Pandemic forces students to rethink annual convention, education sessions
A pandemic and a canceled annual convention strengthened the resolve to gather — if only virtually — for student leaders of Key Club International.
The preeminent service leadership group for high school students typically sees 1,000 students at its annual convention. This summer, more than 4,500 members registered for a three-day summer online leadership conference. A key component of the meeting is a series of sessions on creating a Culture of Care in high schools around the world.
“It was important to us to be able to connect, to offer relevant content for continuing education and to have something we could all be a part of in light of the cancellation of our Key Club convention,” said Kaitlin Cirillo, Key Club International vice president. Cirillo, from the New Jersey District, had the distinction of serving as the organization’s vice president during a tumultuous year that included changes to her own school year and club activities. She is a member of the Parsippany Hills High School Key Club.
“While 2020 has brought so much uncertainty and many cancellations, our Key Club members know that leadership and service are at their core. We had to find a way to bring them together even in a virtual format to support them as they develop the skills and resources they will need to continue their leadership journey in high school and Key Club International,” said Michelle Study-Campbell, executive director, Kiwanis Youth Programs.
Students who complete the four Culture of Care sessions, featuring Burton Patterson, director of prevention and education, Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault & Human Trafficking, Inc., will be certified change-makers, ready to make a positive impact in their communities. Each student will receive a certificate and will be included in continuing education throughout the year.
“Of all the sessions we offered, the Culture of Care series garnered the most interest among students,” said Greg Stowers, director, Key Club International. “These sessions reinforce positive peer pressure that students can employ in their own schools and communities to help bring about real change.”
The culture series is part of Study-Campbell’s approach to youth protection for Kiwanis youth programs.
“This was always intended to be the third anchor of our youth protection initiative,” she said, adding the two other facets include keeping predators away from youth and providing tools and training for Kiwanis club members who oversee youth programs. “This anchor empowers students to be a voice for themselves and helps them become those students who can change a culture in a school and a community.”
The four courses include Out of bounds: Understanding healthy boundaries; You talking to me? Effective peer communication; Removing the blindfold: Bystander intervention 101; and a Train the trainer course, that will help students as they lead these sessions in their own communities.
Study-Campbell said Key Club International’s board of 13 student leaders developed the curriculum for the summer leadership conference and quickly brought the online sessions to life. Registration is free and features more than a dozen sessions on Wednesday, July 1, and Thursday, July 2. Key Club elections and business meetings will be held July 3.
Sessions include training for roles specific to Key Club; information from partner organizations including Squads Abroad and Thirst Project; and helping students understand topics such as college prep, food insecurity, diversity and inclusion and stress management.
“These students have worked hard to develop sessions, create content and devise a schedule that allows thousands of students to use Zoom for continuing education,” Study-Campbell said. “That’s why these are our future leaders — when things didn’t go as planned, they stepped in to reimagine a convention, bring it online and develop the core Culture of Care sessions that will end with student certification.”
As with a physical convention, students in the online conference will complete a service project. Students will write letters of encouragement to residents of long-term care facilities and deliver them based on the lockdown phases of their communities.
Information on Key Club is at https://www.keyclub.org/