Participants and organizers pleased with Ignite Youth Conference

Students who participated at the Ignite conference signed the “graffiti wall” to share everything they have learned and the experiences they’ve had over the past few days. – Lauren Stromner Photo

by Stephen Dafoe
with photos by Lauren Stromner

A warning sign was placed on the door of the Morinville Community Cultural Centre for the past two days, words cautioning youth they were entering a Youth Leadership Zone.

The Ignite Youth Conference wrapped up Oct. 22 after offering students from Sturgeon School Division, Greater St. Albert Catholic School Division, and Kipohtakaw Education Centre with exposure to a number of important youth topics, training on how to deal with them, and a desire to return to their schools to teach peers what they have learned.

Approximately 125 Grade 8 to 12 students from nearly a dozen schools participated in a variety of sessions and keynotes focusing on healthy relationships, substance abuse and prevention, emotional health, and digital citizenship. The event was a partnership between Sturgeon School Division and Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools.

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Kennedy Tuccaro Gives the closing speech at the Ignite Conference. – Lauren Stromner Photo

Co-facilitator Thomas Holmes, a system psychologist with Sturgeon School Division, said he was pleased with the event and how well it was received by the youth who attended.

“They’ve been attentive, engaged and involved,” he said. “These are heavy topics that we are presenting over a two day period. They’ve taken it seriously. In fact, we’ve got some comments from parents that their child came home with 10 pages of notes from the session they were in. Our students have really taken this responsibility of assuming the peer tutor or peer model role to go back and share with their classmates.”

Co-facilitator Rebecca Balanko said she was also pleased with how the event turned out. “I’ve a lot of mixed emotions about this,” she said. “It’s been a lot of planning but it’s been absolutely wonderful,” she said. “Some great kids came out. Lots of youth. Lots of leadership. Everyone seemed to really like it.”

Balanko’s impression that students seemed to like it is not without evidence. The closing keynote speech by youth leader Kennedy Tuccaro drew a standing ovation from the roughly 100 students present. But the closing inspirational words were not all that students were pleased with.

Georges H. Primeau student Ben Fingler attended both days and was pleased to participate. “It’s nice to do some of the stuff that we don’t get a touch of in the school presentations,” he said. “Even the stuff we do touch in the school; it’s nice to refresh on and get a little bit more.”

Fellow Primeau student Alicia DiBerardino said she thought the event was a strong presentation. “It was very informative and gave you good limits to set yourself to,” she said. “There’s bad things to do. There’s good things to do. It told you about what a leader is and what a leader should be doing.”

DiBerardino said she came away with a desire to be a leader in her own school and surroundings.

Jemma Stephens, a Sturgeon Composite High School student, was also glad to have been part of the event. “We learned about healthy relationships, how to live a healthy life style, and how to help others before yourself,” she said. “I really loved it. I grew up doing volunteering when I was little. So now that I’m here, we’re refreshing about giving back to others.”

Nolan Reed, a student from Namao School said he learned a lot about digital citizenship, drugs, and healthy relationships. “I think all of it was a high point,” he said. “It was all great.”

Now that the event is over Balanko said she is excited to see what the next steps will be. “Where do we go from here and what does that look like?” she said, adding she will continue to work with students to help them with leadership opportunities. “I see it as everything from a bake sale to raise funds for X,Y,Z to having some kind of initiative in their school for the students that didn’t get to go. I see that as a leadership opportunity.”

Similarly, Holmes sees the conference as an opportunity to empower students to be the change they want to see, words from Mahatma Gandhi that were present on the screen during the closing keynote address.

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