Four Atlanta Girls’ School Upper School students recently attended the annual National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in St. Louis, MO in November 2023, part of the school’s strategic focus on fostering leadership development in the areas of diversity and belonging among learners. Aniyah Stone (‘24), Hampton Walker (‘25), Abigail Alimi (‘26), and Semani Poonolly (‘27) traveled to the conference, which was themed Bending the Arc Toward Justice: Radical Optimism, Transformational Joy, Resilience, and Brilliance, and coincided with the educator-focused People of Color Conference. The AGS students joined more than 2,000 Upper School students from independent schools across the nation and abroad who gathered to explore topics on diversity and inclusion, learned to facilitate peer conversations, and bonded in foundations of allyship and affinity groups.
Following an application process, one student from each Upper School grade was selected to attend so that, “year after year, there will be a continuous group of students at AGS who have been to this impactful conference and learned facilitation skills in order to navigate important conversations with their peers,” said Dr. Cydney Junius, a chaperone for the trip and Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. “We are excited about the impact these students will make on our school community with their passion for this work.”
Students engaged in workshops designed to equip students with peer facilitation skills surrounding conversations on belonging and learned from powerful keynote speakers at the event. Attendees participated in identity-based affinity groups and “family groups,” small gatherings of bonding activities for students. AGS students also visited the iconic St. Louis Gateway Arch, the world’s largest arch.
“The opportunity for student leadership development that SDLC provides is extraordinary,” said Mrs. Cara Reese, Humanities teacher and DEIB Coordinator of Student Life, who also chaperoned the students. “First and foremost, students learn that there is power in shared experience and community, and that there is power in finding connections across differences. Our AGS students were selected because of their demonstrated leadership and activism. When they completed the conference, however, they were clearly transformed and ready to advocate for not only themselves, but for future AGS students and beyond. I couldn’t be prouder of these future leaders!”
This past week, the AGS attendees shared with peers at Assembly the experiences and ideas they cultivated at the conference. The students then presented at a meeting where they led the faculty and staff in small group discussions, using facilitation skills they learned at the conference to share and promote ideas on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
“SLDC was an experience that gave us life lessons and advice that we will continue to bring with us throughout life even after leaving the conference,” said senior Aniyah Stone. “We met amazing people, heard from inspiring leaders of all ages, and were able to be in a space where we could be vulnerable and share some of our experiences while also hearing the experiences of others. Going forward we are excited to implement changes and spark conversations that will make a difference not only at AGS, but in our everyday lives.”