Student Leadership in Action

On March 16th, a group of GEMS 6th, 7th and 8th graders had the opportunity to attend the Vermont Association for Middle Level Education (VAMLE) annual student conference at Champlain College.  The focus of the conference was on how we can create a culture of respect in our learning communities.  Middle School leadership groups from around the state discussed actions they have taken within their own school communities to work towards a more inclusive environment.  

“Spread the word, to end the word.” – Bennett Townley, Vermont Special Olympics

Bennett Townley from Vermont Special Olympics kicked off the day by sharing his experience as a local high school student and being bullied by some of his peers.  It wasn’t until his Junior year when his school created a unified sports program that he felt a sense of belonging.  He reminded the audience the importance of being kind to others – no matter their differences – and to not assume things about people.  Finally he shared that while in high school, some students called him some names that he said “…should never have been spoken… Some words we should not say.  We need to spread the word, to end the word.”

The group then split off to attend workshops of their choosing.  Some topics to choose from included: “Creating Change in Your School”, “YRBS Data into Students’ Hands”, “Alternatives to Hazing in Athletics”, “Organized Against Racism” and “Youth Participatory Action Research – How to Get Change.”  

When asked, “What makes being here important to you?”, students said:

  •  “…learning about bullying and racial inequality.”
  •  “…learn from others and how to solve problems.”
  • “…how we can stop it (bullying).”
  • “…learning what you can do about it and improve.”
  • “…how you can get people to realize it’s bigger than it is.”

The students and their advisors (Eric Hadd, Amy Gray, Allie Barrette, Melissa Fisher) all walked away from the day energized and ready to put some new ideas into action!  

Melissa A. Fisher
Dean of Students
Georgia Elementary and Middle School

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