Report on 2012 – 2013 Conference


The VSUP Annual Student Leadership Conference was held on Thursday, March 14th, 2013. It was by far the largest SLC ever, with 342 student leaders and faculty advisors from 29 different high schools in attendance.  Participants were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the conference Keynote Address and Training provided by Rachel’s Challenge (which received the highest possible score of 5 on 85% of the conference evaluations).  The students also reacted very positively to their participation in discussion groups which gave them the opportunity to share their thoughts with other students from around the state and learn about ideas that they could take back to improve their own schools.

In the opening keynote address, Kristi Krings, from the non-profit organization Rachel’s Challenge, told the story of Rachel Scott, whose example of kindness and acceptance was brought to light when she became the first victim in the Columbine High School tragedy. Conveyed through stories from Rachel’s life and writings, the “Rachel’s Challenge” Presentation helped conference participants realize the profound positive impact they could have on those around them. Many students commented on how inspired they were by the “fantastic” keynote, which “challenged us and really made us think.”  A number of participants said that the keynote and training that were provided by Rachel’s Challenge had changed the way they looked at other people, and truly shown them the power of reaching out to others to start what Rachel called “a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.”

Students also took part in two different small group discussions on topics selected by conference participants ahead of time, focusing on issues of importance in their schools.  Many students praised the “openness,” “energy,” and “enthusiasm” of their fellow conference participants, and commented on how much they enjoyed having the “chance to connect with others” and “learning about different communities and perspectives.”  The “student-led aspect” of the conference, which was greatly valued by almost all of the attendees, was particularly evident in these small group discussions, which were planned and led by Senior Facilitators from the different schools. The discussions were evaluated as very productive by 90% of the participants, in part because “everyone was involved and no one was left out” and they gave students the feeling that “I fit right in and what I said mattered.”   One participant commented that “it was encouraging to hear other students are struggling with the same issues and problems in their high schools,” and many noted how pleased they were with the specific programs they learned about and “all the new ideas I got for how to make my school a better place.”

In order to share what was discussed in each of the different groups and to enable conference participants to communicate with each other, a Facebook page was established, and conference participants were encouraged to continue the conversations they began at the 2012-2013 VSUP Student Leadership Conference.