Despite the challenges of putting together an engaging virtual conference for more than 2,400 student leaders and advisers, the LEAD Fall Conference earlier this month was a big success, with positive reviews from student and adult attendees alike.
The annual fall conference brought together NHS, NJHS, and NatStuCo members and their program advisers from 46 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and a Department of Defense Education Activity school in Germany. Attendees also hailed from three different countries: Honduras, Mexico, and Venezuela. Sessions enabled participants to sharpen their leadership skills to improve their school culture and community, while networking with peers.
In this post, two of those advisers—Melissa Arroyo from the TASIS Dorado School in Puerto Rico and Joseph Kaelin from Brooklyn Technical High School in New York—who each attended the conference virtually with their students, share their impressions.
Melissa: Our students were excited. They really wanted to participate in something that’s different for them. Even though it was on Friday night and Saturday, it was a chance for them to kind of disengage from what they normally do.
Joseph: Students at our school have probably been going to LEAD for as long as they’ve been holding these conferences. There are some things that work well virtually, and there are others that don’t work as well. But overall, it was really a valuable experience for the students who participated.
Melissa: One thing our students found refreshing was the conference theme of student well-being and how to handle the situation that the pandemic has put them in. For our students, it seems like they were heard. LEAD is pertinent because students know they are struggling, and they know they need to figure out how to cope with the situation.
Joseph: There was a degree of interactivity that wasn’t there as much the previous year. The web site this year had a lot more for the kids to do. One of my students got just a ridiculous number of points for participating. She loved finding the Easter eggs and discovering different leadership articles and reading them.
Melissa: We understand very well why the meetings are virtual. We love the in-person experience, but I do think that having the sessions set up with individual Zooms made it more personal and allowed them to interact and chat with each other, while engaging in content that was very good.
Joseph: I asked a couple of my students what they liked best. One said that at one workshop, a speaker shared a positive affirmation statement. She thought that was a really good idea and wants to try it with meetings. Another loved the workshop by Dr. G (parenting and resilience expert Deborah Gilboa). He liked the way she tied science to leadership and how the things she talked about were backed up by research.
I know it’s hard to think about what these experiences are like virtually and how to create a good conference. I think all the staff at NASSP did a phenomenal job at trying to bring a good and unique experience to the students.