SpeakUp: A safe place for students


Eleanor Adams and Sammy Rosin

After months of planning, Radnor’s SpeakUp club held their second-ever virtual event last Thursday, February 3rd. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the organization has currently switched to an online format but has adapted by utilizing breakout rooms, screen-sharing, and more features of Zoom. Co-president PJ Duffy shared that the pandemic has unfortunately caused a decrease in attendance compared to previous years: “Everyone is experiencing a great deal of anxiety and stress related to COVID, and I think this can sometimes affect a student’s willingness to get involved.” However, the event still brought together over fifty attendants, including students, parents, teachers, and other community members along with the trained professionals from the Speak Up organization. The organization focuses on bringing together students, educators, and parents to discuss difficult topics in a supportive environment. Some of those students and educators spent time over the past few months learning how to keep conversations going and manage difficult topics. Sponsor of the club Alicia Alfonso described the importance of having student facilitators: “The [students] lead the conversations. It’s amazing how much they share. [T]hey come up with these very difficult topics to talk about, and they are very willing to engage in those conversations.” The night began with the student facilitators giving a presentation that highlighted the core values of Speak Up, including teamwork, trust, and leadership.

After the student leaders and current director of SpeakUp, Martie Bernicker, made their opening remarks, participants entered breakout rooms of 10-15 people. The three topics for this SpeakUp meeting, chosen by the student leaders, included Mental Health, Identity, and Race & Racism. When organizing the groups, SpeakUp ensures that no family members end up in the same room and that participants cannot choose the other group members. Although participants may be nervous to share at first, Duffy explained, “Everyone is welcomed, and everyone is heard in a judgment free environment.” Duffy added, “SpeakUp has a home for [quieter people] too. Sometimes listening can be even more powerful than speaking.” Often, the conversation starts out slow. Student leaders and teacher facilitators begin with a thought-provoking anecdote, which works to spark a larger discussion. As group members begin to share their own stories, they inspire one another. “Quickly, every participant learns that we all face similar struggles and that no one is alone as they navigate through their teenage years,” said Duffy.

Along with knowing other students experience similar hardships, students can also benefit from seeing their teachers make the effort to engage in discussions and listen to the student perspective. Señora Alfonso emphasized that when teachers attend Speak Up, students get to see “that the teachers care [about them].”  While teacher participation has increased, Señora Alfonso stressed, “I hope more faculty get more involved.” Through SpeakUp, teachers can hear the struggles that their students endure and gain a better understanding of who students are outside of the classroom. 

The breakout rooms lasted for 75 minutes, enough time for every participant to share if they chose. Previously, SpeakUp only consisted of a one-night event, but Radnor’s branch of the club now allows students to continue the conversation in the weeks to come. A guidance counselor attends every follow-up discussion in case any student needs to take their issue further. Señora Alfonso emphasized that it’s important for students who are struggling to seek professional help or reach out to a trusted adult. “We’re a supportive community, but we’re not the problem solvers,” Alfonso shared.  

Duffy encourages any and all students to attend the next SpeakUp event or join the club: “Raising your voice helps relieve stress, and the SpeakUp community offers a sense of belonging for all.”