Students learn leadership skills through humour

By 
  • February 8, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Breakdancers, beatboxers and speakers took to the stage to entertain and motivate more than 460 elementary school students for the Intermediate Leaders in Training Event Jan. 30.

The event, held at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton High School in Toronto, was the first leadership conference of its kind for Grade 7 and 8 students in the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

After students were led in a morning prayer, Bilaal Rajan, a 12-year-old motivational speaker and published Toronto author, encouraged students to follow their dream of making a difference.

“People see things and ask ‘why.’ We must dream of things and ask ‘why not,’ ” he said. “This is more than a youthful dream. This is our destiny.”

Rajan, also a youth representative for UNICEF Canada , has been raising thousands of dollars to help children and disaster victims overseas since 2001. He told The Catholic Register that students could more easily relate to his messages because he fits in with the crowd.

“Because I’m their age, instead of an older person going to their school, they don’t say ‘oh that person has more experience than me.’ I’m their age so they know they can do it too.”

After his opening address, the crowd of young faces was entertained by a performance called “A Whole New Perspective” by Stuart Knight Productions.

The two actors used humour, beatboxing and personal stories to encourage the students in eliminating stress, letting go of their fears and following their dreams.

Andrea Carbonell, a Grade 7 student at St. Dunstan Catholic School, came for the day with 20 other students from her class.

“It’s pretty fun, a lot to learn,” she said. “You learn a lot about self-esteem.”

Carbonell said her teacher had actually prepared her class beforehand by teaching the students about having self-respect and respect for others.

After the morning presentations, the students broke into groups for 23 workshops. A variety of topics were explored, including clothes and where they’re made, activities to activate friends at recess, universal truths, initiatives to address safety concerns, online behaviour, Me to We leadership and more. Two workshops offered by Office of Catholic Youth staff addressed leadership from a specifically Catholic perspective: one offered fun facts about the Catholic Church and involvement at Mass, with a show and tell of sacred objects and altar vestments. The second was a presentation on how to take advantage of digital media, for web sites like YouTube and Facebook, responsibly as a Catholic leader.

More workshops were offered in the afternoon after a talent show by high school students that included breakdancing, magic acts and musical performance.

Steve De Quintal, a teacher at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton, said the conference was important for showing students from Catholic elementary schools what the next level had to offer.

“I always felt there was a gap,” he said, referring to the transition from elementary to high schools. “I wanted them to experience Catholic leadership.”

The event was orchestrated by Catholic high school students from across the board who make up the Catholic Student Leadership Impact Team under the leadership of student trustee James Dempsey.

“There’s a huge leadership culture at the high schools and we’d like to push that culture to elementary schools,” said Michael Consul, the board’s co-ordinator of elementary school leadership. “The goal is to have them network with other students and teachers across the board and learn new leadership skills that motivate them to take action and make a change in their schools and communities. And also to help them transition into high school.”

The school board plans to host a similar conference Feb. 26 for north and east end schools.

It will take place at Blessed Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School in Scarborough. Consul said they hope to make it an annual event.

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