International students join public speaking club

Andrew Critchelow

Every Wednesday within the circular walls of GEO International High School, students from many corners of the world gather together in the name of public speaking. These students are part of the Share Your Voice club, which consists of students who speak several different languages, yet all come together in the universal art of storytelling.

The Share Your Voice club was formed as a way for GIHS students to hone their communication skills, tell their stories and become involved in the community. The club meets every week to prepare for speeches, competitions and field trips, and currently consists of 22 members.

The Share Your Voice club takes part in GEO Integrity Talks, which are speeches given by students every other week. The speeches are given to the whole school, as students gather around the speaker in a circle and listen as they share their message behind a podium.

Some of the speeches given so far have been entitled “Taking Opportunities,” “Why I Love My Public School,” and “Self-Confidence.” Several of the speeches are available to be streamed on the GEO Integrity Talks YouTube channel.

Michele LeNoir, co-sponsor of the GEO Integrity Talks and teacher of English, communications, creative writing and college readiness at GIHS, said encouraging students to pursue public speaking is beneficial to their future.

“To speak well prepares you for life and every aspect of your life,” LeNoir said. “You need to be articulate.”

The GEO Integrity Talks were inspired by TED Talks, which are speeches broadcast on the web in which speakers are given an 18-minute timeframe to present their ideas in innovative ways. LeNoir said the idea for the GEO Integrity Talks came about after she showed her communication class a clip of one of the TED Talk speeches.

Founded in 2016, Geo International High School is the first international high school in Kentucky and in the southeastern region of the United States. The school currently teaches over 250 students, with students from 24 different countries.

The school focuses heavily on teaching English to the student body,  which is comprised of speakers of over twenty different languages.

LeNoir, who has been teaching for 27 years, said her experience teaching at GIHS has been unlike any other educational experience she’s had.

“As far as how to teach the students best, it’s a very different experience here because it’s all project-based learning,” LeNoir said. “It’s all students working groups with different strategies and support so that they start speaking in English very, very quickly.”

Over half of the students at GIHS were previously in refugee camps. Lenoir said largely because of this, students at the school have a strong appreciation for education.

“These are the most appreciative students I’ve ever taught,” LeNoir said. “They really care about their education, they don’t take it for granted, and they’re working very diligently.”

Desy Nu, a member of the Share Your Voice club, said that LeNoir has been a role model for everyone in the group.

“She’s a friend to us, she’s a mother to us, and she will help from every corner as much as she can.” Nu said.

In addition to preparing for speeches, the club also takes part in field trips. Some of these group outings include visits to WKU, Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College and BlueCotton, who produced the club’s shirts.

“We also just have fun together,” LeNoir said. “This is a fun outlet, and some of the students haven’t ventured out into the community as much because they’re not familiar with our community.”

Club-member Ronaldo Escobar said the club hopes to include more members in the future by  appealing to younger students.

“We want to build their self-confidence,” Escobar said.

Esteffany Hernandez, who did a speech on self-confidence, said the GIHS staff and her colleagues helped her work up the courage to pursue public speaking.

“I don’t like to talk in front of people, and I almost dropped out of class,” Hernandez said. “But Mr. Hatcher, the principle, Ms. Lenoir and Ronaldo encouraged me to believe in myself. It was a big opportunity for me.”

Though the group is new, LeNoir said the skills learned from public speaking and the positive relationships created between the students will be long-lasting.

“It’s given them not only confidence, but the realization that they have a lot to offer. They  have a lot to say and they need to share who they are with the rest of the community,” LeNoir said.

Reporter Andrew Critchelow can be reached at 270-745-6288 and [email protected]