Deerfield students experience ‘TED Talks’

Deerfield High School student Ashlynn Smith talks about her experience of hosting a foster sister and the state foster system during her talk as part of Wednesday’s TEDx Conference at Deerfield.

By SCOTT AUST, FCEDC Director of Communications

Deerfield High School hosted its own TEDx conference on Wednesday, bringing in a half-dozen speakers to talk about a range of subjects mixed with students’ own presentations.

“I love TED Talks, and the English teacher in me was like, ‘Oh, I should do these in my classroom!'” said Tracy Meinzer, English/Language Arts teacher at Deerfield USD 216.

For the uninitiated, TED Talks are a series of short, powerful talks, usually lasting less than 18 minutes, devoted to spreading ideas. TED is a nonprofit that began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged and today covers a wide variety of topics ranging from science to business to global issues.

Meinzer looked into whether Deerfield could host a TED Talk and discovered the TEDx conference opportunity.

A TEDx Conference attendee adds a note to the “Ideas that stuck with me” wall at Deerfield High School.

The TEDx conference is “a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience,” according to the TED website. The “x” stands for independently organized TED event.

Meinzer said last fall she sent an application to the TED organization seeking to host a conference in Deerfield. She started work on lining up speakers, before going on maternity leave, then really dug into the project in January.

“I bit off a little more than I was aware. It’s been a little bit of work putting this all together,” she said with a laugh.

For speakers, Meinzer reached out to staff and students for ideas. They came up with a huge list of 30 people, sent invitations to those who students were most interested in hearing, and whittled down the list to six.

Students spent the first half of this semester in class writing speeches, and then all presented their speeches to the middle school a couple of weeks ago. Five were chosen to also present speeches during the conference.

Guest speakers included:

  • Alicia Maciulis, owner of Roots Juice Co. and Wellness Studio in Garden City.
  • Kayla Thackery, co-owner of Fit Body Boot Camp, who talked about taking control of health.
  • Jeff Yalden, a high energy, “tell it like it is” youth motivational speaker, mental health professional and parent communicator who talked about teen depression and suicide.
  • Jean-Babtiste LePichon, a child neurologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.
  • Jeff Leiker, a writer/Comedian from Hays who talked about writing and writer’s block.
  • Stepheny Fredriksen, a Group Sales Account Executive for the Phoenix Suns who grew up in western Kansas, whose talk was titled, “Follow your heart and you’ll never go wrong.”

Deerfield students who gave talks included Cora Welch, Ashlynn Smith, Alexa Chavira, Alexa Borunda, and Sheridan Rodriguez.

One of the group activities during Wednesday’s TEDx Conference at Deerfield High School.

The conference was broken into five sessions during the day. Between live speakers, students also watched a variety of TED Talks via video. During each session, students jotted thoughts on sticky notes following each talk and posted them on a wall outside the auditorium titled, “Ideas that stuck with us.”

In addition, students participated in several activities throughout the day, including a challenge in which teams attempted to build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow with the marshmallow needing to be on top.

While it turned out to be more work than she expected, Meinzer feels the experience was well worth it.

“The goal of TED Talks and TEDx events in general is to spread ideas that are worth sharing, so my goal is to expose students to new and different ideas that they might not be exposed to otherwise,” she said. “And then also kind of on the writing side and English teacher side, we’ve worked this semester on what a good speech entails. They got to apply that and see some good speeches in action.”