Dozens of Suffolk schools converged on Islip High School on Nov. 16 as it hosted the ninth annual Compassion Without Borders Student Leadership Conference, a visionary event that works to eliminate barriers, promote unity and cultivate generosity of the heart. More than 370 student leaders and 280 teachers and administrators from 35 different Suffolk schools visited Islip to participate in discussing compassion in their schools and communities, making this the largest Compassion Without Borders to date. The remarkable event was sponsored by the Suffolk County Principal’s Association, whose president, Ed Casswell, helped create the program.
“Over the past nine years, over 3,000 students from Suffolk County have been presented with the opportunity to hone their leadership skills and return to their home schools ready to enact meaningful change in their respective school communities,” said Caswell. “Kudos to the Islip School District for hosting this year’s event and showcasing their wonderful students and staff. Regardless of school district borderlines and rivalries, Compassion without Borders brings all Suffolk high schools together under the banner of leadership and unity. The many students in attendance reinforced the singular mantra of this leadership initiative – when you bring great students together, great things happen.”
Other schools in attendance included Academy at Bixhorn Technical Center, Babylon, Bay Shore, Bayport-Blue Point, Bellport, Brentwood, Center Moriches, Centereach, Central Islip, Comsewogue, Connetquot, East Hampton, Eastport-South Manor, Elwood-John H. Glenn, Half Hollow Hills, Hampton Bays, Hauppauge, Kings Park, Mount Sinai, Newfield, North Babylon, Patchogue-Medford, Rocky Point, Sachem North, Sayville, Shoreham-Wading River, Smithtown East, Smithtown West, Southampton, Walt Whitman, Ward Melville, West Babylon, Westhampton Beach and Wilson Tech.
Following an opening ceremony, JC Pohl of “Teen Truth” served as the guest speaker, kicking off the conference on an inspiring note. The students then broke into groups for a wide variety of enriching activities including in-depth discussions as well as quilting, yoga and vocal music; the latter culminated in a moving and unifying closing performance.
“Students from across Suffolk County worked together to focus on compassionate leadership and vehicles for impacting change in their own schools,” said Hampton Bays High School Principal Christopher Richardt. “The energy and enthusiasm for this work was present in every corner of Islip High School through a series of thoughtfully planned activities. It was an incredible day that will hopefully have a lasting impact on all of our schools.”
Displaying intense altruism, Islip students and their guests collected enough can tops to fill an entire 50-gallon garbage pail, which will be sent to Islip Town Hall to support the Autism Speaks Foundation. They also wrote more than 200 personalized cards to Jacob Thompson, a terminally ill 9- year-old Maine boy whose Christmas wish was to receive homemade cards. Moved by Jacob’s story, the students decided to also donate a diversity-themed quilt to him that had been created during one of the conference’s workshops.
One of Islip’s major goals was for the visiting students to not only leave inspired but to depart with something tangible that they could take home to their buildings and communities. Each guest school received a pennant commemorating the day that includes their logo, Islip’s logo and their Compassion Without Borders mission statement; an action plan indicating how to initiate their own Pay it Forward program; a workbook that includes each lesson plan created by our students and faculty advisors; a quilted heart; upcycled bracelets; artistic displays of messages of compassion; an Instastory about how to combat stereotyping in their home communities; a photograph of their school’s CWB team; a DVD of the experience; and a T-shirt with the event logo and list of all of the participating schools.
“Compassion Without Borders was a huge success and really empowering,” said Islip senior Julia Hormann. “My favorite part was getting to see students from different schools collaborate together, especially at the end of the day when we did our musical performance.”
“There was a lot of work that went into it, but it was definitely worth it in the end and I got to do a lot of things that I didn’t expect I was capable of,” said Islip senior Sheila Kiernan, who taught a yoga workshop during the event.
“I think that Compassion Without Borders overall was a positive experience for everyone from Islip and other schools,” said Islip senior Jillian Piano, who helped set up the cafeteria for a celebratory lunch hour that saw Islip’s Bucky mascot lead groups of students in dancing to popular hits. “When we saw that everyone from different schools felt comfortable dancing together, it was a really positive experience and enlightening for all of us.”
“This was a really big commitment, and we put a lot of hard work and effort into it,” said Islip senior John DelGenio, who guided the vocal music participants. “A special moment was being a part of the culminating performance and looking out over the crowd, with all the schools having their flashlights up, and getting a chance to perform with all these people I just met for the first time and create a bond with them.”
“It was truly an amazing day, and I have never been more proud of my colleagues and students,” said Islip Principal Michael Mosca. “I hope we will all continue to spread the message of compassion in every facet of what we do.”