Teen Leadership Summit rallies schools to target problem areas
Connectedness was the watchword of the day for nearly 150 students at the 2019 Teen Leadership Summit. Connections to people, to hobbies, to clubs, to faith groups – all networks are crucial. “When we build relationships, good things happen,” said facilitator Joe Markiewicz, a national youth trainer and consultant with Building Stronger Communities. “You need to take care of yourself first. If you’re not strong and healthy, you can’t help your school and community,” he reminded the teens. “Make good choices. We’re asking you to become a positive change agent.”
The three-hour blitz of information, conversation, and brainstorming spurred the students to formulate action plans to address the most pressing challenges in their schools and foster a more positive environment. Some of the big issues were substance abuse, depression/suicide, dropouts, delinquency, pregnancy, violence, and homelessness. The students realized many Lexington schools face the same broad concerns, while others struggle with specific problems. What the group had in common was their desire to make a difference.
“Students interact on a more personal level and might listen to other students. They can get the message through more clearly,” said Ashton Harris, an eighth grader at Tates Creek Middle. Taya Stamper, a junior at Henry Clay High School, agreed. “I’m always super afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing, but it’s coming from everyday students. It’s someone on your level who’s going through the same stuff every day and is tempted with the same things,” she said.
Markiewicz asked the groups to skim survey data from Kentucky Incentives for Prevention (KIP) and prioritize the problem behaviors at their school. He also covered the 40 Developmental Assets to identify buffers such as tiers of support, boundaries and expectations, constructive use of time, commitment to learning, and a positive identity. “That list is the main thing schools need to focus on – 40 main things a school needs to become a loving and caring community,” Ashton said.
After lunch, the 11 teams sketched out plans to take back to their respective schools: Beaumont, Bryan Station, Morton, Leestown, Lexington Traditional Magnet, Tates Creek, and Winburn middle schools; Bryan Station, Henry Clay, and Paul Laurence Dunbar high schools; and Martin Luther King Jr. Academy.
Taya noted two issues at Henry Clay are students feeling unsafe on campus and using e-cigarettes. “We want to do safe talks where you can come talk if you do have a problem,” she said. “We also want to do positive messages every morning and do community service to help freshmen get acquainted with the school so everyone overall feels safer.”
Tates Creek Middle has an ambitious slate, too. “The leaders from the summit will try to create a network to provide more peer support for students who are being bullied or feeling down,” Ashton said, calling it Commodores CAN (Connect And Navigate). Another idea is to make a video to spotlight positive aspects from the three schools on the Tates Creek campus. Third, Ashton said students might call for less time on social media and more in-person interaction, which could avert cyber bullying. Finally, TCMS plans to post one of the 40 assets on the school’s marquee each month. “We need to include everybody,” Ashton said. “All students matter. All students have a heart to be filled with love at school.”
The Youth Services Centers in Fayette County Public Schools coordinated the summit, along with sponsors Drug Free Lex and New Vista. “Communication is key,” said Paula Caise, the YSC coordinator at Henry Clay for 19 years. “Kids getting together and brainstorming is positive, and they’re staying up to date with what’s going on.”
New Vista’s John Broadus agreed that student initiative is the crux. “The goal is for our young people to learn to do prevention work from their perspective. Their experiences are much different from the adult lens,” he said. “Prevention works best when they express what they see, identify issues in their community, and are galvanized to bring forth the change we know is needed.”