Encouraging Student Voices at PAL Conference

September 24, 2018

Trading places can be a good thing. At the Principals, Advisors and Leaders Conference held at Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES Thursday, student council members from across the region had the opportunity to do just that.

“It’s very interesting for a student to see things from an administrator’s viewpoint regarding a proposed activity,” said Roberta Bittel, Executive Director of the New York Council on Leadership Student Activities, the conference sponsor. “Sharing perspectives is a great way to learn and nurture leadership.”
Students, advisors and administrators from 10 area school districts took part in the all-day conference, which included a morning session where students, advisors and administrators met with their counterparts from other school districts to share experiences and successes and an afternoon session that involved each district preparing an action plan for future activities and initiatives.

“The goal is to help open our students’ eyes to having a voice and create a tradition of empowerment,” said Brenda O’Shea, Somers High School student council advisor, who accompanied five student leaders from the high school.

Robbie Waxman, a senior at Byram Hills High School, said that speaking with kids from other districts “opened me to different perspectives and new activities we could bring back to our school, such as social events and activities that incorporate the surrounding community.”

Marla Gardner, director of Curriculum and Instructional Services, which hosted the event, said “It is important to support student voice, leadership and engagement. This event helped us to do that in our region.”

Participating schools were Brewster High School, Byram Hills High School, Fox Lane High School, Haldane Middle School, Irvington High School, Lakeland High School, Peekskill High School, Putnam Valley High School, Somers High School and Walter Panas High School.
Bittel, who is also a special education teacher in the Canandaigua Academy in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, noted that NYCSLA likes to run the conference early in the year “to help principals, advisors and student leaders learn how to communicate, set goals and make an action plan for the upcoming school year.”

Haldane teacher Jeff Sniffen accompanied a large group of middle school students, the youngest conference participants. “We are trying to promote leadership at Haldane,” he said. “An event such as this enables us to bloom our future leaders.”

Senior Brianna Elles of Peekskill High School said that she enjoyed learning about what other student councils are doing and how certain activities benefit their schools. “I liked an idea a student from Brewster mentioned where high school students go to the elementary schools and work with the younger kids,” she said. “I’d like to try that in our district.”
Putnam Valley High School juniors Kyle Wassil and Matt Esposito both came away from the conference feeling proud of all that their high school does. “We realized, after speaking to a lot of students from other schools, that Putnam Valley may be a small district, but it has a ton of school spirit,” said Matt.