Elementary students unite to share leadership practices

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The student conference featured student as emcees and as leaders of breakout sessions.

First ever Palliser Grade 4-6 conference features Canadian Olympian Georgette Reed

On the light side, there were games, outdoor recess and a whole lot of cheering. On the more serious side, about 400 Grade 4-6 students from across Palliser Regional Schools shared how they’ve made positive changes in their communities and dreamed up even more ideas.

The students were part of Palliser Regional Schools’ first elementary student leadership event, “Planting the Seed for the Future,” held Thursday, April 28 at Vulcan Prairieview Elementary School.

Organized by a committee of school principals and Central Office staff, the day followed a formula similar to the successful Discover U student-led conference for Grade 7-12 students in November.

Serving as event emcees were Grade 4 Jennie Emery Elementary School students Ariana Duerksen and Taite Meyer. The girls said they felt nervous on the inside, but it didn’t show. At the end of the event, they collected hugs from a beaming, Principal Sherrie Nickel.

Also beaming was keynote speaker Georgette Reed, a member of the Canadian Olympic team at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games. She shared her experiences dealing with a childhood weight issue, her success as a competitive swimmer and later as an internationally-ranked competitor in shot put. Injury and other obstacles often came between her and her dreams.

The daughter of legendary Saskatchewan Roughrider running back George Reed, Georgette Reed shared her dad’s advice.

“Whatever you do, just try your very best,” she said. “You don’t have to be the best. Just try your best every day.”

That perseverance and a solid work ethic helped her become one of Canada’s top young swimmers until injuries sidelined her.

“What is it that I’m not doing?” Reed recalls of that period. “I wasn’t always having fun. I had to do this rather than I want to do this. . . I had to be more positive.”

She eventually left swimming and took up track and field.

Reed used students to demonstrate how far she could throw a four-kilogram shot put when she started and after four years of intensive training. She spoke of the difference dedication and hard work can make, as the students were moved further and further apart in the VPES gym.

She went on to set university records that still stand, was a member of Canada’s bobsled team, and later went on to coach.

Today, working with the Edmonton Fire Department, she “helps firefighters be the best they can be physically, mentally and emotionally. . . I get a chance to help and be of service to others.”

Service to others was a theme in many of the 15 breakout sessions. In one, students from Calgary Christian Elementary discussed how a team of students head out at lunch with balls and other equipment to encourage all students to take part in games and fun. In another, students from Calgary Islamic School were leading a team-building exercise with students trying to build a tower of Sytrofoam cups without touching the cups directly. Coalhurst Elementary students led a presentation on wellness initiatives, while a student from Vulcan Prairieview shared how student volunteers raised money for an animal protection society and regularly visit a seniors’ home to read with residents.

The day ended with a 30-minute session where students met in their school groups to share what they heard and brainstorm what they might do next as student leaders.

The conference organization was led by VPES Principal Shane Cranston, who arranged for his school’s youngest students to greet guests with cheers and pom-poms, firing up the energy of attendees.

“I’ve never been to a conference before,” said Cindy Guan, a Grade 5 student at Vulcan Prairieview, as the day began. “I’m looking forward to hearing what other students are doing.”

Guan said one of her leadership roles at school is to reach out to students on the playground who are alone.

“It’s never too early,” she says of student leadership. “You are a leader in at least one thing. Even if you don’t think you have a talent, this isn’t about talent. It’s about helping others and caring for others.”