Leadership conference leaves students inspired

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Students search for their name tags at the registration desk for Palliser Regional Schools' student leadership conference, "Discover U."

LETHBRIDGE – Her eyes opened to the possibilities and duly inspired, Annalise Bexte left “Discover U” ready to make a difference.

The County Central High School student said her first experience at Palliser Regional Schools’ student-led, student leadership conference was definitely worthwhile.

“I’m quite excited to take some of the ideas back to my own school and maybe try to incorporate some of it,” said the Grade 8 student from Vulcan.

Palliser’s third annual conference saw nearly 450 students from across the division share ideas on ways to create positive change in their own school and their community at large.

Robert Strauss, Chair of Palliser’s Board of Trustees, challenged the students to take what they learned at “Discover U” and put it into action.

“Leadership cannot just be spoken about, it must be lived,” he told the audience of Grade 7-12 students, adding leaders can make a difference not by doing the “big, exciting things” but all the little things on a daily basis.

That message wasn’t lost on Agatha Reimer, a Grade 11 student at Picture Butte High School.

“After being at this conference I feel like going back to my school I can do a lot of things; just the little things like saying ‘hi’ to people in the hall that I’ve never met before, or just whatever I can do to help,” she said.

Reimer’s favourite breakout session – all were planned and presented by a team of student leaders – was about volunteering and how the opportunity not only creates new relationships but also promotes personal growth.

Ten presentations were available to the students, with topics including creating a culture of gratitude, taking risks and celebrating small victories, and getting out of your comfort zone.

The event was the third for Michael Schultz, but his first as a presenter. He and his Calgary Christian Secondary School team put on a session called “Weed Whackers – getting rid of old thinking and being more innovative.”

"We led kids through some key steps to solve problems: to identify the issue; find people around you to solve it; making a tangible plan; looking outside yourself; and finally re-evaluating to always keep improving,” said the Grade 11 student.

The highlight for Bexte was motivational speaker Phil Boyte, who provided student organizers a day earlier with skills to better engage with their audience. In his opening address he explained the difference between being a willing learner and an eager one, and how presenters can feed off the energy of their audience to provide the best session possible. Through fun activities and anecdotes Boyte also taught the students how to develop a positive climate and culture in their school.

The opportunity to meet and share ideas with new friends was appreciated by Reimer. For the first time the conference included students from another school division. The contingent of 10 students from Medicine Hat High School included Kaela Pinangay, who hopes her school division might consider hosting a similar event in the future to promote change.

“I plan to promote equality in our school because there are lots of international students in our school, so it is about time for international students to be part of the change that we want in our school,” said the Grade 12 student from the Philippines.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Find the Strength in Us.”

Palliser’s strength is in its diversity, said Associate Superintendent Ken Garinger. In quoting “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” author Stephen Covey, he said synergy – where the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts – can only be achieved when we value each other’s differences.

“In other words, when we work together, amazing things can happen,” said Garinger.

Students will meet again in the spring to discuss the projects which the conference inspired.