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By Devese “Dee” Ursery
Collinsville High School hosted a two-day national leadership conference to provide leadership training to students and their teachers.
Over 30 states were represented at the 2023 Vision National Student Leadership Conference, sponsored by CHS. From June 26-28 there were a bevy of guest speakers who came out and shared their knowledge. Earlier this year, the CHS student council was recognized as a 2023 National Gold Council of Excellence by the National Student Council.
Only six Illinois schools were distinguished as National Gold Councils of Excellence and CHS has done it for 18 consecutive years. Kyle Gordon, CHS educator, student council advisor and national chairman of VISION said, CHS displayed leadership and initiative to host the conference because no other school was willing to do so.
“Being a Gold Council of Excellence means that your students have gone above and beyond to help meet the needs of the community, school and their fellow classmates,” Gordon said. “And the students of CHS have done this time and time again.”
The National Council of Excellence is a national award program created by the National Student Council. It was established to recognize student councils that maintain strong year-round programs and work to improve their schools and communities through their leadership activities.
The award was established from the four principles of the National Student Council, which are leadership, service, engagement and student voice.
Kahok student council leaders Benjamin Simpkins, Elliot Schusky, Cole McClusky and Karley Jackson kept the event on track and on schedule as the masters of ceremony.
Schusky, CHS student council vice president said the conference allows Collinsville to show off its student leaders and collaborate with other student leaders from across the country.
McClusky, member director of the Illinois Association of Council, expressed the need for diversity as one of the main issues the student council is working to change.
“We’ve been steadfast in trying to have a more diverse leadership and a more diverse council,” McClusky said. “I think that is a big thing that we are really striving for and I think we’re getting closer to attaining every day.”
Simpkins, student council president, said that inclusivity is the main goal of the council and making sure that everybody at the school has a voice that is heard.
Gordon said the VISION National Council Conference is designed and led by middle school and high school students, as well as educational leaders.
“Participants leave with renewed enthusiasm for student involvement at their schools and in their communities,” Gordon said. “Along with new ideas for service learning projects they can implement, stronger leadership skills and a new network of friends to help them along their leadership journey.”
Preparation for the arrival and registration of the student council representatives began at 8:30 a.m. and by 10:15 the opening ceremony had started. Collinsville Community Unit School District 10 Superintendent Dr. Brad Skertich welcomed over 800 students and staff to the conference and expressed his pleasure in the way students conducted themselves.
“I have to say how impressed I am by the organization, manners and the willingness to try to meet others throughout the halls during staging and the exchanging of pins,” Skertich said.
The first day of the conference featured guest motivational speakers Judson Laipply (The Evolution of Dance), Monte Shelby, Richard Mark and Terri Johnson.
Mark, a Kahok grad and former CEO and president of Ameren Illinois has served 20 years in the energy business and 45 years of business and civic leadership. In 10 years, he has directed more than $22 million in donations to Downstate Illinois nonprofits and service organizations. As a champion of diversity, Mark has also afforded opportunities for more minorities to grow into leadership positions at Ameren Illinois.
As Mark reminisced about his time at CHS and the friends he met along the way he encouraged students to get out and meet new friends. He told them to absorb as much knowledge as possible from the guest speakers.
Laipply, keynote speaker for the conference kept the crowd entertained with jokes mixed in with educational anecdotes. Laipply used the evolution of dance as a metaphor for the evolution of life, and explained that life is full of change and chaos, but one must evolve and figure it out. “It’s our struggles that become our strengths,” Laipply said.
Laipply served as the state president of The Ohio Association of Student Councils from 1993 to 1994. The Evolution of Dance was the first video to go viral on YouTube, claiming 100 million views making it the most viewed video of all time.
Other guest speakers to attend were Heather Schultz, Gary Clark, Zach Baumann, Marquita Thomas and Michelle Li, an award-winning veteran journalist who co-launched the Very Asian Foundation. The Very Asian Foundation is a nonprofit organization that focuses on shining light on Asian life through advocacy and celebration.
The day’s activities ended around 8 p.m. with the Taste of Collinsville Street Festival to include music and dessert in the commons area of the high school.
Gordon said a strong student council is needed to improve the academic institution. He said all things from test scores, student attendance; to growing co-curricular activities all rely on active and strong student leadership.
“Schools should be built for students,” Gordon said. “It is important that their ideas and visions are heard.”
Skertich asked students to spend time with their friends, not on social media, but in person as to build the social and interactive skills necessary to build trusting and lasting relationships. Skertich challenged each student to work hard in whatever it is they choose to do and to set an example by working together to improve society as a whole.
“In closing, spend time with your friends, build your circle of trust, work hard at every endeavor, be a team player and always keep in mind, life requires compromise,” Skertich said. “Listen, absorb, learn, work together to grow during the conference for the better good of yourself, your high school, your communities and our futures.”