Student Leadership Conferences – at the state and national levels – have become valuable tools for helping high school students develop leadership and communication skills. In addition to the NFHS National Student Leadership Summit, which resumed last July after a five-year hiatus, 11 state high school associations are currently administering some kind of student leadership conference.
While there is general agreement that these conferences offer significant value, High School Today attempted to determine the elements that participants believe are the most beneficial aspects of these conferences.
During the Illinois High School Association’s Student Leadership Conference last September, IHSA staff members set up two locations to obtain feedback from student attendees, as well as student leaders running the conference, and then closed the day with a roundtable with both groups to get further reflections on the conference.
About 700 individuals attended the IHSA Student Leadership Conference, which was held at the Peoria Civic Center with the stated goal of discussing and developing skills related to leadership, communication and citizenship for high school students.
Keynote speaker Harvey Alston opened and closed the event with general sessions for all attendees. Attendees also participated in several breakout sessions and group activities and heard presentations from fellow high school leaders. All sessions were operated by members of the Student Advisory Committee and one fellow student supporter from their high school. Separate general sessions were held for the adult teachers and coaches who chaperoned the students.
Following are responses from attendees at the ISHA Student Leadership Conference:
In The Big Picture, What Did You Learn From Today’s Conference?
Stephanie Salgado, Schurz: You aren’t always right. You have to be willing to look at things from different perspectives and from other people’s perspectives. It forced me to think about my actions when there is a bad situation in a game. Do I contribute to the problem or help diffuse it?
Mia Epley, Mahomet-Seymour: How to talk to different people. It was a really a cool way to connect with new people. It showed me good ways to communicate and how to be a good leader, especially when sportsmanship situations occur.
Tavion Cervantez, Galesburg: The idea of putting your best foot forward – really to give it your all at all times, in both sports and school. You shouldn’t have to be pushed by coaches or teachers. It’s something that carries over, not just inside school, but for your whole life.
Marquis Rushing, Schurz: It refreshed some of the things I already knew about leadership and also taught me some new ideas. The one thing that I came away with was the respectfulness that you have to maintain toward everyone – not just your coaches and teammates – when you are in a leadership position.
Did Today’s Conference Change Your Vision of What Leadership is in Any Way?
Megan Keefer, Neuqua Valley: For me, it was that your position doesn’t matter. Whether you are a leader on the bench or the starting quarterback, you can still impact your teammates from any role.
Mia Epley, Mahomet-Seymour: I realized just how important is it to lead by example. Being a leader is more than how you treat people. It is how you go about situations in your everyday life, because people see how you act and they mimic you if they see you doing the right things.
How Did You Like the Format of Students Leading Students?
Alex Deluca, Collinsville: We had a better connection to the students versus hearing it from adults. It is more powerful to hear it from someone in your peer group. Adults are always saying things to you like this, so it’s what you come to expect.
Noah Park, Mahomet-Seymour: I think that if adults led the sessions we would have felt pressured to say certain things. It was cool to have students lead it, you are more open to saying what you actually feel. Adults tell us to act in certain ways, so to hear from students made it feel more important, as opposed to hearing it from an adult and feeling like another thing you are being told to do.
Marquis Rushing, Schurz: Hearing it from a teacher or grownup, it would have felt like ‘this is how things were done back when I was playing basketball or when I was playing football.’ It’s good to get a perspective from someone who is our age, playing sports right now like we are and understands what we are going through.
What Were Some of the Important Topics Covered in the Breakout Sessions?
Nicole Mondi, Neuqua Valley: We went over different scenarios and talked about what good leadership and bad leadership would look like in each instance, as well as important traits in a leader, like being committed, determined and respectful of other people.
Mamie Ambrosch, Metamora: Every school and every team has problems at times with sportsmanship or being respectful. This (conference) actually gave us ways to actually help fix the problems, ways to go back to our teams or fans and incorporate ideas on how to make us better.
Shahinaz Mahmoud, Schurz: You have to think twice about many of your actions on and off the court. Especially things like social media that you do naturally without thinking can have a big impact that you may not realize until it’s too late.
How Important is Communication in Leadership?
Jack Orndahl, Dundee-Crown: It’s huge. I got to interact with a lot of different kids from different schools. I got to hear how they did things and I liked what they were doing. We are going to go back to Dundee-Crown and really step up our roles as leaders in the school.
Cary Lockhart, Bloomington: Tremendously. The games and breaking the ice sessions allowed us to make friends with other people from different schools. We were different kids from different high schools, but by the end we came together as one.
Liam Collins, Rolling Meadows: Communication is the biggest thing I took away from today. I learned a lot of ways to better communicate with my teammates if they are struggling or need help. I learned how I can be there for them.
Would You Recommend This Experience to Other Students?
Cary Lockhart, Bloomington: Absolutely. It teaches those who are leaders to be even better leaders and I can take what I learned today and help my teammates who weren’t here.
Eric Lis, St. Patrick: The things we were taught today are things that people should have throughout their life. Being a leader overall is a life skill. That isn’t necessarily just related to being in sports.
Malik Mables, Schurz: Yes, I would. Leadership is a big part of my life. Coming here made me understand what I should become and what I should strive to be at my high school.
Erik Hedmark, Dundee-Crown: I want to be one of the (SAC members) up there leading the next Student Leadership Conference.
Student Leaders – What Did You Take Away From the Conference?
Kelsey Bartman, Metamora: The groups that put the most into it got the most out of it. For myself, I realized how many students there are who want to be involved. I want to go back to my high school and spread that word.
John Roberts, Oak Lawn: Using real-world situations helped everyone relate and open up. We shared a lot of personal stories or things that happened at our schools and that led to the attendees sharing their experiences.
Mahlik Helm, Bloomington: I was myself and I think I showed my groups that you can be yourself and people will like you for who you are and respect you for being yourself.
Kari Lalumandier, Metamora: How important it was to have current topics that are important to the students. Talking about the positives and negatives of social media for example. That really seemed to be a topic that hit home with everyone because it is a part of their daily life.
Barret Benson, Hinsdale South: Even though I was in the leadership position, I learned a lot from the students in my groups. One group talked about the dynamics and the contrasts in sportsmanship when it comes to parents, players, coaches and student fans. They had an interesting take about how promoting sportsmanship in those groups isn’t one-size-fits-all. You have to promote differently depending on the group of people. They made me think about sportsmanship in ways I hadn’t before.
Matt Troha is assistant executive director of the Illinois High School Association and a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.