Palliser students gain leadership lessons

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Keynote speaker Cassie Hawrysh addresses Palliser's Student Leadership Celebration

CALGARY - The Student Leadership Celebration was both inspiring and motivational. More importantly, for students like Elzet Fourie Palliser Regional Schools’ fall leadership conference and the follow-up event Thursday were a learning experience.

The Grade 10 student at Picture Butte High School said one thing became very evident to her. Leadership doesn’t come easy.

“You always have to think about everybody else and it’s really difficult to come up with an activity that everybody will enjoy,” said Fourie, whose school leadership group tried to boost respect between students in differing grades. “I learned you have to try and include everyone’s feelings, which is kind of hard.”

As Fareeha Siddiqui and school mates at the Akram Jomaa Campus of Calgary Islamic School tried to tackle bullying, she learned being a leader isn’t a “one-man show” like she first envisioned.

“You always need someone there, whether it be a teacher, whether it be friends or whether it be peers,” said the Grade 10 student, who only saw significant change in the issue once the entire school bought in. “I learned that nothing can be done alone, and all you need is just a little bit of help and support to help you overcome these things.”

Both the conference and the wrap-up celebration at Heritage Christian Academy in Calgary were designed to hone students’ leadership skills and help them make a positive difference in their own school.

The fact students chose the issue to be addressed and came up with their own action plan shouldn’t be overlooked, said Palliser Superintendent Kevin Gietz.

“The students, you must be heard. Thank you for this opportunity to listen to you,” he told the crowd of more than 300 Grade 7-12 students from across the school division.

 Before students explained their projects and shared their recipes for success, they were offered some thoughts on vision by keynote speaker Cassie Hawrysh. The Calgary-based skeleton racer was an alternate for Canada’s team at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games and has her sights set squarely on the 2018 Olympics.

Vision is not only a critical component for every leader, Hawrysh said every single journey demands a vision. It provides direction and helps one focus his/her attention on what matters most to achieve that goal.

Her vision had nothing to do with hurtling head-first down an “iced-up hallway” at speeds of up to 140 km/h without benefit of brakes.  Hawrysh was “insanely passionate” about volleyball and hoped to play while attending university but her path took several unexpected turns before leading her to skeleton racing.

“Even when we think we know exactly what we want, who we want with us, and where we’re going to be at the end of it, life throws you a curveball,” said Hawrysh, adding she’s come to realize the climb along the way is what fuelled her journey. “So while it might not be obvious today or tomorrow, you really might be grateful that things didn’t work out the way you wanted.”

The leadership celebration saw long-time Trustee Don Zech bring Board greetings on behalf of Chair Colleen Deitz, who said “leadership plants seeds, nourishes growth and steps back to let others shine.”

In this case, it was certainly the students who shined, said Pat Rivard.

“You guys light me up,” said Palliser’s Associate Superintendent. “You give me the ’why’ as to why I do my work, and I can’t say enough.”

Among the school action plans on display at the celebration were:

  • R.I. Baker Middle School in Coaldale showed off its breakfast club by serving smoothies
  • Arrowwood Community School is making a “buddy bench” to increase student interaction
  • Noble Central School in Nobleford initiated a  teacher of the month award
  • Carmangay Outreach School launched a community food bank campaign
  • County Central High School addressed school participation and respect through a “chain of kindness”

Palliser is well on its way to establishing a “culture of leadership,” said Rivard, as the division comes off two very successful events and readies itself for a leadership conference at Vulcan’s Prairieview Elementary School April 28, the first-ever for students in Grades 4-6.

“You can go on and on in terms of the people we have to thank, but you have to start with the kids themselves. They demonstrated the commitment to be able to take on these projects and follow through on them,” he said.

School principals, meanwhile, saw the value of student leadership and really bought into the events, noted Rivard, who also thanked community support including major sponsors Royal Bank Canada, KPMG and Xerox.