The impact of bullying. Managing feelings of isolation. Lessons on Internet and cellphone safety. Self-discovery and goal setting. Avoiding unhealthy behaviors.
These are just a few of the important topics that seventh grade students across York and Adams counties receive during special one-day leadership conferences each October.
Supported by WellSpan, the annual young women’s and young men’s leadership conferences in both counties are designed to educate, encourage and empower young people.
Seventh grade girls and boys are the focus of the conferences for a reason. Research shows that self-esteem among kids often declines around seventh-grade.
“It’s a really difficult time in their life as they’re growing up,” said Dianne Moore, RN, manager, Women’s Health and Clinical Quality, WellSpan, who helps to coordinate events in both counties. “We’re trying to plant seeds with some positive messages about reaching their greatest potential and about the importance of being a leader and finding positive ways to give back to others within their community.”
At both young women’s conferences, held respectively at Gettysburg College and York College, the girls listen to a keynote presentation on important topics and then attend workshops on issues ranging from health and body image to peer pressure and healthy relationships to career choices.
The speeches and workshops give the students “take-home” messages. Every topic is aimed at this age group. Each presenter provides a take-home message that enhances the students’ personal leadership and their wellness.
Separate, same-day leadership events for the boys feature a keynote speaker and guests who discuss key issues aimed specifically to the male audience.
The young people who experience the events have shared how it allowed them to talk openly about the common problems they face, like friendship and relationship issues, reaching their goals and overcoming self-consciousness.
Students have shared personal stories on the challenges of breaking away from a crowd and forging their own path. The conference teaches students about following their dreams and finding ways to make those dreams a reality.
They also learn that their dreams can sometimes be clouded by unhealthy behavior - like using drugs or alcohol, developing eating disorders, joining a gang or being involved in unhealthy friendships or relationships.
“The age group is mature enough to absorb the information and start building a foundation for lifetime skills and good decision-making,” said John Wagner co-chair of the planning committee for the Adams County leadership conferences.