What happens when junior and senior high school students, from different schools and different backgrounds and with different interests, spend a Saturday together and are challenged to find ways that teens can change the world around them? They come up with some pretty amazing ideas.
Last fall, the Werklund School of Education invited students from 20 schools to join teachers and community leaders to spend a day discussing the challenges youth face today and to consider ways to make a difference — really make a difference — in their communities.
Each school group identified actions that had the potential to have an impact on their schools and communities. What they decided to do was up to them. And what they came up with? It was life-changing, not just for the students themselves, but also for the people around them.
Last week, the student groups came back together to share and discuss the social action initiatives they each undertook. While some projects are underway, others are in progress or development.
“It is exciting to see youth taking action in service of others," says Sharon Friesen, PhD, vice-dean of the Werklund School. “The various initiatives these youth undertook brought about change in their communities. When students take action at the local level, in schools or their communities, they build efficacy, agency and confidence to affect change. Providing opportunities to come together to learn together and share strategies for success is vital for all leaders, including youth leaders.”
At the recent event, the students were asked to present their projects, and to discuss the key learnings they took from leading the various activities. Following lunch, they set to work to create "thought pieces" — visual art, diagrams, written word, performance, media-based pieces — that represent their ideas on youth as agents of social change.
“While we are in the process of wrapping up this year’s youth initiatives, we are already planning for the WSE Youth Forum in Fall 2017,” says Friesen. “The schools that participated this year, along with new schools, will once again be invited to participate in the WSE Youth Forum 2017-18.”
Kainai High School students started leadership club, collaborated with elders
At Kainai High School on the Blood Reserve in southern Alberta, students have collaborated with community elders to create a safe and welcoming space in the school — including repainting and redecorating the space to better reflect a traditional home — so students can go there as needed or when they’re speaking to a school counsellor or elder. They’ve also started a leadership club in the school, have run a Mental Health week, and are hoping to focus on some initiatives related to the LGBT population in their community.
St. Mary's High School focused on caring for the homeless community
Students at St. Mary’s High School organized a Christmas Stockings of Care campaign (December) and Gloves of Care initiative (Valentine’s Day) for Calgary’s homeless community; they’ve also created food hampers for some of the needy families in the St. Mary’s community. Additionally, the students have focused on making an effort to communicate with the homeless population, to better understand them as individuals and to simply have some friendly conversation.
Western Canada High School's 200-plus members lead 'pay it forward' initiatives
At Western Canada High School, students founded the Compassion, Connection, and Community (CCC) Club. The club currently has more than 200 student members who have been leading a series of “pay it forward” initiatives in their community, including sandwich making for the homeless (more than 1,000 sandwiches have been given out by the students so far), volunteering at drop-in centres, craft-making for the YWCA for children and mothers who have experienced domestic violence, and peer mentorship programs with their local feeder schools.