For four days in the last week of June, about 50 students from 20 different schools across Kentucky came together at the Beyond the Dot Leadership Conference in Berea to take a stand against violence in their communities.
In general, students participated in workshops designed to help them identify their individual and team strengths, identify the issues most commonly faced by students at their schools, envision their communities free of violence, select goals and activities to help them achieve that vision, and then figure out how to measure their own success. It *might* sound boring when listed like I just did, but when you see students talk about the issues that matter to them and how they’re going to change their communities, it gets exciting. That’s why the educator in me LOVED the last day – the day when students present their plans to everyone. Some students chose to address bullying and cyberbullying; others chose to increase the visibility of Green Dot; still others spoke about creating spaces (physical and otherwise) where students who have typically been the targets of red dots can feel safe and included. The project topics and activities range widely, but two things are true for all of them:
- These are student ideas.
- These students (and their projects) are going to have an impact on their schools and communities.
Student groups will apply for project funding in September and can begin work on projects shortly thereafter. Stay tuned for progress on local projects from Ludlow, Simon Kenton, and Bracken County High Schools!
I also want to speak to my other favorite parts of the week, though. Of course with all of the project-based work being done, we wanted to make sure that students (and educators) had enough fun time to just be themselves and connect with each other. As it turns out, karaoke night and a group field trip to the community pool were just what we needed. At karaoke, we saw students come alive. Many were extremely talented, it’s true – but the more amazing aspect of both karaoke nights was the confidence students displayed in themselves and in their peers. Karaoke can be a terrifying thing, but there was nothing but cheers and encouragement from everyone for each person.
Although it wasn’t on a stage, similar things happened at the pool. Being in a swimsuit in a pool with a bunch of your peers can be a terrifying thing, but it felt more like an announcement or invitation that week – more of a “I’m not worried you’re going to judge me, so this is who I am. Who are you?” For me, this was an exhilarating feeling. Spending your days talking about the ways people have been hurt and/or oppressed feels heavy. Spending a few days basking in the light of people’s authentic selves felt like the levity I needed to refresh and respark. It was an exhausting few days, but very much needed. Thank you to all of the students at Beyond the Dot (and teens, adults, and kids everywhere) for providing inspiration!
Also, there was cookie cake. In the shape of a dinosaur. To celebrate awesome Casey’s birthday. Good times.