Saving the world in study hall: college students used to be the activists, but now they're being joined by high school students interested in a range of issues.

Author:Kristof, Nicholas D.
Position:OPINION - Essay

Teens are supposed to be sullen and self-absorbed, but Rachel S. Rosenfeld never got the memo.

Rachel, a senior at the Hackley School in Tarrytown, N.Y., came down with a painful intestinal ailment that forced her to miss the entire 2006-2007 school year. So she decided that even if she couldn't go to school, she could still help other kids who wanted to.

From her sickbed, Rachel sold T-shirts and solicited contributions to build a 316-student elementary school in the rural village of Srah Khvav, Cambodia. Borrowing an idea from university fund-raising, she offered naming opportunities: For $25, donors could buy chairs to be named for them. All told, she raised $57,000, which was channeled through an aid group, American Assistance for Cambodia.


Now Rachel is mostly healthy again and back in school. Last winter, she traveled to Cambodia to cut the ribbon at the R. S. Rosenfeld School.

"The children were all so grateful and well-behaved," Rachel says. "It truly was a life-changing experience."


College students used to be the activists, but increasingly they're joined by high school students and even younger children. Even though the spotlight is often on billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates, one of America's healthier trends has been the rise of piggy-bank philanthropists.

In 2006, two high school students at the Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts--Ana Slavin and Nick Anderson--started Dollars for Darfur, a nationwide campaign that has raised $420,000 from 440 high schools.

Humanitarian prodigies like Ana and Nick are laudable for going beyond simple protesting to help their causes. Today's young social entrepreneurs come across as more constructive than previous generations of student activists, and more savvy about how to accomplish their goals cost-effectively.

Climate change in particular has galvanized high school students--perhaps because it's their world that we're cooking. Taylor Francis, 16, a student at Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough, Calif., has been speaking around the country about global warming. After some training by former Vice President Al Gore, he has set up his own Web site and traveled to China to give a dozen lectures there.

"There's an enormous outpouring of young people who are trying to do community service," Taylor says. "Unfortunately, a lot of that is probably just to get into college."

As a junior at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy...

To continue reading