Chatfield High School chapter raised nearly $9,000 to donate to a school in Zambia, paying the fees for boys to attend school.
  • The Alonzo and Tracy Mourning High School, located in North Miami, FL, held a service project to help young English language learners in Argentina experience Shakespeare through virtual communication and letter writing.

This small sampling of projects typify commitment to others; the rigor of visioning, crafting, and executing such projects is not achieved easily. Yet students in chapters like these engage in their work, exude excitement to be a part of something significant, and accept their duty to serve others. They earn the honor that comes with membership in our organization.