JED TALKS: Ideas worth Spreading

Elizabeth DiGennaro    

Assistant Managing Editor

“Ideas worth spreading,” states the slogan of the set of global conferences known as TED Talks. Each “TED Talk” encompasses various speakers who present their engaging and well-researched ideas to an audience. “TED”, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, began as a one-time event in 1984, but has expanded to become an annual conference in cities across the globe, with thousands of these speeches spreading across the Internet. And now, TED Talks has come to Jamesville-DeWitt High School.

English teacher Courtney Romeiser, librarian Mary Panek, and social studies teacher Donna Oppedisano started “JED Talks,” or Jamesville-DeWitt Engaging in Dialogue, for the 2013-14 school year, in order to give students an opportunity to share their ideas in a public setting, similar to a TED Talk.  “I’ve used the TED Talks in my classroom over the years, and I talked with Mrs. Oppedisano last year about how cool it would be to do something like it at J-D,” says Ms. Romeiser.  With an idea in place, Ms. Romeiser and Mrs. Oppedisano eventually invited Ms. Panek into the process, and applied for funding through the Teacher Center. “We got approved, so we met over the summer, when we really got the ball rolling and framed our idea,” says Ms. Romeiser. Their success has been overwhelming.

    The new club initially attracted interested students for a variety of reasons. “It was extremely appealing to be given the chance to elaborate on something that I’m very passionate about. Also, the teachers that ran it were so welcoming and encouraging, which was another reason why I joined,” says junior and JED Talks member Cheyenne Danforth. “I decided to participate in JED Talks because I actually really enjoy public speaking, and I thought it would be cool to get to share my ideas,” says senior and JED Talks member Jane Brown. “I joined the club because I thought it would help my public speaking, and I had an idea that I wanted to share with everyone,” agrees junior Emily O’Connor. “I really love the advisers, so they encouraged me to participate. I’m so glad that I (joined),” says senior Sarah Phillips.

    After joining JED Talks, members chose a myriad of topics to research and prepare a presentation on. “I chose my topic, the difficulties of being a teen in the 21st century, because I thought it was time that people heard about teenager’s complaints from a well-researched and organized point of view,” says Danforth. “I’ve always been really interested in women’s rights issues, and I think that there’s a huge gap between women’s and men’s political ambitions, so I wanted to address that, especially to a group of younger kids who would be more impressionable,” says Phillips, who discussed the vast gender gap in modern politics. “I chose my topic because I really love videogames, and I think it should be well-known that they are an art form, and don’t cause violence,” says Brown, who talked about the common misconceptions associated with gaming. “I chose the topic of childhood hunger because I’d always been interested in food, and I’ve volunteered at places like the Samaritan Center, where I’ve really been able to see that people don’t have the food they need,” says O’Connor.

The other speakers at the JED Talks presentation included junior Rachel Fairbanks, who discussed the negative effects of cell phones on communication, junior Samantha Jaffe, who discussed gun control in the United States, freshman Gerry Watson, who spoke for legalizing gay marriage, junior Tal Frieden, who discussed the practice known as “slut-shaming,” senior Sebaah Hamad, who discussed the myths associated with the Muslim religion, senior Zane Suttmore, who emphasized the importance of empathy in problem-solving, junior Josh Gutmaker, who encouraged audience members to utilize their right to vote, and junior Kayleigh Hamernik, who discussed the impact of emotional intelligence on a person. In addition, senior Owen Williams and junior Macie Whitbeck emceed the event.

After topics were chosen, research began. “The students had a huge commitment. It was a whole process of framing ideas, and then writing the speeches, doing the research, and practicing,” says Ms. Romeiser. “There was a lot of preparation involved, and we began research in October. I read articles, scanned websites, watched documentaries, and flipped through books. It took a lot of work, but the final outcome was worth it,” says O’Connor. “I did a lot of research about my topic, and it took me a while to perfect and practice my speech, says Brown. “There were many rough drafts and many run-throughs,” adds Danforth. Students also had to attend activity period meetings and after-school rehearsals. However, the preparation had many benefits. “I think it’s made me a stronger public speaker, and it’s made me more comfortable in front of groups of people,” says Phillips. “I now feel more comfortable talking in front of a large crowd, and I feel that my ideas are now more organized and qualified,” agrees Danforth.

JED Talks speakers presented on Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium. Overall, their work has had an overwhelmingly positive response. “I thought JED Talks was an amazing opportunity for students to express their feelings towards certain topics. It was really interesting and I truly enjoyed it,” says junior Chris Russo. “It was really interesting and I was really impressed,” agrees junior Chloe Chin. “We had so many in attendance, including other faculty and board members. We had so many teachers who spoke so highly of the opportunity to speak in a public forum about big ideas, and other students who were talking about the dialogues all over the school,” says Ms. Romeiser. One audience member even wrote to Principal Paul Gasparini in regards to JED Talks, stating that he “felt as if (he) had been transported to a liberal arts college campus.”

Overall, J-DHS’s first “JED Talks” gave students the opportunity to represent their thoughts, learn about public speaking, and show their passion in their speeches. “Ideas worth spreading?” Absolutely.