The freshmen at Byram Hills High School were treated recently to a wealth of information on ways to help people in countries around the world, and also close to home. At the school’s first VOX Summit, 10 service organizations made presentations to the 200 first-year high school students on projects that provide for children’s badly needed heart operations in developing nations, educate at-risk girls in Kenya and help immigrants build new lives here in Westchester, among other missions.
“My eyes are open,” freshman Cole Picca said near the end of the BHHS VOX summit. “I learned a lot.”
Organized by Melissa Stahl, chairperson of the World Languages Department, the summit was a key event in the District’s initiative to build students’ “global competency.” Stahl was joined by social studies teacher Ruben Torres, who enlisted his Student Leadership Board members to help with the event.
“The summit is intended to give students an idea of how they can use their voices to help other people,” Stahl said.
The event began with a keynote speech by Justin Buttar, founder of the British Columbia-based group Running for Hearts.
He told the students of his transformation from “a sheltered kid in White Rock, Canada” to the head of an organization that raises money through running events to fund care for children with heart defects in developing countries.
Starting Running for Hearts, he told them, “was my toughest project, but also my proudest achievement.” In breakout sessions, presenters told the students that the efforts make a difference, and can bring about change throughout a whole society. Ruthie Rosenberg of KEEP–the Katonah Education Exchange Program–described a boarding school in Kenya that protects and educates girls at risk of violence and other troubles. The school, the Kakenya Center for Excellence, is changing the way people see their community, she said.
“Really, they’re changing the thinking of the whole culture, and that’s not easy to do,” she said. The summit’s organizers plan to make it an annual event, ideally with students taking over more of the leadership in the future. Students said they came away from the presentations with ideas on how to help.
Cole said he was affected by a presentation by Bridges to Community. In the session, he heard from peers who took a service trip to Nicaragua, and who talked about how much they had learned from the people who lived there.
The residents of Nicaragua, he said, “got to teach you what their culture is about. I had never thought about it that way, so it was really eye opening for me.”
Student Taleen Postian said a key benefit of the day was in raising awareness about the ways that people can aid others.
“Now that you know that there’s some way to help, if you can’t start your own project, you can always help someone to help someone else–you can always help another organization.”
Another freshman, Jake Wild, said he was thinking of ways of using his talents –he plays guitar and sings– to help others.
“I’m happy that our school is getting into thinking about this more,” he said. Principal Chris Walsh said the event was a success.
“This fits squarely into the general direction that we are going to go in as a district and a school,” he said. “We are going to continue to find positive ways to improve our global competency.”
The organizations that took part were:
Bridges to Community
The Cookstove Project
KEEP Girls in School
My Brother’s Keeper
Ronald McDonald House
Running for Hearts
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