GRAND BANK, NL – The population of John Burke High School in Grand Bank more than doubled this past weekend.
Approximately 260 students and teachers from 35 schools in the province converged on the school for the 2017 Provincial Student Leadership Conference.
Students were eager to participate in the many sessions and presentations planned for them. Conference co-chair Lee Masters stressed the importance of students interacting with and learning from one another.
“You will be surrounded by your peers over the next few days,” said Masters. “Engage them in conversation and meaningful discussion. Eat with them and dance with them. Find out what makes them tick. Share your commonalities and celebrate your differences.”
Jonah McGrath, a Grade 11 student at Fatima Academy, shared Masters’ sentiments, adding the conference has special significance for students from rural areas.
“What I enjoy most about the leadership conferences is meeting all kinds of new people and making friendships,” he said. “Where we come from a rural school, we don’t meet many people.
Getting out to meet new people and seeing what they are like – that’s what I enjoy most.”
Braedan McGrath, also a student at Fatima Academy in his graduating year, talked about the lasting impact conferences like this can have on the students.
“What we learn here we can take further after we graduate and use it in the real world,” he said. “We can also share our experiences with other students when we get back to school.”
Finding your fit
For some students, the focus of the conference was acceptance and, as the theme of this year’s conference suggested, “finding your fit.”
“I like to learn how different people fit in and to accept people for who they are and where they are,” explained James Poole, a Grade 10 student from St. Lewis Academy in Labrador.
John Burke High School student Zoe Hollett hoped to learn more about leadership skills.
“Sometimes I can be shy and not as confident as I would like,” she said. “I hope this conference will help me build on my leadership skills and help me be more self-confident.”
Throughout the three-day conference, students had ample opportunities to find their fit. Two keynote speakers set the tone and created perspective for students prior to their participation in the many thought-provoking sessions planned for them.
Keynote speaker Katarina Roxon, Paralympic gold medalist in the 100-metre breaststroke at the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, told the students anything is possible if they dream big and set big goals to overcome any obstacles that might face them.
Andy Thibodeau of Impact Presentations from Ontario asked the students to be an example of care and positive decisions for other people to follow.
“Don’t let other people’s negativity or ‘not getting you’ change who you are. Laugh, listen, participate, and cheer! Be a leader in the classroom, be a leader at the party for other people to follow,” he said. “Don’t let other people’s negativity change you.”
Conference co-chair Sherri Matthews noted the workshop sessions were beneficial to the students.
“The variety of workshops at our conference taught leadership and creative-thinking skills, and taught students about new clubs and activities they could set up at their own schools,” she said. “It gave them the opportunity to learn from leaders in the school, the community, the province.”
Matthews feels the conference will have a lasting effect on the students.
“One of the most important things students seemed to gain was a new network of friends with similar goals and interests,” she said. “They can easily communicate and continue to share ideas, build on them and watch them grow.”