You’re a 14-year-old fleeing your country and you’re given less than a minute to pick the sole item you’ll take from your home into a new land. Or, you must read a passage, but with flashing lights, clapping hands and stomping feet all around, you can’t comprehend the words on the page.
These powerful, eye-opening simulations of what it can be like to be a refugee or a person with autism came to Byram Hills High School as part of the second annual Vox Summit, which introduced students to a variety of societal issues at home and abroad. The special event for freshmen was aimed at promoting increased engagement by students and encouraging them to speak up for positive change in the world.
The May 2 event began with a panel of students discussing their service-learning trips, followed by breakout sessions where students met with members of organizations that help others. The day wrapped up with a World Cafe, where students reflected on what they heard and learned.
“By exposing them to different service projects around the world, different groups that handle different human experiences around the world, or even in our own backyard, we want to expose our students to people who are different than they are and highlight the importance of bringing dignity to everybody’s experience,” Principal Christopher Walsh said.
“The focus is letting them know that they do have a voice and they do have the power to change the world,” he added. “We want them to start thinking outside of our small community and to start thinking globally.”
The summit was based on the Asia Society’s four tenets of global competency, which are to investigate the world, recognize perspectives, take action and communicate ideas, according to summit organizer, Melissa Stahl, Chairperson of the World Languages Department.
“The summit was a chance for freshmen to see that opportunities exist in the local, national and international realm for them to make a positive change for something or someone else in the world and society,” Ms. Stahl said.
Instead of a single keynote speaker, a panel discussion was held featuring Byram Hills students, including one freshman, discussing service-learning trips they had taken to countries including India and Tanzania. The moderator, social studies teacher Thomas Andriello, led the conversation about their experiences and asked students about the leadership qualities they developed through these projects.
From there, students attended breakout sessions. The sessions featured the work of eight organizations: SHARE the Project, a community service group; Bridges to Community, an international nonprofit group that helps people living in impoverished communities in developing nations; Extraordinary Ventures, which supports people with autism and other developmental disabilities; IRIS, which helps refugees and immigrants; Amigos International, which offers volunteering programs in Central and South America; KEEP: Girls in School, which helps keep at-risk girls in school in Kenya; Neighbors Link, which tries to strengthen the community through the healthy integration of immigrants; and Pleasantville Cottage School, a residential treatment program for boys and girls ages 7 to 16. Another session was led by a teacher and focused on the five key practices of leadership from “The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations.”
During the World Cafe sessions in the cafeteria, students sat in small groups at tables, where each had a student facilitator who was either a Global Scholars Program student or a member of the Student Leadership Board. “We had a lot of students involved in being leaders and showing the freshmen how it is possible for them to become leaders in one capacity or another,” Ms. Stahl said.
“We hope the kids are inspired to want to engage in making positive change and feel competent they can,” she added. “Small changes can lead to big change, and we want students to know that they can use their voice and have an influence. You’re never too young to start making positive change.”
Mr. Walsh called the summit a success.
“We thought the students were really engaged and the different organizations did a great job of discussing their benefits to society,” he said. “Overall, it was a great day for our freshmen.”