Postcards from the Cutting Edge

October 2-5, 2002 Prague, Czech Republic Hands-On Student Involvement Conference

My wife, Sue, and I were fortunate to be invited to be presenters at the first annual Hands-On Student Involvement Conference hosted by the International School of Prague (http://www.isp.cz) and sponsored by the Central and Eastern European School Association (http://www.ceesa.org).

HOSIC brought together about 130 teens from more than 20 countries. The students attend one of seven International Schools: Prague, Czech Republic; Moscow, Russia; Budapest, Hungary; Bucharest, Romania; Vienna, Austria; Warsaw, Poland; Krakow, Poland; or two Czech schools. The youth leaders were accompanied by their school principals and advisors to various youth groups like Student Council, National Honor Society, and service clubs.

When the conference organizer wrote me in August, he expressed that early in the planning, the organizing committee was hoping that students would lead many of the workshops during the conference, but that, as the date was fast approaching, they realized that this was “pie in the sky “ thinking. I assured Kevin that if we could get there early enough, we could make sure that students were ready to play a significant role.

And it worked. We flew overnight to arrive late morning on a Wednesday, two days prior to the start of the two-day conference. After a short nap, Sue and I did a faculty presentation during which we introduced our approach to youth-adult partnership development and asset building. Shortly thereafter over 20 International School of Prague students joined us in their beautiful theater for a training session. Two hours later we had 8 students ready to lead experiential leadership and team development activities (starting with Friday night’s all-conference community building session) and 12 students ready to facilitate Teen-Adult Dialogue Nights (including Saturday’s Student-Educator Dialogue).

Thursday night the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Craig Stapleton, and his wife Dorothy, hosted a cocktail reception for conference organizers, presenters and the principals of the various International schools. It was stated that this is the most beautiful US embassy in the world. This is the first I have ever been to so I can’t compare but I can say that it would be tough to beat. It turns out that the “Mrs. Ambassador” has organized youth leadership conferences before in her native Connecticut so she took particular interest in Sue and me, as well as the other keynoters Norman Kunc, Emma Van der Klift, and Kirsten Atkinson. She ended up spending most of the evening talking with us about youth leadership.

We led several other workshops during the two days of the conference. We led another activity-based community building training program and one more Dialogue Night training for students from all the other schools. I also led a workshop called “Postcards From the Cutting Edge” in which I provided a brief overview of the frameworks that guide our work at CommuniTeam: Youth as Resources, Four Arenas of Community Action, Normative Systems Change, and Asset Development.

During the conference, students we trained while we were there led three of the five all-conference activities (130 student leaders from around the world plus 20+ principals and group advisors). It is always great to be at a youth leadership conference and helping youth leaders play a major role in it... as opposed to them listening all day every day to adults talk about how they can BECOME leaders. (I am amazed that 15 years after I began in this field it is still unique for young people to be in this role. It is troubling that Youth Leadership in Action is STILL one of the only youth leadership books written BY youth leaders.)

Anyway, back to the conference. All in all, I found the young people to be like most I’ve worked with. They were caring, insightful, inspired, and talented. The group of students from the International School of Bucharest was particularly impressive.

The conference ended with a ride on a party boat up and down the Vltava River that flows through the heart of Prague. All conference participants went. There was a DJ and dance floor where everyone--students, teachers, principals and Sue and I--got their groove on. It was a unique and wonderful way to see the city. In fact, most of the time I was dancing near the side of the boat so I could take in the sights while having fun.

Another highlight of the conference was spending time with our “hosts,” the Haverty family. About ten years ago Kevin, the ISP Principal and host of the conference, was assistant principal of a high school Sue worked at. They worked together for three years when Kevin was between international school gigs. Kevin, his wife Lori and 10 year-old son Tarek have a home in Alstead, NH where Sue and I live. They are here for a few weeks during the winter holidays and a few in the summer. Quite honestly, I did not know them very well before the trip. By the time the visit was over I felt a strong connection to them. They are a wonderful family living a wonderful life. It was a pleasure to spend time with them. I will never forget the “short” hike that Tarek and I went on just a few hours before the conference was to kick off. We got lost, it started to rain, we got real wet, but we made it back with a bit of time to spare. It was a great adventure.

Then Sue and I spent four days and three nights “downtown.” The school is about 5 miles outside of downtown. I had done an internet search for a cheap hotel in the heart of the action. I got the cheap part right although I was a mile or so off with the “heart of the action” part. Let’s just say we did a LOT of walking in four days. But, it was all worth it. What a beautiful city. It is especially beautiful at night. Because of that and wanting to get our bodies adjusted back to US time, we stayed out VERY late each night. The conference organizers gave us a book called “Prague: The Golden City.” The nickname refers to the golden glow of the well-lit ancient buildings. It certainly is a golden city. The Old Towne Square was particularly beautiful.

This trip was also memorable because it was the first time that Sue and I have ever travelled together outside of our native region. While each of us has gotten around a fair amount, we had never done so together. Plus, it had also been almost ten years since we had co-led workshops together. So, not only did we get to visit one of the most beautiful places in the world and meet amazing people while doing the work that we love to do... we got to do it together!



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