Madison Herrero’s trip across the globe

Mayson Weingart

Halfway across the globe, in Johannesburg, South Africa, lies the African Leadership Academy. Currently enrolled in their Ethics and Leadership program, junior Madison Herrero, who attended Redwood for her freshman and sophomore year, has committed to challenging herself in a new and exciting way by spending a semester abroad in their program. After completing an extensive application process — including four essays, teacher recommendations and acquiring a visa during the summer of 2022 — she received her acceptance. On Aug. 27, she boarded a plane to New York to meet 17 other high school students in the program, and from there, they traveled to South Africa.

Attending a mandatory two-hour study period after classes, Madison Herrero (back, second from right) dedicates the majority of her time to her studies. (Photo courtesy of Madison Herrero)

“I get really nervous about first impressions, and I knew I was about to meet everyone that I would be spending the next semester with,” Herrero said. “It really taught me how to put myself out there socially and make new connections with people. I never had to stress about people liking me or my personality because everyone else was looking to make friends too.”

The academy is devoted to “developing a powerful network of young leaders who will work together to address Africa’s greatest challenges, achieve extraordinary social impact and accelerate the continent’s growth trajectory.” They offer A-level classes, equivalent to Advanced Placement classes, that require dedication and commitment from their students. 

Although Herrero’s mother, Meghan Elfsten, was doubtful of the semester-long program at first, she has found it easier to adjust to living without her daughter because of how happy Herrero is at the academy. 

“She’s a very motivated kid. She’s not afraid of hard work, and the school is a great fit for her because they are very academically driven, but are still able to find a balance and not get burned out,” Elfsten said. “I think that now she really trusts herself and knows that she doesn’t need a parent to take care of her and that she can really be self-reliant. She’s become very independent and confident, which makes me so proud.”

Madison’s twin, Mason Herrero, is also thrilled that Madison gets to experience something so unique as a high schooler. 

“I’m so proud of her for stepping outside of her comfort zone and venturing into a culture that she had no knowledge of. She’s working harder than anyone else I know, and the best part is that she’s the happiest she’s ever been while she’s doing it,” Mason said.  

While pushing herself through this foreign program, Madison has been able to learn more about political science and international relations, which are the two fields that she hopes to major in in college. As her entire semester has been dedicated to learning about ethics and leadership, she has received several assignments challenging her to consider all opinions, ethical situations and motivations when it comes to global issues and leadership decisions.

Playing the song, “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus at the academy’s culture day, Herrero shares her American identity with peers. (Photo courtesy of Madison Herrero)

“Right now, we’re working on a project where we choose an issue in our home community and attempt to solve the problem. I chose to focus on the public school system in Marin and San Francisco and how it has hurt low income communities in those areas, specifically the Tenderloin. I’m working right now on starting a tutoring program that will hopefully help students there academically and give them resources to go to for help,” Madison said. 

Through opportunities like this project, Madison has been able to immerse herself in a new environment that differs from her experience in Marin.

“An experience like hers is truly amazing, and I think it really opens up your world before college,” Elfsten said. “We’re kind of in a bubble here, so for a high school kid to go out and challenge themselves to do something like this is amazing and an experience that I think everyone could benefit from.”