SpeakUp! event held at Malvern

Aidan Gordiner

Students, leaders, and teachers participated in the annual SpeakUp! Night at Malvern on January 31.

On a bitter cold night in January, students and members of the Malvern, Villa Maria Academy, Notre Dame Academy, and Devon Prep communities came together to discuss problems facing teenagers today.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]It really opens people’s eyes, parents, and myself included.

-Mrs. Jessica Kenworthey, Theology Teacher

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According to the organization’s website, SpeakUp! brings youth, educators, and parents together for open, honest conversations about tough topics that lead to guidance, support, and stronger conversations. Malvern has hosted the SpeakUp! Night for a number of years now and each year has had a positive effect on the students and parents who participate.

Theology teacher and SpeakUp! moderator Mrs. Jessica Kenworthey helps lead the event at Malvern every year. She said that this year’s night was a success and she was happy that the weather cooperated.

“I loved it. I was very grateful we didn’t have to cancel and reschedule. In past years we have had to reschedule and I was lucky and happy that we didn’t have to move it because of the weather,” Kenworthey said.

The night is mostly run by student leaders on the SpeakUp! steering committee from the four participating schools. The committee meets once or twice a month in the months leading up to the event. These students decide the breakout topics, prepare the opening talk, and help lead the discussions in each breakout.

Junior Stowe Milhous was a member of the steering committee this year and really enjoyed working with students from other schools.

“It was a great experience,” Milhous said. “It was fun to do it with the other schools [Notre Dame, Villa Maria, and Devon Prep].”

As for the event itself, Milhous said that it was great to give perspectives to parents and also to receive their perspectives with regards to the topics that were discussed.

“It’s a good time to let your emotions out that you wouldn’t usually,” Milhous said. “It’s nice because the parents are very open to hearing the student’s perspective, and the same goes for the students.”

Sophomore Jimmy McCullough attended the event for his first time this year. He said that he was pleasantly surprised by how the night went.

“[SpeakUp!] was a lot better then I had expected. I expected to see a lot of paranoid parents and it seemed like it was going to be really awkward. I didn’t expect it to go as well as it did,” McCullough said.

Students and their parents are placed in separate rooms so it can promote a safer environment to talk about difficult topics. This is a strategy SpeakUp! has been using for a number of years and is part of what makes the event work.

“I liked how the parents and the children were able to talk to each other and be in the same room that we didn’t know,” McCullough said. “We didn’t know the parents that were there and they were still understanding.”

Kenworthey said that this process of splitting parents up from their children can create great conversations for families when they go home and provides understanding on both sides of the spectrum.

“It really opens people’s eyes,” Kenworthey said. “Parents, and myself included, will not hear something from my own children. I can’t. I look at them and say ‘what could they possibly say to me?’ But when I look at other students who at this point are their peers, I will listen to them because they come off as much more intelligent.”

Milhous noted that many of the topics discussed at SpeakUp! can be challenging to discuss with parents.

“Students are able to say what is on their mind without being scared to talk about it,” Milhous said. “Because these are touchy subjects.”

Kenworthey, McCullough, and Milhous also added some input into how the night could be improved for future events.

“We had a really good turnout. We had a better turnout than last year, but I still want to improve the attendance of parents,” Kenworthey said. “Parents need to come. Kids need to understand that it’s good for them that their parents come and hear what’s going on. Parents also need to come and understand what they’re going through.”

McCullough agreed that having more parents would make the conversation in the breakout rooms flow better.

“I would have more parents come, because there was like a 5 to 1 ratio of students to parents in our room,” McCullough said.

Milhous had a different idea on something that could be changed. He thinks that adding another night to the calendar could be very beneficial.

“One thing I might change but not the event itself is have it more than once per year at Malvern,” he said. “Because a lot of kids like doing it and if kids like to do it as much as they do, I think more involvement and more events could make it better than it already is.”