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Better Together: Franklin County Student Attends Local Student Leadership Conference

By Brooklyn Toney--Eagle Staff Writer

On November 11, a group of FCHS students and I got the chance to attend the Ken Tilley Virginia High School League Leaders Conference at Blacksburg High School. “Better Together” was the theme of this year's conference, with the goal of bringing student leaders together to learn from each other.

Attendees pull blocks from the Jenga tower in hopes that it won't tumble. (Photo by Brooklyn Toney)

The event emphazied the idea that social media is something that brings people together. Throughout the conference we were encouraged to use social media to our advantage and post pictures that we took during the conference tagging the official VHSL account.

VHSL invited motivational speaker E.J. Carrion to open the conference, and he spoke about making the jump to fully commit to your purpose. Carrion spoke of the time he went skydiving in Jamaica and took the initiative to jump out of the plane and face his fears. He then got off the stage to further engage with the crowd, which added to the inspiration and energy of his lecture. He even took the time to pose for a fun group photo with us.

After the opening session, we departed from the school's auditorium to individual breakout sessions. The breakouts were a way that students could share ideas from their school for others to take back with them.

From left to right: Executive Board members Sophomore Briyana Melendez, Junior Brooklyn Toney, and Seniors Jakaylyn Gill and Jessica Galvan-Martinez exhibit one of the ways Franklin County High School exhibits diversity and inclusion through door decorating. (Courtesy Photo)

One thing I found truly unique about the conference was that all of the breakout sessions were student led. When Executive Board Sponsor Laura Bird had mentioned the opportunity to teach our own breakout sessions, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I knew that I wanted to teach my own breakout session from the moment I attended “The Power of a Black Student Union", a session from spring’s conference.

"The Power of a Black Student Union" gave me the opportunity to speak with students from various schools that share the same experiences that I have as a student of color. Afterward, sophomore Briyana Melendez approached me with the idea of creating a session for this year's conference where we would talk about promoting cultural diversity. From then, we proposed the idea to a few of the other Executive Board Members, Seniors Jakaylyn Gill and Jessica Galvan-Martinez.

In our break-out session at this year's conference, we included cultural clubs such as the Language and Culture Club and Shades of Red, with which some of us were involved. We played the game of Jenga for our icebreaker. Participants would stand in line waiting for their turn to pull a block from the tower and answer a question about themselves. The objective of the activity was to exhibit everyone’s individual structure and tie it into differences within culture.

Just as conference organizers had hoped, our efforts to connect with other leaders paid off. At the end of our session, two members of the Black Girl Magic Club, a club at Deep Run High School, approached us with an idea to collaborate with another club at our school. The Black Girl Magic Club concentrates on discussing the challenges that black women face and how to overcome them, much like the Black Student Union session from the spring.

My other experiences included a breakout session titled "Skills to Pay the Bills". The session gave information about the program SkillsUSA. I am not a member of the club, but the student leader provided beneficial information about it and how it promotes training in skilled trades. For the final session, players from the Virginia Tech Women's Soccer Team came to talk about obstacles they’ve experienced on and off the field.

Blacksburg High School lights up their auditorium with a fluorescent neon blue during the opening session. (Courtesy Photo)

In addition to opportunities to learn and share, every year the conference tries to incorporate a community service project where leaders have a chance to serve. The type of service generally depends on where the conference is located that year. I was pleased with this year's service being Micah’s Backpack. The organization partners with ten Blacksburg schools to provide food assistance to families experiencing food insecurity. Identified students receive a backpack filled with food every Friday and conference attendees had the chance to support their work.

Blacksburg High School worked extremely hard to make sure that everyone enjoyed the conference. From the eye-catching decorations to the captivating learning experience, the conference helped student leaders find connection and inspiration.

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