Njabulo Ndabezitha, Shane Ball and Nic Herd handling the Question & Answer session

Njabulo Ndabezitha, Shane Ball and Nic Herd handling the Question & Answer session

The World Leading Schools Student Conference was held in Los Angeles over the period 20-24 July 2014. Westville Boys’ High was represented by three members of the Learners’ Representative Council, Shane Ball, Nic Herd and Njabulo Ndabezitha. They were chaperoned by Headmaster, Trevor Hall.

The theme of the conference was “Learning outside the curriculum” in developing global leaders with the aim being that the delegates from across the world would explore issues relating to school governance, responsible citizenship, and adding value to school and wider communities within their areas of influence.

The World Leading Schools Association (WLSA) is a body which comprises 50 schools from the East and 50 from the West. These schools are admitted as members of WLSA on the basis of their proven track record in providing quality, holistic education and their ability to influence all-round education in their countries. Schools represented at the 2014 WLSA Student Conference included: Harvard-Westlake School and Cranbrook School (USA), Eton College and Winchester College (UK), Beijing No.8, Hohhot No.2 and the High School Affiliated to Fudan University (China), and the African Leadership Academy and Westville Boys’ High School (Africa).

Here follows a report from the three Westville delegates:

Nic Herd: Conference activities
The annual WLSA Student Conference serves to unite the top Eastern and Western Schools, having students engage with each other to solve regional and globally similar problems collaboratively. Such a conference is unique as it allows the students from the member schools to address the participants through presentations or discourse with autonomy; for the students by the students.
This year’s conference, held in Los Angeles, was attended by some of the top schools in the world, with the USA, UK, China, the Netherlands and Africa being represented. The conference strengthened bonds formed the previous year in Shanghai with issues ranging from globalisation, cultural relativism and daily school life to learner presentation, sport and service possibilities being discussed.
Harvard-Westlake School hosted the conference this year, with the participants taking up residence on the UCLA campus. Each day the participants were transported to the Upper School campus of Harvard-Westlake School, Beverly Hills, where the conference sessions took place. In the afternoons, students went on tours around LA, visiting the top universities in LA, local landmarks and international tourist attractions. These tours not only gave the students a much needed break from the intense discussions of the conference, but also gave them the opportunity to interact socially and immerse themselves in the local culture.

The Conference was expertly chaired by two students from Harvard-Westlake School, Joss Saltzman and Adele Chi. There were a number of excellent presentations. Here are a just a few examples: Harvard-Westlake students Chantalle Wang and Maggie McCarthy presented an insightful critique on “Education in the USA vs China” while Natalie Lim and Cameron Kao focused on the undoubted benefits of “Sport Culture”. Brandon Bergsneider’s address on “Student-led Initiatives” was extremely well received, and gave practical ideas on how students can influence new programs in their schools outside the classroom. Stephanie Grove and Libby Post of Cranbrook (Detroit) stressed intercultural skills and the role that the delegates could play in their presentation, “The Bridge between East & West: YOU”. Christine Chen, Candy Zhao and Sam Jiang of the High School affiliated to Fudan University were also praised for their fine presentation on “Global Education.”

The WBHS delegation, made up of Shane Ball, Nic Herd and Njabulo Ndabezitha, was allocated a full hour on the program to address the issues of “Sport & Service”, “Actors: How Individuals and Groups React & Respond to Information” and “Leadership & School Governance”, respectively. This presentation received a great deal of attention as it gave insights into South Africa’s history, how Westville BHS operates, and student behaviour analysis. The Westville students were lauded for their thorough, well-mannered approach and the confident execution of the address.

It does need to be noted that Mr Hall has put in copious hours of work, not only in supporting WLSA in general, but also in developing the bonds between WBHS and the schools forming part of the association. This was acknowledged in the closing remarks by Dr Jack Jia, the CEO of the WLSA. Mr Hall also deserves credit for organising the trip for the WBHS students and critiquing the development of the presentation by the WBHS students.

Njabulo Ndabezitha: Meeting new friends at the conference
Attending the WLSA student conference, I always knew I was going to meet new people from different countries of different cultures and religions coming from different backgrounds. This was exciting to me but at the same time concerning because of barriers such as language which can make it extremely difficult to communicate with people. Things “lost in translation” can have a massively negative impact, especially when these affect norms which are socially accepted in certain cultures and not in others.

When the conference officially commenced on Sunday 20 July, many of us were not too comfortable at first because we didn’t know each other at all. But as the days went by, the different conference activities and the social activities allowed us to get to know and understand each other much better.

Making yourself open, easily approachable and willing to go out of your comfort zone was definitely one of the keys for me in meeting and getting to know as many people as possible on a personal level. I will always remember the representatives of the African Leadership Academy which caters for students from all over Africa: Andrew Ross from Egypt, Morema Mafantiri from Lesotho and their chaperone Melissa Mbazo from Zimbabwe. Andrew was definitely quite a character, loud talking, always so energetic, not afraid to share his view and opinion, even when not necessary requested, and willing to contribute positively whatever the task may be. Morema is a smart guy who took great pride in his culture and a good soccer player, as we learnt from our inter-continental soccer event on the impressive artificial turf of Harvard-Westlake.

