The group from Crescent Heights High School, Maia Petersen, Katelyn Olson and Nicole Moore with teacher Heather McCaig, in St. John, N.B. They had the opportunity to go whale watching and saw minke whales, seals, porpoises and other East Coast wildlife.–SUBMITTED PHOTOSamantha Johnson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Three leadership students from Crescent Heights High School attended the recent five-day Canadian Student Leadership Association conference in St. John, N.B., the first in-person one since 2019. A transformative, life-changing experience for students and educators alike, the event brings together students from across Canada to collaborate and develop their leadership skills.

It was the first time Grade 11 students Katelyn Olson and Maia Petersen had been to the East Coast, which was an experience in itself.

“Going over there we are surrounded by bodies of water and they get so much more rain so all the trees are green and they have red trees, very different,” said Olson.

At the conference, students attended workshops to hear inspirational speakers and other passionate students.

“It was an amazing opportunity I’ll remember for a lifetime and I’m so grateful to have got to attend. I will have lifelong friendships, it taught me how to work better to create a better community, how people are diverse and how to work with a variety of people,” explained Olson. She particularly appreciated how all the 700 students wanted to be there and make a difference.

“To come together and see a variety of perspectives and ideas makes an impact and you can see you aren’t the only one and if you work together, you can make a change,” Olson added.

Finding a community of people was a particularly valuable aspect of attending the conference for Petersen.

“Knowing there are people like me in other schools. I always think of myself as a person in a sea of people who don’t care about anything,” she explained. “When you are there surrounded by all these people and they are all cheering and laughing and doing positive things to make an impact, I took away there are more people like me in different schools, there are students like me trying to make a difference across the country and I’m not an anomaly.”

Each student was assigned a spirit group composed of 15-20 students who would get together to discuss what each are doing in their communities. Petersen’s created a group chat and they continue to check in with each other on a daily basis.

“This conference has been vital for our school for lots of reasons, our leadership program was developed because of this conference,” explained leadership teacher Heather McCaig. “When we as adults get to go, we also network with people across the country and get to see what is going on in other buildings. In 2005 when we went, it was the first time we were we exposed to the conference and we didn’t know leadership could be a class.”

There are approximately 300 students from Grades 7-12 taking leadership classes at Crescent Heights. The school was limited to allowing only three of those students to attend the national conference.

“They have to be in the class or on student council to go and we look at leadership qualities and what they will bring back and implement after the conference,” said McCaig. “We work with students to ensure financial need doesn’t prevent them from going.”

During the pandemic the conference was held virtually and 10 students attended, but the in-person experience is more rewarding.

“I am so proud of what these girls did when they were there and how they acted, the light you see in them when they are down there, as Maia said, with their people, is such a different thing than they get to experience here,” concluded McCaig.

Vice-principal Aga Desjardins has attended the conference three times in the past and says the experience was a highlight of her teaching career.

“When you get to experience that energy and leadership, it’s a feeling you can’t describe unless you’ve been there and can feel that positivity and inspiration,” said Desjardins. “You not only have the most inspired student leaders in the country, you have 200 of their teacher advisers that attend as well … it’s an opportunity for Heather to network with like-minded colleagues and generate some new ideas.”

By Samantha Johnson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Nov 08, 2023 at 21:52

This item reprinted with permission from   Medicine Hat News   Medicine Hat, Alberta

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