I have a line on my resume that reads “Planned and initiated a chapter of the National Arts Honor Society.” It’s a humble little line. As Department Chair of the Visual and Performing arts, I also had my hand in initiating honor societies for theater and music as well as for art. It was a goal that stretched out over three school years. I am no longer at the school but the chapter lives on and I know I left the school better for starting the chapter. The first year I watched the induction ceremony was a rewarding experience. Watching the students excitedly don the official NAHS rainbow cords, the prettiest cords of any honor society in my opinion, at graduation was another good moment that can’t be done justice in a line on the resume.

Is a National Art Honor Society right for your school?

My humble goals were “to recognize students for their academic and artistic achievements, reward them for their accomplishments and service activities, and to inspire other students to excel and display leadership in the arts.” I recall one moment of needing to drop some related paperwork for the honor societies into the guidance. As I explained our plans to start a NAHS to the secretary, she looked over the paperwork and then looked at me sternly over her reading glasses, “Well, I just have one question for you.” I braced myself and she proceeded, “What took you so long? It’s high time the students in the art received some accolades.” I agreed, I smiled and I persevered in the endeavor that took three school years from idea to initiation.

So, does your school need a National Art Honor Society? Only you can answer that but I can share some reasons why it worked well for us and how we used the chapters to further strengthen the arts at our school. My school was highly academic with students who worked hard to fill their high school resumes with impressive sounding accomplishments. We had an art club that wasn’t thriving and class sizes that were dangerously small. At the same time, we had an enthusiastic core of students who were knocking it out of the park with awards and volunteer work. I could always count on an art student ready to design a school playbill, the cover for the yearbook, or help hang an exhibit in our school gallery. Over the summer students were visiting museums near and far, interned with local architects, took art classes at local colleges, and more. Our thinking became, how do we recognize these students without adding to their already full plates? Every other sector of the school had events that trumpeted student accomplishments. The creative kids often spoke to us about feeling overlooked within a system that puts a high value on tangible achievements.

How the NAHS was implemented

I know that I didn’t need another to-do item on my list. So, I crafted an application that worked on a flexible point system. Students needed to first show they were taking art classes and meeting the academic requirements set forth by the NAHS (link). While NAHS puts forth a minimum of requirements, they also allow you to tighten requirements for what works for your chapter’s needs and goals.

My application required students to achieve a number of points in required fields that included Excellence in the Arts, Leadership in the Arts, and Intellectual Enrichment in the Arts. When announcing the formation of the NAHS chapter the year prior to initiation, I held a meeting and reviewed the application and point system. I collected emails and made a mailing list. Anytime a teacher needed a poster or art help I mailed the group and made the volunteer work available for points and the system worked well for us.

The Induction Ceremony

In our school, we held a ceremony for ALL the school’s honor societies together. We had each group enter into our auditorium with the leaders carrying a flag (made by parent volunteers). Our NAHS chapter followed the ceremony suggested by the National organization, more information is found on their website.

Was it worth it?

How did the Honor Societies work out? From what I observed, students felt more “celebrated” in the arts and the arts became more visible as academic achievement. We had hoped it would improve the numbers in our classes. I would say we say a very small bump in students signing up to maintain their status in the NAHS chapter but not the boost we had hoped for. Am I glad I did it? Yes, very glad. NAHS may or may not be a good fit for your school and art program but I highly recommend it be considered. It also allowed our art club to serve a purpose. The students wanted an art club but it wasn’t thriving in the way I hoped it would. The truth is, most of the clubs at our schools sang a similar refrain of over-committed students. After the NAHS, the club hosted “opportunities” like an annual Christmas ornament workshop and we hosted a college representative followed by portfolio review opportunities. Students came to these events and I didn’t stress over consistent attendance or if I was having enough meetings, etc.

Share information about your school’s NAHS chapter, what activities your NAHS does, and what benefits it provides to students, the art program, and the school in the comments