Each year, the Middle School organizes a student-led leadership conference for Grade 8 students from around BC. This conference is planned by students, for students. This is truly the school’s vision – “To learn, to lead, to serve.” – in action.
The idea for the conference began in 2015 when the Middle School was looking at ways that Grade 8 students could exercise the leadership skills they had been developing. The Middle School puts a great emphasis on leadership skill development through direct instruction, modelling and experience. For example, students spend a great deal of time learning about their personal areas of strengths through our Health and Career Education program. Students learn positive collaboration through group projects in their academic subjects, as well as excellent written and verbal communication skills. Public speaking is the focus of our Communication Skills program, and event planning and executive functioning skills are an essential part of our various student councils. All of these skills are called upon throughout the conference planning process.
The leadership conference is planned by Grade 8 students as an exploratory option. This year, 19 students have come together to form the organizing team. These students, with teacher guidance, have been responsible for all decisions. They utilize their ability to step up and step back, share their ideas in a purposeful way, think critically about others’ opinions, and provide constructive feedback while brainstorming and generating ideas.
The idea-generating process begins with students deciding on a conference theme. They are guided through a conversation that asks them to identify current issues that students their age face.
This year’s student planners unanimously decided that mental health was the most pressing issue and wanted to create a forum for straight talk about topics such as anxiety, depression and stress. As a teacher, I know that mental health issues are on the rise amongst today’s youth population. I recently read a Canadian study that showed the following statistics:
- Almost 90% of students feel overwhelmed by all they had to do in the past year;
- 50% felt hopeless at some point in the past year;
- 63% said they felt very lonely; and
- 1 in 4 will experience at least one mental health problem before the age of 19.
However, students did not decide on this topic because they have read current stats on anxiety in teens. Instead, they chose the topic because they see it and experience daily. They see it in their friends. They see it in themselves.
The student planners were intent on breaking down the stigma attached to mental health issues and have chosen keynote speakers and workshop facilitators accordingly.
Our keynote speaker, Jill Payne, executive coach and celebrity trainer, will speak about how body, focus and internal dialogue are all keys to mental wellness. In the afternoon, we will hear from a student panel and hear stories of various mental health journeys and the strategies that provided hope. Nine workshops led by SMUS faculty and students will be offered, ranging in topics from sleep and wellness, to how to talk to friends that are struggling, to real talk about LGBTQ issues. There will also be “chat rooms,” facilitated by Senior School Prefects, where students will be given the time and space to speak and share with other students.
The hope of the student planners is that student attendees will leave with a sense that they are not alone, which is also the conference slogan, and that they will return to their schools and look for ways to promote mental wellness and support those who are struggling.
The Grade 8 “Here 4 U” Conference will take place on January 24.