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Gathering Place: VHS groups create connections, make a difference

Gathering Place: VHS groups create connections, make a difference


Being part of a Valparaiso High School club helps students make an impact not only within the school but also out in the community while creating peer-to-peer connections and fostering key skills.

“When students attend a large school sometimes it is difficult for them to feel a sense of belonging, or acceptance, especially by their peers. One of the best ways to find other students who have the same beliefs, interests and goals is to join a club that promotes the same principles,” says VHS Principal Reid Amones. “Getting involved in any kind of extra-curricular activities helps students build their communication, organization and interpersonal skills needed to be successful in their post-secondary pursuits.”

Wrapping up its second year at VHS, DECA helps prepare leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools. Among 3,500 chapters, VHS’ group had 33 members with 18 participating in Indianapolis for the state competition and four qualifying to compete at the international level in Orlando, Fla.

“It is important for students who want to pursue business as a profession to be involved in DECA because it prepares them to be successful by teaching key business concepts through written tests and business presentations during competition,” says business teacher and DECA adviser Lauren Covington. “Students benefit greatly by being a member of DECA not only because they are learning key business concepts but also it is a great tool for networking with other students who want to be in the business profession someday.

“They are also networking with companies and current business professionals at competitions.”

Through service-oriented clubs such as STAND and AOK, students are building self-confidence as they see first-hand the benefits of helping others, Amones says.

“Students also gain a sense of purpose by joining organizations such as these and often increase their desire to be at school resulting in better attendance, less discipline infractions, higher grades and greater college and career-readiness skills,” he says. “As clubs from VHS make themselves available to help other community organizations, students serve as ambassadors from our school and represent us well beyond the school walls.”

Socially Together and Naturally Diverse provides a platform to promote awareness and continuity among various cultures as well as ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds, says STAND sponsor Ryan Labis, who teaches U.S. history and sociology at VHS.

“It is very important for students, especially in our ever-changing society, to have respect for one another. STAND allows students to teach one another about their culture, race and beliefs in a safe positive forum,” he says. “We like to say what makes us different makes us unique. STAND stands up against hate or injustice that others experience because they are different.

“We celebrate and encourage the diversity that each member brings to the club.”

STAND members have helped coordinate a canned food drive for Hilltop House, collect stuffed animals for the United Way of Porter County’s Reading Buddies program and presented during Valparaiso University’s Martin Luther King Day events to spotlight the efforts the schools engage in to promote diversity.

“Each year, we usually do a trade day with another school – the last two years we did this at Merrillville - where STAND members host Merrillville high school students for a day and then we go there for a day and they shadow a Merrillville high school student,” Labis says. “This allows students to see how similar the schools really are and allows them to trade ideas on how to improve our club/culture at our school.”

The Acts of Kindness club strives to spotlight how important students are and how anyone can make a difference in the lives of others, says club sponsor Stacey Pagel, who is also the English department chair.

“AOK is about promoting kindness throughout the halls of VHS,” she says. “Members have the opportunity to strengthen friendships and create new relationships as we work together to create a happier environment for students and faculty members alike.”

Throughout the year, group members help facilitate Kindness Cards, an outlet for students to pen a brief message of encouragement or gratitude to a fellow classmate or teacher. The notes are delivered on Fridays with a piece of candy attached.

“Our mission is to make every member of our school community feel appreciated for their contributions and recognized for their achievements,” Pagel says.


What’s in a name?

STAND: Socially Together and Naturally Diverse promotes diversity. The club’s mission: “We stand up against hate and injustice that we or others may experience simply because we may be different. We celebrate and encourage the diversity that each of us brings to the club.”

AOK: Acts of Kindness showcases how even the smallest gesture can make a big impact on someone’s day. “Our mission is to make every member of our school community feel appreciated for their contributions and recognized for their achievements.”

DECA: While it is no longer an acronym, the club still stands for the preparation of students to be entrepreneurs and leaders in the finance, hospitality, marketing and managements arenas.

To learn more about student activities at Valparaiso High School, visit


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