Tomorrow's psychologists are preparing for future convention-presenting roles as early as high school. Episcopal high school St. Paul's School for Girls in Brooklandville, Md., broke new ground with the first-ever high school psychology conference, "How to Make the World a Better Place for Adolescents," in April.

Indeed, it's never too early to help budding psychologists hone their public-speaking and research skills, says APA's Barney Beins, PhD, who brought APA's support to the student convention. "If these students maintain such high motivational levels in college, they will succeed admirably," he says. "They will also have an advantage when they take research courses because they will have had exposure to the way psychologists conduct research and draw conclusions."

Eight Advanced Placement (AP) psychology students--a class of students from St. Paul's School for Girls and nearby boys academy St. Paul's School--presented projects on adolescent health topics ranging from eating disorders to alcohol and violence at the conference. The students invited guest speakers Wesley Jordan, PhD, who gave a demonstration on promoting psychology in society, and Beins, director of precollege and undergraduate programs in APA's Education Directorate, who talked to students about the importance of curiosity in investigating human behavior.

AP psychology teacher Jeanne Blakeslee at the St. Paul's School for Girls decided to host the conference as a way to spark her students' inquisitiveness about psychology and to introduce them to psychology's myriad career opportunities.

"Having a convention gives the students an opportunity to immerse themselves in one topic and view how the discipline of psychology works," says Blakeslee. "My class came to see how a psychologist poses a question, collects, analyzes and interprets data, and how psychologists have honest differences of opinion."

Four of her eight students now aim to study psychology in college, including senior Audrey Goldberg, who says participating in the convention, "showed a very different side of psychology that I couldn't have learned from chapters in a book."

To prepare the 50-minute presentations, each student or student team conducted an in-depth literature review throughout the school year on a topic of their choice and gathered resource materials from advertising, television and educational resources to illustrate that topic. A team of two students explored gender, presenting clips from the movie "American Pie" and portions of the "Discovering Psychology" video series to explain how sex roles reflect social values. To make the convention as authentic as possible, Blakeslee and students printed speakers' badges, programs, folders and promotional pencils; developed a conference logo; and invited students from a neighboring high school to attend.

APA's Beins was impressed with their efforts and strongly encourages other high school teachers to follow in Blakeslee's footsteps. In addition to students gaining research and public-speaking skills, he says, "Teachers can benefit from hosting a convention as well because they can become more familiar with other psychology teachers in their vicinity, which can allow them to plan other joint efforts and avoid the isolation of being the only psychology teacher in a school."

APA has several resources available for teachers of high school psychology who may be interested in increasing their involvement in the psychological community, says Beins, including teaching workshops for high school instructors, membership in Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools and awards for research and scholarship at the high school level.

St. Paul's School for Girls will host the conference again next year, says Blakeslee, who hopes to expand the event by inviting nearby high schools to collaborate.

Further Reading

High school psychology teachers interested in collaborating with St. Paul's School for Girls can contact Jeanne Blakeslee at JBlakeslee@spsfg.org. Teachers who are interested in APA's resources for high school teachers of psychology can visit the APA Education Directorate Web site at www.apa.org/ed.