Before this trip, the farthest west I had ever traveled was Chicago. Although I was initially intimidated by the thought of my first conference, I immediately felt at home in Vail, Colorado. The spectacular views worthy of a postcard were beautiful, but their brilliance had some serious competition. I was taken aback by the eighth grade students at the Vail Mountain School, all of whom were ambitious, driven, and passionate about important social issues.
Directing this conference was a huge privilege, and I could not have done it without my three fellow teachers: Sean, Jim, and Mark. This was Sean’s second Vail conference, and it was definitely a huge advantage to have someone who was familiar with the school and faculty. Jim and Mark, both from other sub-committees of the Leadership Institute at Harvard College, blew me away with their incredible teaching experience. I was fortunate to learn as much as I did from them in less than a week.
Throughout the five-day conference, the four of us worked with the students in various leadership-based activities. For example, the eighth grade class was extremely engaged in learning how to discuss their future goals without using “filler words” such as “um,” “so,” and “like.” However, they were most excited about developing and working on their social change projects. One group combined their passion for music and mental health awareness by creating a website where people could share uplifting musical playlists through Spotify. Another group had plans to collect lightly-used sporting equipment for underprivileged youth unable to participate in sports due to financial reasons. Their goal was to reach out to the administration at VMS and a variety of local stores to put their boxes on display so their equipment could be shared among the Vail community.
Looking back at what the eighth grade accomplished in such a short span of time, I cannot even begin to describe the overwhelming joy Sean, Jim, Mark, and I felt. Even those students afraid to speak up in the beginning of the week were able to present their projects in front of the rest of the class with a much higher level of confidence. Their kindness and good intentions were represented through every aspect of their project, and although the four of us came to Vail with a set curriculum to teach, I can definitely say we learned a great deal from the students themselves. -
-Gillian Hess, YLC Vail 2016 Director