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Students Participate in UPrep’s Student Leadership Conference
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Tenth grade student Rohan H., pictured above, and more than 35 UPrep Upper School students practiced leadership skills at this conference.

Students Participate in UPrep’s Student Leadership Conference
More than 35 Upper School students developed and practiced leadership skills at this second annual one-day event

At UPrep, student leadership takes many forms, from captaining a sports team or leading an affinity group to tutoring a classmate through Math Helpers. Students are encouraged and supported to be curious about leadership and push themselves to explore their leadership style. The week after the 2022–2023 school year ended, more than 35 Upper School students returned to campus to participate in UPrep’s second annual student leadership conference.

The conference was planned by a group of teachers and staff and headed up by Meg Anderson-Johnston, assistant director of the Upper School and Emily Schorr Lesnick, director of social emotional learning. The theme “Infiltrate What Exists, Innovate What Doesn’t” connected to the guideposts of belonging and innovation in UPrep’s Strategic Plan and was developed based on a quote from Geography Professor and Scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

“The theme means working within systems and structures to make them more reflective of your needs. It also means imagining new ways to be a part of school life, and updating old traditions and creating new ones,” said Emily.

Senior Max B. participated in the conference because he saw it as the perfect opportunity to learn from peers. “I think that it is very important for youth to learn from youth, especially in a field where countless teenagers are affected on a varying spectrum every day,” said Max, who is one of the leaders of UPrep’s Mental Health Advisory Board.  

The goals of the one-day conference included helping students develop and practice their skills in communication, facilitation, delegation, design thinking for inclusion, and creating ownership in the UPrep community.

The conference kicked-off with a keynote address by Dawit Alemayehu, a PhD candidate in mathematics education at the University of Washington. “We invited Dawit because of his deep experience in youth participatory action research. He did a great job describing and modeling for our students what it means to be a facilitator of student-centered leadership,” said Meg.

Following the keynote, students chose two workshops from a range of topics, including design thinking, ethnodrama, facilitation and conflict resolution, and giving and receiving feedback.

“The workshop about ethnodrama was fascinating,” said senior Wynne J. “An ethnodrama is when a playwright gathers the content for their play through a series of interviews. Last year all juniors read The Laramie Project, a play by the Tectonic Theatre Project, and I had no idea that that was an ethnodrama. I loved being able to learn something new about the topic while still being able to draw connections to the media I have digested,” she said.

For sophomore Sonya C., the workshop on design thinking was the most helpful.  “I learned a lot about how to design strategies that are best for people and how to best support a community,” she said. “Before the conference, I thought that leadership was straightforward and just had to do with confidence and kindness. But after participating in the conference, I now think that leadership can be complicated and difficult, and that respectful communication is really important.” 

Following lunch, students worked in small groups to craft a proposal for Community Time during the 2023–2024 school year. “Students often ask if they can bring a guest speaker for a club or cultural event or want to plan something for their entire grade. Because the Community Time calendar is set before the school year begins, it is difficult to accommodate these requests. I wanted to be responsive to student feedback that they want to contribute to the Community Time programming and give them a framework to make a proposal and think through all the logistics of planning an event,” said Meg.

For the final session, a panel of UPrep alums shared their own leadership stories, including successes and opportunities for learning. Speakers included Blythe Eickerman ’17, Rebecca Flack ’19, Taylor Kanemori ’09, Ashley Locke ’01, A.J. Rossbach ’19, and Jess Zaslove ’18.

Ashley said it was heartwarming to see so many students engaged and dedicated to their larger and smaller communities. “I loved our discussion about leadership via different styles, including the introvert/extrovert spectrum. While extroverted, splashy leaders may garner more attention and fanfare, in my experience, impactful leadership is often quieter, sturdier, and focused on the health of the team and the overall project goal(s),” she said.

Before the conference, Wynne thought that leadership was only for the loudest voices in the room. “After participating in the conference, I now think that actions speak louder than words,” she said.

Meg and Emily are grateful that student leaders want to come back to school in June to practice these skills and plan for the future. “Part of leadership is showing up and these students did that and more,” said Meg.

UPrep Students Define Leadership
Headshot photograph of University Prep Director of Marketing & Communications, Mary Beth Lambert, wearing a maroon jacket

By Director of Marketing and Communications Mary Beth Lambert 

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