by Stephen Dafoe
A two-day conference will provide Sturgeon School Division, Greater St. Albert Catholic School, and Kipohtakaw Education Centre students 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.
The Ignite Youth Action Conference will take place Oct. 21 and 22 at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre and will assemble students from Grades 8 to 12 from nearly a dozen schools. Organizers are anticipating close to 150 participants as well as 13 school counsellors, five district office representatives, eight session speakers, 12 community table partners, and two keynote speakers.
“They [the students] go through different sessions around healthy relationships, around substance abuse and prevention, emotional health and digital citizenship,” said co-facilitator Rebecca Balanko, adding each participant would take part in all four focus areas.
Balanko said there is absolutely no charge for the optional two-day conference. Students are free to attend of not attend. “We really want people who want to be there, who want to invest,” she said. “It’s bringing those health champions into our schools and allowing them to help other students. I just think from an informational standpoint – knowledge is power. When we know better, we do better. We make better choices. When there is an opportunity for a lot of young people to get the information that’s out there and have that information, they can be that champion in their school working with their counsellor and their work group.”
The co-facilitator said she sees the Ignite Youth Action Conference as an opportunity for youth to connect with one another, something that will overcome the sheltered situation that can occasionally occur in school life.
But Balanko is not alone in seeing the value of the conference. Co-facilitator Thomas Holmes, a counsellor with Sturgeon School Division, said Ignite was born from a desire to continue school support for the personal and social challenges youth face. “The safety, healthy development, and best educational success of our students are objectives in school counselling program plans,” Holmes said. “Students as peer mentors, examples, and teachers of their peers are powerful tools this conference will use to promote healthy relationships, digital citizenship, emotional health, and caution with alcohol and other substances.”
The conference pools the resources of Sturgeon School Division, Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division, Town of Morinville FCSS, Alberta Healthy Schools Wellness Fund, Alberta Health Services, Canadian Red Cross, Sunflower Community Resource Program, Pleasant Homes, Scotia Bank, and other agencies and businesses. Though pleased with the level of support she has received in launching the conference, Balanko is particularly pleased with the relationship between the two school divisions, something she is seeing more and more of.
“We’ve done a lot of work between the school divisions together,” she said.
“We’ve done counselling meetings together. We’ve done some training together. It’s really become an ideal partnership. We’re both here and it’s really important that we do good work together and that we’re here for our kids. And that’s what’s happening.”
Registration for the conference closes Friday. Students interested in participating can see their teachers for sign up forms.