The student looked down at his folder, back up at the adult seated next to him and pondered the question at hand a bit more. 

“What is my favorite subject in school?” he asked, a wry smile foreshadowing his excitement. “I like science. I love how we do experiments and figuring out how things work.”

Keyshaun, an eighth-grader at Brick Church, a LEAD Public School in North Nashville, continued talking about his portfolio for the next 45 minutes. Engaged. Open. Honest. He was excited about his work, spanning a little over the halfway point of the 2015-2016 school year.

Student-led conferences, known as SLCs, empower LEAD students to show who they are and how they’ve fared at the midway point of the school year – both good and what needs to improve.  For adults inside any of LEAD’s five schools over the last two weeks, they certainly saw how “things” worked. The network hosted the series of student-led conferences beginning on Monday, Jan. 11.

Each year, every school in the network hosts the SLCs right after students come back from Winter Break. Students prepare folders with examples of the following: their report cards and grades; progress reports on math and reading exams; examples of work that make them proud; their behavioral standing in the school; and a bio sheet that provides a glimpse into the future regarding potential colleges and/or careers. The folders also explain the student’s goals for the second semester.

For volunteers like Maggie Rollins, a bilingual prevention specialist at the non-profit Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee, the time spent was well worth it.

“I have heard great things about Cameron (formerly known as Cameron College Prep, or CCP) and enjoyed the one-on-one interaction with students,” she said. “From the minute I walked in the door, I felt welcomed. I loved the diversity of the school. I liked being able to see how much the teachers care about the students, just as an observer. I can tell they have a vested interest in helping students cultivate the bravery within them.”

As with all endeavors at LEAD, the backdrop of the SLCs is the network Ethos. Students and teachers alike focus on the following five mantras throughout their schooling and, long-term, in the communities in which they live or work: I LEAD because I am Courageous. I LEAD because I am Committed. I LEAD because I am Disciplined. I LEAD because I am Self-Reliant. I LEAD because I Serve Others.

How do the Ethos connect to SLCs, directly?

“Scholars had to exercise DISCIPLINE to complete the research, reflection and representation for their SLCs,” said Jasmin Hopkins, Dean of Culture at Neely’s Bend. “Scholars also expressed great levels of COMMITMENT to their learning about themselves during this process. Scholars displayed SERVING OTHERS through their encouragement of each other as they participated as mock audiences and thought partners.  It took a great deal of SELF-RELIANCE for individual scholars to follow through in the process and to continue to push themselves to complete tasks at the level quality expected.  All scholars had to practice being COURAGEOUS while taking a deeper dive in their own lives and essentially displaying it through a report of findings in front of an audience of adults.”

Rollins, a native of Nashville, said she saw examples of the Ethos immediately.

“The students that I met demonstrated self-reliance,” she said. “They could verbalize their goals and the plan they had to meet their goals. I could sense an excitement within them for learning. I love seeing how Cameron is engaging the community and its students each day and I am grateful to see students achieving and reaching their full potential in such an active, challenging and warm environment.”

LaVoe Mulgrew, the LEAD Academy High School Head of School, said that is precisely the point.

“Student-Led Conferences are an integral part of the LEAD academic program, providing students a genuine opportunity to own their own learning,” she said. “Students, not teachers, lead the conferences and share their accomplishments and mistakes. Through this process, students learn that they are in charge of their own education, an empowering realization.”

LEAD Southeast held SLCs at night the week of Jan. 11. Emma Mac, the school’s dean of culture, said that for many students, this is one of the first times they have practiced and led a conversation about their progress at school.

“Instead of being passive attendees at a parent-teacher conference, our students are in the driver's seat as they discuss their strengths, weaknesses, goals and dreams,” she said. That takes a great deal of courage and always makes me proud.

“What I enjoy most about Student-Led Conferences is seeing our students light up with excitement as they're talking about their work and their progress,” she continued. “All of our students, regardless of academic level or behavior, are able to talk about pieces of academic work that they're proud of and progress that they've made and it's a joy to watch them share their excitement with their families.”

If you are interested in volunteering to participate in SLCs at any of our campuses in the future, or if you are a member of the media looking to cover them in the future, please contact Jon Zlock, LEAD’s director of communications, via email at jon.zlock@leadpublischools.org