On November 13, the University of Lethbridge played host to an annual student leadership conference that involved junior high and high school leadership students from across the region.
“A lot of schools have their own student councils and things like that, but we wanted to do something from a global divisional perspective to say how can we encourage and empower students from a higher level so that they can take it into their schools,” Jason Kupery, Director of Learning for Palliser Regional Schools, said. “We wanted to recognize the diversity within our school division. We also wanted to bring everybody together to exchange ideas and to empower students to lead groups.”
The event’s theme was “Look Outside Ourselves – Act Inside Our Circle of Influence “and kicked off at 9:30 a.m. with words from keynote speaker,Phil Boyte. Boyte shared that the keys to leadership are initiative, courage, and energy. Energy from the brain, Boyte said, does not have to be crazy, as people want to be part of what you are doing; energy has to simply be interesting.
“If you have ice in your veins, you gotta have initiative,” Boyte said. “That means you're willing to start being willing to say, “Hey, I see our school's kind of boring, so when we get back, what do we do? If you have the courage to initiate, you never know where it goes.”
Boyte emphasized that energy isn't always about explosiveness or loudness. Sometimes, Boyte said, the energy is just the ability to lean forward, and that the only failure you'll ever make is when each way you decide to quit.Boyte said that exercising initiative, courage, and energy includes reaching out to others and making environments, such as schools, better for everyone there.
“It takes guts to look at our friends or maybe someone who's not our friend, but somebody who needs just a little message and part of leadership is learning how to share that passion in a kind way that’s straight enough that they don't miss it,” Boyte said. “Courage is when you have a little bit of fear and you do it anyway.”
Following Boyte’s remarks, the students divided up into groups and participated in breakout presentations that were inspired by chapters in Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World by Admiral William McRaven. The adults present were also treated to breakout sessions that were led by Boyle and Boyte and Ted Termertzoglou, author of the book Healthy Active Living 2.0.
“I want to encourage you throughout the day to be active listeners,” said Rick Gilson, Executive Director of Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium (SAPDC). “That's more than just hearing. Hearing just involves our ears. Listening involves our ears, our minds, eye in our heart.”
Lunch was also provided and the lunch break included music, networking, and wellness cafe consisting of booths. The booths invited students to create vision boards, learn strategies for coping with stress, learn about how to better address mental health within the school environment, and also learn about volunteering.
After lunch, the groups dissolved and each school met together to discuss what they had learned during the breakout presentations.
“This conference is empowering and I think it's going to help you to be able to go back to my school and sorta make some of the changes I want to see,” explained Josh Gardner, a Taber student from W.R. Myers who assisted in running a Mental Health booth at the conference’s Wellness Cafe. “I want to start pumping the energy up in our school and make people excited to be there and sort of try and make it a place that's more enjoyable.” Said Kimoya Edwards, a student at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute
who also helped in the Wellness Cafe, said that she became involved in the conference after learning about it from her English teacher. Edwards admits that she learned about how to become a better leader at her school and that it often takes just one person to start something positive.
“It's inspiring to see these presentations and seeing these young people, trying to share knowledge with their peers,” added Ard Biesheuvel, a teacher at Chinook High School. “It's brave and I think that it’s a very good way of sharing a message.It's helpful for students if they choose for it to be helpful.”
Trinity Nicholas, a student from Granum School who attended the conference, says that she learned the importance of setting goals. Nicholas also learned that one has to have a push, an actual desire to get something done that needs to get done.
Kupery says that the conference was originally in the Lethbridge area, but the idea of inviting other school divisions arose because the Palliser School Division wanted to have that abundance mentality in the sense of everybody should learn how to become a leader. We all can do a lot more good, Kupery said, and help a lot more schools if we have more school friends.
“We've had good response over the years,” Kupery said. “I can only speak from Palliser's perspective, but we've had good response because people look forward to it. They ask us about when it's happening and the kids that are presenting are excited to present cause they know they've seen it before and they know they get to come and present.”
Kupery believes that although it’s a lot of work to prepare the conference, he is proud of the work that’s been done and proud of the people who set out to organize the conference.
There was a meeting with the committee back in October, Kupery says, with all student leaders that were set to lead presentations to get them ready to talk about a purpose and a focus for their breakouts. Kupery emphasizes that there's been so many people that have been dedicated to seeing students thrive and flourish and become better leaders because of that work.
“The lesson I always take away from these conferences is the fact that kids are amazing and that they are capable of so much,” Kupery said. “We need to allow them more room and more latitude to lead in their schools to make each other better.”