Dozens of students from schools all over Pennsylvania recently gathered at Arrow’s Stand Up Youth Leadership Conference in State College to combat harassment and bullying.
The conference is designed to give high school sophomores and juniors the leadership skills they need to make a difference in their schools and communities. Throughout the three-day event, they attended seminars, learned about their unique leadership styles, and developed plans to implement anti-harassment programs in their schools. The students came up with basic concepts before the conference started, then used the event to flesh them out. The projects varied widely, from awareness campaigns to mentoring programs, and beyond.
Andrea Czartoryski, who coordinated the conference, said one of her favorite student project concepts was an interactive art exhibit. The students planned to build large cages to represent different sorts of abuse, such as cyber bullying or domestic abuse, and have live actors inside. Keys to the cages would either be outside the cages to represent how peers must come together to support victims, or inside the cages to represent how victims must sometimes empower themselves to leave their abusers.
Students from another school that serves grades K – 12 recognized the large spread of ages could make the student body feel disjointed, and planned a mentoring program to proactively connect younger and older students, which would in turn create a culture in which bullying isn’t tolerated.
“We set the bar really high, but I think that gave them the motivation to dig deeper and think about more than planning a nice project, but really think about themselves in terms of leaders who could create actual change,” Andrea said.
Participants said they enjoyed the conference, especially meeting with students from other schools, bouncing ideas off one another, hearing from guest speakers and having time to themselves to delve into their projects.
“I don’t feel limited to one thing,” said Omar, a student who attended the conference. “I can be free and get my thoughts out. It’s a lot of fun, but I’m also learning about myself and my classmates.”
The students won’t be on their own as they go back to their respective schools. Mentors from the conference will work with them to see their plans implemented over the remainder of this school year and the beginning of the next.
In November, the schools will turn in a final progress report to tell how their projects impacted their schools.
“We hope all of our teams got a good sense of where they are going with their projects so they can go back to their schools and get started,” Andrea said