TEDxKids@SMU returns and so does Amit

Student who first attended TEDx program for middle-schoolers in 2011 helped organize this year’s event at McFarlin Auditorium

By Kim Cobb
SMU News

Amit Banerjee at TEDxSMU
Amit Banerjee, now a sophomore at SMU, first appeared on the TEDxKids@SMU stage as a middle-school presenter in 2012. He continues to volunteer with the annual program that celebrates “ideas worth spreading.”

DALLAS (SMU) – Amit Banerjee was just 13 years old when he attended his first TEDxKids@SMU conference in 2011. He was absolutely hooked.

He was back in 2012 as a featured speaker, talking about the magazine he created for his Eagle Scout project – “Philanthropy Kids.” And five years later, he is part of a growing network of young people in the Dallas area who after attending as middle-schoolers, come back year after year as program volunteers in high school and college.

Amit is now a 19-year-old sophomore at SMU, a Hunt Leadership Scholar studying engineering and public policy. He hasn’t missed an opportunity to volunteer with the show since attending that first year. When TEDxKids@SMU welcomed 700 middle school kids to SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium on Nov. 30, Amit was there as a member of the student leadership team that kept the wheels turning.

“TEDxKids is a place where students are exposed to ideas that will likely never come up in a classroom,” Amit said. “It gave me a place to learn new things from some of the coolest people and a place to be surrounded by people who are into learning new things. And when I spoke, it was a way for me to share an idea that I thought was super important with people who were eager to listen.”

More than 3,000 Dallas-area middle school kids have attended TEDxKids@SMU since its inception in 2009. This year the program moves from a downtown venue back to larger accommodations on the SMU campus. The program will run from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a theme of “Who Knew?” and will be streamed live at https://livestream.com/Tedx/KIDSatSMU2017. In addition to the students from approximately 50 different middle schools, organizers are expecting about 95 of their teacher/chaperones and 75 high school students who volunteered to help keep the younger students engaged.

“We get the chance to watch young people like Amit grow up through the TEDxKids@SMU experience,” said program director Heather Hankamer. “He’s always been pretty extraordinary, but TEDxKids@SMU gives middle school kids the courage – and the platform – to tell their story.”

When SMU produced the first TEDxKids event in the nation in 2009, they built a smart, funny, interactive program for an audience going through that gawky, pre-teen period where they are wildly curious about the world but afraid it’s uncool to show it. A funny thing happened: The 6th, 7th and 8th grade kids who came dropped their cool and plunged into every goofy, brain-teasing talk and demonstration on stage, ranging from building windmills in Africa, to weird science.

Young people like Amit audition or submit applications every year for the chance to be part of the program, and four were selected to participate Nov. 30 – William Waters, Arman Razaali, Annabelle Toe and Trevor Burke.

Amit Banerjee
Amit Banerjee

Amit has put his natural curiosity and love of learning to work as an SMU student. He was so interested in SMU’s common reading selection last summer, Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, that Amit conducted his own research into Dallas County eviction rates. He talks about it in this video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=92&v=1va0G8EulzI/ Amit begins speaking about 57 seconds into the video.

“TEDxKids@SMU has grown into a day that not only the speakers inspire the students, but the students end up inspiring the speakers,” Hankamer said. “This conference is a place where real conversations happen on and off the stage and kids are encouraged to find their voice and passion.”

Speakers at TEDxKids@SMU included:

  • Trevor Burke | passionate environmental advocate for the Backland Prairie
  • Alejandra Ramos Gomez | Bilingual DISD teacher and spoken word poet
  • Ben Jones | Dean of Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Academy
  • Jonathan Jones | SMU graduate student and author
  • Destiny Rose Murphy | SMU undergraduate student and competitive ballroom dancer
  • Mary Orsak | Founder of non-profit Story Power
  • Sarah Parcak (pre-recorded) | American archaeologist, Egyptologist, and remote sensing expert, who has used satellite imaging to identify potential archaeological sites in Egypt, Rome, and elsewhere
  • Arman Razaali | Eagle Scout and recipient of the President’s Award for Educational Excellence gives a new answer to the dreaded, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question
  • Torrence Robinson | president and founder of The Compelling Why
  • Annabelle Toe | respect advocate
  • William Waters | a student of media and stereotypes
  • Bridge the Gap Chamber Players | Building Community Through Music (22 SMU students)
  • Danish Dhamani | Co-Founder Orai

About TEDxKids@SMU: TEDxKids@SMU is a one-of-a-kind experience and the first ever TED style conference for kids. Middle school students in 6th, 7th and 8th grade from across North Texas will come to SMU’s campus to engage with big ideas and great conversations. This day is dedicated to kids; adults are asked to sit in the balcony while high school volunteer hosts sit with the students on the main floor. During the breaks the energy and raw curiosity of young minds all in one room is contagious: ideas are presented on stage then debated with the speaker, partners demonstrate the latest technology and teach creative expression, and all the while future leaders are being formed. The experience is free of charge and in return each student gives four hours of service back to their community.

 About TEDx conferences: The TEDx and TED model of conferences are an ideal platform to present new, engaging ideas to the next generation of leaders, artists, creators, innovators, and inventors. Short, bursty presentations by astounding thinkers on a broad array of topics ranging from the science of yo-yo’s to space exploration take students out of the classrooms and into a setting where the teachers are actually the people thinking up and executing these big ideas.

Community Service Requirement: As part of TEDxKids@SMU’s commitment to the students in the Dallas area, this program is free of charge for students to attend, but requires that students commit to completing a service learning project. Students are free to choose a project that they are passionate about to give back to their community.

Chaperones: To reaffirm to the students that this day is really about and for them, all chaperons sit in the balcony of the venue; this way teachers and administrators can watch and be in close proximity to students without being in the same row. TEDxKids@SMU Hosts are Dallas-area sophomores, juniors and seniors in high school who have been selected through an application process to serve as peer mentors to the students and sit with them during the program. We encourage the high school students to facilitate discussion for their middle school group.

Hosts: TEDxKids@SMU selects high school sophomores, juniors and seniors to serve as hosts to groups of 7-10 middle school students during the TEDxKids@SMU conference. Hosts greet students as they arrive at TEDxKids@SMU and help them understand the flow of the day. Hosts sit with the students during the conference, and stay with their assigned small group during the break.