Inspiring, motivating, confidence building – these are the words that students and staff from South Grenville District High School in Prescott, North Grenville District High School in Kemptville and Seaway District High School in Iroquois used to describe the Ontario Student Leadership Conference (OSLC) they attended last month in Niagara Falls.
From the three schools, a total of 65 students attended the conference of more than 2,000 secondary students from across Ontario.
“This conference is an opportunity for our students to network with other school leaders, build their own confidence and build their leadership skills. Not just skills to bring back to the school, but skills that will help them at home and in the community,” explained Christine Sloan, the visual arts, Indigenous arts and French teacher at South Grenville, as well as the program lead for arts, guidance, co-op and special education at the school.
The conference runs from a Sunday until Tuesday in early November in Niagara Falls each year. At South Grenville and North Grenville, this conference has become a tradition.
This was Christine’s eleventh year bringing students, and she was first introduced to it by North Grenville’s French Teacher, Guidance and Link Coordinator, Marla Campeau when she worked with her at South Grenville. For Seaway it was the first time students have attended, but Leadership Class Teacher Carrie Gilmour said it’s a tradition she too wants to start. (Link and Link Crew are student-to-student leadership and mentorship programs)
“The confidence these students came back with is amazing. Some students had not really travelled before or been away from home,” Carrie explains. “I wanted our students to have that kind of social experience. I wanted our small-town kids to experience things that are bigger than our town.”
All students described this conference as being high energy, and a Grade 12 North Grenville Student was given a special opportunity to have a hand in bringing that energy to her peers. Veronica Rusch was selected as a Spirit Leader for the conference, which meant she attended a special leadership camp in October and represented the UCDSB on stage at the conference and helped lead students from across the province in break-out sessions and large group activities.
“OSLC is an incredible opportunity for high school students across Ontario to meet each other and learn meaningful lessons about leadership. Being a Spirit Leader, I had the privilege of seeing everyone from up on stage, which gave a whole new perspective on just how excited everyone was!” Veronica said. “I definitely stepped out of my comfort space and gained a lot of confidence in doing so. I was so happy to have the support of my friends from school as well. I will never forget the experience.”
Alexis Brewer, a member of South Grenville’s Energizers (a.k.a. student council) said this conference was good for those who wanted to learn about leadership and learn what’s happening at other schools. “Students were really interested in and paying attention and not on their phones or talking,” she said.
An idea that stuck with her was when she heard of a school that had service puppies come during exams to help lower the stress and anxiety that students often get during that time.
Each school selected students to go in different ways. At South Grenville, they need to be part of Energizers; at Seaway it was a trip for the leadership class; and at North Grenville, it’s by application.
And each school funds their trips differently as well. At Seaway and North Grenville, there were optional fundraising activities that students could participate in. North Grenville also received support from the Kemptville Royal Canadian Legion – Branch 212. At South Grenville, all participating students did fundraising but Christine also applied for community grants from the Town of Prescott and Augusta Township. Students have since presented to the Prescott Town Council about their experience and will be doing the same for Augusta Township.
From ideas for charity events, school fundraisers, and school spirit activities, to community events – this conference is more than just a weekend away for students. It’s filled with opportunities for students to grow as young adults, explore life outside of their own schools and communities, and get the real-world learning experience they need to have the confidence to be true leaders at their schools.
“As a school, we got much closer. I really got to know other students from my own school and we came together and demonstrated so much school spirit,” explained Grade 12 North Grenville student Elyssa Miller. “It was so much fun!”
Her peer, Cole Sheets, added, “I walked away with new ideas for leading groups and have already used some in my Link activities. I recommend you go if you get the chance. We got to see and learn from other schools and come back with new ideas to try out in our own school.”
Marla, Carrie and Christine all said they’ve seen growth in the students who attended and are already planning for next year’s conference. “My hope, always, is that students discover personal strengths and gain confidence in themselves. I want them to come back feeling energized and excited about making a positive difference in their school community. I want them to understand that they can make a difference.”