Leadership Conference for High School Students Proves to Be Successful
by Joe Savrock (November 2007)
The First High School Government Leadership Conference attracted a large contingent of aspiring secondary students. The event, presented by the Penn State Educational Partnership Program (PEPP), was held Nov. 16 at the Penn State Greater Allegheny campus in McKeesport.
More than 100 high school students from Pittsburgh Perry High School and McKeesport Area High School, as well as participants of PEPP–McKeesport, attended the conference. “The attendees included student leaders who serve as class officers, student council, and National Honor Society members, as well as their sponsoring teachers,” said Darrell Thomas, PEPP director.
“The conference went exceptionally well,” continued Thomas. “The vast majority of students commented that this was one of the most informative and interesting educational events that they have attended during their years in school.”
An outreach of the College of Education, PEPP is an early-intervention collaboration between Penn State and a growing number of Pennsylvania school districts. Since 1989, PEPP has been helping students in grades 5–12 realize their educational potential.
At the conference, the students toured the Greater Allegheny Campus and attended a financial aid workshop. They participated in several college-level classes—information sciences ("Keeping America Safe"), psychology (Opening Your Mind"), communications ("Eloquence Personification"), and English ("Benjamin Franklin and the Beginning of American Humor").
Jeannetta Thomas, PEPP education diversity specialist and coordinator of the Leadership Conference, engaged the students in an open forum discussion that encouraged open interaction and communication. Darrell Thomas noted that, “The student commentary relating to ‘How Can Things be Improved in Pennsylvania Schools’ was most eye-opening in that the students provided very clear and well-thought-out issues and concerns that they observe and experience in schools on a daily basis.”
State Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr., D-Allegheny, was a special guest speaker. Wheatley is majority chairman of both the State Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and serves as a member of the Education and Transportation Committees. He is treasurer for the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus.
“Rep. Wheatley was most impressed with the concept of the Student Government Leadership Conference and the intellectual input of the students,” said Darrell Thomas. “He committed his assistance to PEPP to open doors in Harrisburg at the Department of Education to give students an opportunity to contribute ideas for improved education in Pennsylvania schools.”
Thomas added that, “One of the long-term goals of the Leadership Conference is to become an organized student voice to the Pennsylvania Department of Education to express student ideas for school reform.”
Curtiss Porter, chancellor of Penn State Greater Allegheny, also addressed the students. He commented that due to the activity’s success, excitement, and student interaction, he envisions future Leadership Conferences being held at Greater Allegheny, possibly as soon as the spring 2008 semester.
The Leadership Conference could be in line for noteworthy expansion. “We’ve had initial discussions of expansion, via computer technology, to other school districts in eastern Pennsylvania via our PEPP–Reading and PEPP–Philadelphia offices,” said Thomas. “Ultimately, we would like the Leadership Conference to involve as many of Pennsylvania’s 501 school districts as possible in order to stimulate collective intellectual discussion and problem solving through student-based communication.”