(Philissa Cramer/GothamSchools)
Students rallied their classmates at the launch of the Own It campaign, Bryan Stromer’s Future Project, at the NYC Lab School earlier this year. (Philissa Cramer/GothamSchools)

When the school year began at the NYC Lab School, something was different. Yes, there may have been a fresh coat of paint in the C stairwell, and the light bulbs might have even been changed. But those are not the changes that I am referring to.

Instead, I’m referring to the appearance of an unfamiliar stranger on the first day of school. “What is your dream?” was the question that he posed to the sleepy-eyed second-period English class. When no one answered, he introduced himself.

“Hello, my name is Tim Shriver, and I will be your dream director for this year,” he said.

Some of us were able to restrain our laughter. Others just let loose and become hysterical. The rest just stared blankly with teenage skepticism.

I have always considered my high school to be progressive. We call our principal by her first name. Students can be found playing guitar in the hallway between classes. And we are constantly told to chart our feelings on a cardstock poster known as the Mood Meter.

But having a Dream Director seemed a little far out, even for Lab.

Tim is actually part of an organization called the Future Project. The Future Project, which was founded by two Yale graduates, sends full-time Dream Directors to schools in New York, New Haven, and Washington, D.C. Those dream directors help students bring their wildest ideas into reality.

As the weeks progressed, the walls of Lab began to be collaged with posters soliciting applications to become a Future Fellow. I applied, along with many of my classmates, and soon after I started my Future Project, launching the Own It campaign.

The goal behind Own It is to create school environments where students can feel comfortable owning what makes them weird. We believe that Own It is an effective way to address bullying because it creates an environment where the whole school will feel comfortable embracing and owning the things they traditionally might have been bullied for.

High school is often a place where diversity and difference can be shunned. However, most companies and colleges want students and employees who will celebrate their differences and diversity. This is why we believe that it is especially effective to get students to begin owning it in high school.

The Future Project has played an invaluable role in the success of Own It. Tim worked with my peers and me to transform the initiative.

I remember how after the launch of the Own It event, I wanted to set up a meeting with Chancellor Dennis Walcott to discuss the expansion plan for the initiative, but I was nervous to request the meeting. Tim encouraged me to make the request anyway, and Chancellor Walcott ended up meeting with the Own It team.

To me, the most valuable part of the Future Project is confidence that I have gained from knowing that I have a Dream Director who believes in me. It is so easy to feel defeated in high school, so it is incredibly powerful to know that there is someone in my school whose full time job is to support my dreams and believes in me.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.