WHRHS TEDx: Student Empowerment at Watchung Hills


WARREN, NJ - Student empowerment was not just on the agenda, it was the agenda Monday night, June 19, at “TEDxYouth@WHRHS, an independently organized TED event,” at Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS).

The TEDx event, which was the brainchild of 2017 WHRHS graduate Vineet Parikh, championed student empowerment,innovation and inspiration. It was he who first proposed holding such an event at WHRHS. Back in October 2015, Parikh was one of the student-members of the WHRHS team that helped shape the school’s “2015-2020 Strategic Plan, A Warrior Vision.”

In addition to contributing to the long range strategic plans, the TEDx event at WHRHS was also an example of one of those long range plans being implemented. Youth@WHRHS was an example of immediate discussions about how student inspiration, innovation, and empowerment can be turned intoreal, everyday improvements for Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS). 

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TEDx is one of several new programs that have been worked into the WHRHS student experience that grew out of the ongoing 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, A Warrior Vision.

The three goals adopted by the Board of Education as part of the plan are:

1. Create and expand programs and services that enhance the social and emotional wellness of all students within a compassionate learning community.

2. Build and strengthen support structures that engage students in developing their individual potential, enable students to experience success in high school, and empower students to plan and prepare well for post-secondary learning.

3. Integrate creative, innovative, and interdisciplinary learning throughout the district to empower and inspire students to succeed in a changing global community.

According to the TED organization, TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks, 18 minutes or less. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.

Folks who organize a TEDx event, typically want to have a gathering marked by provocative speakers, thought-provoking videos, and as the TEDx literature says, “mind-blowingconversation.” The idea is: To create a unique gathering that will unleash new ideas, inspire and inform.

Whereas many TEDx events are more about technology, applied science, and/or geared toward work-place related and for work-empowering audiences, the WHRHS TEDx event was zeroing in on the issue of “student empowerment, innovation and inspiration.” It was an event: Suggested by a student;empowered by students; organized by students; with student speakers; and speaking to an audience of mostly high school, but also some middle school, students.

"When students approached the administration about hosting a TED talk here at school we were very excited,” said WHRHS Math and Business Supervisor Dan Twisler, who is familiar with and supportive of “21st Century” concepts. “We had seen great success with students taking leadership roles and felt honored that we would be able to host the event.  Students had a part in all aspects of the event from finance and sponsors, videography and photography, to collecting and being speakers.  We are thrilled with the results and have already begun plans for next year."


WHRHS Director of Curriculum and Instruction Mary Ellen Phelan said the student organizers approached the administration with the idea, in part because the students had already worked together with Phelan and Principal George Alexis, and others,during the district-wide strategic planning process.  


“In October of 2015, the planning team brainstormed a list of priorities which was embraced by Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett and the Board of Education,” said Phelan. “Our shared goal was to encourage our students in the areas of: Student leadership, more innovation, and creative technology.  VineetParikh was a very active participant, and that meeting provided the seed for the student vision for interdisciplinary collaboration. During our day-long discussion two years ago, board members, teachers, PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) representatives, administrators, and students talked about science fairs, coding projects, and research presentations.  What was noteworthy about the choice of a 2017 TEDx evening was that it brought to fruition an important response to an essential question, ‘How could we ensure that the strategic plan mattered to our present students?’"


The TEDx event was also another opportunity for the emphasis on interdisciplinary learning at WHRHS, Phelan said.  The TEDx student leaders recruited into this student-led learning process other WHRHS students to handle some real-world issues, such as planning, organizing and running a public symposium such as TEDx.

For instance, students who were taking accounting and business classes had opportunity to learn event budgeting. Students in the Culinary Club learned how to provide fresh-baked goods and other refreshments for the TEDx event. These practices are in line with other similar interdisciplinary learning coordinationseen earlier in the year with the staging of the Spring Musical, “Beauty and The Beast,” and at the Spring Arts Festival, to name just two.

“The students organizing the TEDx event, even though some were young, as young as sophomores, were nevertheless very resourceful in helping us to articulate a vision about empowering students at every opportunity,” said Phelan. “We all left the strategic planning meetings knowing that we needed more opportunities for students to learn beyond the classroom. We saw an urgency about filling this void to impact our students, both now and in the future.”

WHRHS PHOTOS Vineet Parikh

Student empowerment was not just on the agenda, it was the agenda Monday night, June 19, at “TEDx Youth@WHRHS, an independently organized TED event,” at Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS). The TEDx event, which was the brainchild of 2017 WHRHS graduate Vineet Parikh, above, championed student empowerment, innovation and inspiration. It was he who first proposed holding such an event at WHRHS back in October 2015. He was one of the student-members of the WHRHS team that helped shape the school’s “2015-2020 Strategic Plan, A Warrior Vision.”



The TEDx event at WHRHS was suggested by a student, empowered by students, organized by students, with student speakers, and speaking to an audience of mostly high school, but also some middle school, students.


WHRHS Photos Jordyn Arnel

WHRHS Rising Junior Jordyn was one of the guest speakers at Youth@WHRHS. She spoke about empowerment. Among her many activities at WHRHS, she also plays on the Tennis Team and writes for The Arrowhead, the student newspaper.


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