In the UCLA dorms, two delegates from different countries were allocated to each room. Nic and I were roommates of the two British guys, Henry Green from Winchester College and Olly Bott from Eton College respectively. They are very intelligent guys with excellent general knowledge and a good sense of what’s happening around the world. I definitely found these two adding a much more pleasant experience for me at the conference. I will cherish the good laughs we had and memories we made for the rest of my life.

Brandon Bergsneider was one of the Harvard-Westlake students at the conference. He was our first tour guide and a very friendly, happy guy. He was very informative about Los Angeles in general, and shared experiences of fine school, how things operated and what policies and precautions were implemented to make it the place it was.

The two Chinese guys staying in Netherlands who volunteered to assist at the conference were Carel Jia and Shudha Wu. They were always helpful with showing us around and giving us directions.

Shane Ball: Experiences
New people… New places… New cultures! These are all things I was fortunate enough to have experienced and be been part of over the past two weeks in America.

Despite the fact that our 24 hours of flying via Dubai to Los Angeles was a daunting experience, the dates of our flights fortunately allowed us to visit San Francisco before the conference and Disneyland after the conference.

Our first night was spent in LA, and we visited Hollywood where we saw the Walkway of the Stars and witnessed the movie premier of Disney’s new movie, “Planes: Fire & Rescue”. The paparazzi were there as were the stars of the movie such as Julie Bowen who also stars in Modern Family. We also learnt that McDonalds is not the major fast-food business in the USA any longer – that mantle has been taken over by In-‘n-Out Burger who make great burgers, but they did mess up our order. We also managed to see the weird characters performing or training at Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Mr Hall got roped into one of the performances against his will, and we also met the biggest man we had ever seen at the Venice outdoor gym.

Over the next two days we visited San Francisco where we were introduced to delicious clam chowder as well as bagels and cream-cheese. We visited a number of different tourist attractions, such as the Alcatraz Prison, Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. This bridge is one of America’s biggest landmarks. Walking across or visiting this bridge, is I’m sure, at the top of the list that many people aim to do at least once in their life-times. This red, eye-catching structure is one of the largest bridges in the world and when standing on it, you are able to have a clear view of the beautiful city, San Francisco.

Our tour of Alcatraz Prison helped us appreciate what life was like at the prison, and informed us of the famous criminals who had inhabited the prison such as Al Capone and the Birdman. This was effectively done through recordings that were taken from the prisoners speaking about their individual experiences at the prison. We listened to these recordings on headphones as we toured the prison at our own pace. The Alcatraz prison is situated on a very small island meaning the only way you can go to and from the prison island is by boat. The sea currents that surround this island are persistent and powerful, which makes it physically impossible for any prisoner who has escaped from the prison to leave the island itself. I know of only one person, Chad Ho of cause, who could do a swim like this as one of his warm-ups.

Angel Island also lies in the huge San Francisco Bay. This island was used by the US military for fortification against any invaders. Angel Island also has the most amazing panoramic views that any tourists or visitors can encounter. Visitors gain an appreciation of the entire island by way of a trolley ride, while tour guides assist visitors at various points. During the tour we are able to have a feel of how the military used to live as we could see their homes first hand. On the island there are restaurants and shops which make the island an even better tourist attraction apart from its spectacular views, because families are then able to enjoy a full day on this beautiful island.

We then headed back to LA where the WLSA student conference took place at Harvard-Westlake School. This is one of the top high schools in America and this is clearly noticed through the conduct of the students that attend this school. Just like Westville Boys, they also look to achieve all round excellence and want teenagers to develop in the best possible people according to their standards.

But before the student conference began, we had a tour of the University of Southern California (USC). This was a truly incredible experience and has opened my eyes to maybe looking to study there after school one day. Once the three days of conferences was finished, we then toured the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). This was also the university that we stayed at during the duration of the conference, which gave me the full “college student” perspective of how life would be like if I had to attend an American university. I am extremely fortunate to have had this experience.

We were very lucky to get tickets for Lady Gaga’s Artpop concert at the Staples Centre in LA. She certainly lived up to our expectations and proved that she is a great singer and performer. The concert was completely sold out and it is clear that the Americans love Lady Gaga, even dressing up in the most garish of outfits to fit in with her outrageous and impressive show.

Before departing America, we had the opportunity visit the world famous Disneyland. Although Disneyland was obviously designed to cater for younger children, I still found that I had the time of my life. Nic, Jubs, the Headmaster and I all had a “blast” with the Hollywood Tower of Terror and California Screamin’ rides being the highlights. It was just a pity that we visited Disneyland during peak season, because the rides and other activities attracted long queues, which even the ‘fast-pass’ concessions could not solve to our satisfaction.

Being one of three students to be selected from Westville Boys High School for this student conference brings a great amount of pride to me as a young man. I have learnt so many skills and attitudes from this experience. I have no words to describe how fortunate I am to have been given an experience such as this.