Over 480 grade eight students from Terrace, Stewart, the Nass Valley, Hazelton and Kitimat gathered for a youth summit April 27 and 28 to learn about healthy life choices.
“It was very exciting and engaging and the kids had fun… We had very positive input from teachers and principals,” said Terrace Cpl. Mike Dame, one of the organizers of the summit.
“The true measure of our success will be whether the kids take home the positive life messages.”
Calling it an “upstream approach” for raising healthy youth, Dame said the goal of the event was to equip students with knowledge and resources to make good decisions.
“Grade eight is a stage of critical decision-making for youth. Their decisions at this stage could have ripple affects on the rest of their lives. We want to give them knowledge so that when they face decisions among their peers, they know about the risks.”
Called Healthy Choices Summit, the event included professional and local speakers who talked to the youth about social media, healthy relationships, failure, tough decisions, eating, exercise, smoking and substance abuse.
School districts bussed their grade eight students in from the surrounding northern communities to the Terrace Northwest Community College longhouse for one school day.
Since the longhouse fits 250 people, the conference ran the same program both days — reaching over 480 students in the north.
Between presentations at the summit, several of the keynote speakers travelled to surrounding schools and other schools in Terrace to speak to students in other grades.
Two of those speakers were conflict coaches Tara Kowalski and Jory Faibish, who do mediation and education work around conflict resolution.
“Conflict plays such a big part of human connection,” said Kowalski. “We need to cultivate skills to resolve conflict effectively.”
She said conflict can grow and strengthen relationships, encourage learning, and develop character if done well.
Youth responded enthusiastically to an interactive session where they learned how to move conflict forward using four skills: (1) Mirroring – summarizing and paraphrasing to show that you listening. (2) Using “I” statements to take accountability for how you feel and avoid accusing. (3) Be curious and use open ended questions to seek to understand the other person. (4) Shifting – make a plan with the person about how to try to change in ways that can help avoid conflict.
“Quite often we talk about stuff, but then we don’t make an action plan moving forward,” said Kowalski. “It’s important to use all four skills because that helps move the conversation forward.”
Other presenters were local psychology professor Interpreet Sandhu speaking about building a healthy mind. Dr. Michael Cooper spoke about making tough choices to reach your goals. Two Terrace RCMP members talked about decision making and building healthy, trusting relationships.
Four professional speakers also came to speak at the summit.
International speaker Katy Hutchinson shared her story about how alcohol and drugs, peer pressure and unchaperoned, misguided choices caused devastation in her family.
Speaker Jesse Miller talked about the challenge of connecting on social media, which can be overwhelming and daunting, and how to engage in a positive, proactive way to facilitate change.
Gary Anaka is a brain coach, and talked about how people can influence over their own brain development and intentionally grow an awesome brain.
Dame said one of the highlights was all the collaboration between communities and organizations to organize the event.
“Everyone came together in an awesome way to invest in our youth and encourage them to be healthy,” he said.