Two Mountain Brook Students to take the Big TED-Ed Stage

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Left to Right: TED-Ed Club facilitator Suzan Brandt, Brett Lewis, Sean Fredella.
Left to Right: TED-Ed Club facilitator Suzan Brandt, Brett Lewis, Sean Fredella.

Amy Stiftel-Sedlis,WBHM

TED, short for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a platform where big ideas find global audiences. People from all over the world share the short talks, spreading ideas on almost every imaginable subject. Under TED there are independently run programs, including TEDx and TED-Ed (a youth education initiative), allowing people of all ages to share their ideas. This weekend, two Birmingham area students have been selected to present their talks at the first ever TED-Ed Weekend in New York City.

Mountain Brook High School sophomores Brett Lewis and Sean Fredella will be chaperoned by local TED-Ed Club facilitator Suzan Brandt.After discovering the challenges schools around the country face to meet basic special education requirements, his talk  “How Being a Peer Helper Helped Me” focuses on how schools can increase, train and utilize students, like himself, to meet the demand.

“I don’t think it’s happened yet, but a lot of people have come up to me saying I really want to become a peer helper. Some of my friends have joined the Circle of Friends club, which is kind of the same thing,” says Lewis. “I’m excited but I’m extremely nervous that I’m going to mess up on the big stage.”

Fredella, a pediatric cancer survivor, offers solutions on how to increase funding specifically for research of the disease.

“My solution is to get any school or any programs — athletic programs from NFL to flag football — to wear gold during the month of September to raise awareness for pediatric cancer because before you can raise money you have to raise awareness,” says Fredella.

Brandt is Mountain Brook Junior High School’s technology coordinator and is actively involved in TEDx events in Birmingham. She strongly believes in the TED mantra that everyone has an idea worth sharing. She along with several colleagues got district approval to start a TED-Ed club when the initiative first launched three years ago. It currently has sixteen members. She works closely with participants to help them identify, frame, and outline their ideas. Brandt says students also gain storytelling, communication and leadership skills. After weeks of refining and practice, the students upload a video of their talk to the TED-Ed blog.

According to TED-Ed program manager, Ashley Kolaya, there were more than 2,500 video submissions from all over the world to attend this inaugural event. Over the past few weeks, she has been working with Lewis and Fredella to prepare for the weekend. She says two students from the same school was definitely “unusual” and something the team discussed. However, “at the end of the day, we looked at the talks independently and felt really good that they were two strong talks by two really terrific kids. Those are exactly the kinds of models that we want to put out there,” says Kolaya. She says both boys talks send a powerful message and thinks they are important to share as this is a generation often characterized as apathetic and not caring enough to give back.

For Brandt, this entire experience couldn’t be more worthwhile.

“We tell the kids their ideas matter. We tell them that they have a voice and we ask them to share it,” says Brandt. “When we hear back from other people that they value it, it’s so powerful because it really shows the kids that yes, it really does matter.”

Seventeen students, including Lewis and Fredella, will speak Saturday, December 3, in front of a live audience. Their talks will be streamed on the TED-Ed Facebook page and posted online.

More information about the Mountain Brook TED-Ed Club can be found at http://www.tedxyouthmbjh.com/.

Amy Stiftel-Sedlis

Amy Stiftel-Sedlis

Assistant Producer