This weekend Lake City Secondary School Williams Lake Campus hosted around 180 students and teachers from across the province for the annual B.C. Student Leadership Conference.
This event was organized by local leadership teachers Caitlin Sabatino of LCSS and Ryan Hanley of Columneetza along with the support and help of dozens of other teachers and students from the two schools including Jen Ives, Kim Nowotny, and Jackie Lahaise. Hanley said that the weekend was a result of around two years of planning, ever since he and Sabatino first volunteered to host the conference back in 2017 in Surrey.
“We have 23 schools represented this weekend, including our own, 150 student delegates from outside of our city and their advisors number around 30 so we have around 180 people from outside (of the lakecity),” Hanley said. “Between our senior-level spirit leaders, our junior-level crew and our staff we have over 80 people involved from our lakecity secondary school entity. So it’s really been a great activity for engaging our staff and kids in leadership.”
Hanley said he first began teaching the leadership course a few years after he came to the lakecity from Ontario in 2011, where he taught English for close to a decade. At first, it was called an ‘activity coordinator block’ where he was tasked with making sure student-run activities were happening around the school. The year following that, it became a leadership course and Hanley attended his first B.C. Student Leadership Conference.
There he said he recognized the value of connecting students who care about what goes on in their schools and want to put on events with other likeminded students across the province. Often, Hanley said, these students are not met with the same level of enthusiasm from their peers at school whereas a conference like this, however, inspires both the students and teachers in meaningful ways.
“Some of the best events and traditions that we’ve begun since (we began attending) were ones we learned about at those conferences we’ve gone to and we’re hoping that other schools have the same experience coming to our conference this year,” Hanley said.
The conference began Thursday with the first of its three keynote speakers, local author and activist Phyllis Webstad who shared her message of what allows people to overcome great adversity, Hanley said. Having her open the conference was really important in his eyes, as was the inclusion of Chief Willie Sellars of the T’exelcemc who read Dipnetting with Dad for the students.
Friday was opened up by Tyler Durman who made a connection between the way we live our lives as a story to screenwriting. Hanley said that Durman proposed that students needed to look for their “save a cat” moment to become the heroes of their story.
In between speakers and events, the students, separated into 12 spirit groups that mixed students from various schools together, got the chance to attend sessions one on one with speakers and local community members who discussed a wide range of topics including leadership, responsibility, respect and how to recognize one’s strengths.
On Friday, following these workshops, the organizers did their part to put Williams Lake on the map and set the students loose to take part in an Amazing Race style event that got them out exploring the community. Lakecity residents in the downtown core Friday afternoon might have seen bands of roving teenagers heading for landmarks like City Hall and the Boys and Girls Club.
Saturday, meanwhile, Hanley said they were out in the community once more only this time actively taking part in several service projects that directly gave back to the lakecity. These included working with compost at the Potato House, haunted house set up at the Boys and Girls Club, invasive species removal at Scout Island, stacking wood for elders at Sugarcane to name but a few, Hanley said.
“(This conference) is just to give kids a sense of the variety of ways you can serve the community, in a way that suits your personality,” Hanley said.
The conference will conclude Saturday night with a barbeque dinner provided by the Rotary Club of Williams Lake followed by a spirit group ‘dance-off’ and a VideoMax Dance Party.
While it was a hectic and anxious process to plan the conference, Hanley said he has felt a strange sense of calm ever since it began as they have been able to deal with any problems that arise easily.
“I think we’re going to look back with some very fond memories of this week,” Hanley said.
Students also enjoyed the conference, as was the case of Skye Garreau and Laura Code two leadership students that assisted Hanley in documenting the weekend with cameras. Code volunteers at the vet clinic once a week while Garreau is a member of the Bluefins and both attend Columneetza.
Code said she and Garreau, along with a few others, were picked out from their leadership class to both enjoy the event and assist in any way they could. Garreau agreed and said it was cool to get ready for the real world by working during the conference, such as when the two helped Sabatino cook food for all conference attendees.
“I thought cooking would be horrible at first but it was actually really fun. They started playing music and everyone really got into it,” Code said.
Both Code and Garreau found the speakers really interesting and inspiring to listen to and were happy they and the others were learning something new.
“It helps people stay positive in desperate times, it teaches other people that you can help others the way they may have helped you at one point,” Garreau said. “I’m just really happy I got to come.”