Students participate in a group activity during the 2019 Herkimer County Youth Summit

The Herkimer County Youth Summit at Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES is returning this year with a focus on issues that students have dealt with due to the various effects of COVID-19 on student life.

After not being able to have the Youth Summit in 2020 due to COVID-19 regulations, students said they are looking forward to a chance to talk in-person about the topics they selected for the 2021 event: mental health awareness, mindfulness and wellness.

“Especially with COVID and with everyone being isolated, it’s important to talk about mental health,” said Madilyn Connor, a West Canada Valley Central School District senior who is one of five student facilitators for the Youth Summit. “It just feels very pertinent to the times.”

The 2021 Herkimer County Youth Summit is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 27, at the Herkimer BOCES William E. Busacker Complex in Herkimer. Eight students from each of 11 districts or programs are scheduled to participate in this year’s Youth Summit.

The five students who will serve as master facilitators for the event are West Canada Valley Central School District seniors Madilyn Connor and Gianna Rutherford, Herkimer Central School District seniors Bailey Harrer and Kalista Maiorano and Mount Markham Central School District senior Kelly Cooley.

Maureen Petrie, executive director of Catholic Charities of Herkimer County, is serving as the Youth Summit coordinator. Catholic Charities of Herkimer County is facilitating the Youth Summit along with Herkimer BOCES.

The student attendees are from eight of the 10 Herkimer BOCES component districts – Central Valley, Dolgeville, Frankfort-Schuyler, Herkimer, Little Falls, Mount Markham, Owen D. Young and West Canada Valley – along with the Town of Webb Union Free School District, Herkimer BOCES Pathways Academy at Remington and Herkimer BOCES Valley Pathways in Technology Early College High School.

‘This opportunity’

Everyone involved with the Youth Summit is happy to be able to bring the event back this year and have it take place in person – with masks and other COVID-19 regulations being followed, Petrie said.

After a year and a half dealing with COVID-19, isolation and more, students will benefit from participating in the Youth Summit and sharing ideas, Petrie said.

“During COVID, I think youth need to get together with other youth and talk about what is affecting them,” Petrie said. “I’m just excited that we’re actually able to hold the Youth Summit this year. It’s important.”

Harrer said she thinks the Youth Summit is going to be a really positive experience.

“It’s very exciting to be able to get everyone in our area together in one room,” she said.

Maiorano also said she is “very, very excited” and that even though they could have figured out ways to hold the summit virtually, she’s glad it’s taking place in-person.

“I’m definitely very thrilled for this opportunity,” she said.

Cooley expects the Youth Summit to be a positive and great day. She thinks it’s important to talk about the chosen topics in-person because it’s a different feel when you can interact directly instead of from behind a computer screen.

“You definitely feel happier in person,” Cooley said.

‘Not alone’

During planning meetings, student leaders determined the topics and takeaways for this year’s Youth Summit, Petrie said.  

COVID-19 and its impacts on student life kept coming up in conversation. The students participating or their friends were dealing with anxiety, isolation and feeling overwhelmed, so mental health awareness, mindfulness and wellness were selected for the Youth Summit, Petrie said.

Maiorano reflected on many students being stuck at home and relying on social media for entertainment. Some students would post on social media about how they were struggling and dealing with their mental health, she said.

“It was almost nice to see because it let people struggling with this know they’re not alone,” Maiorano said.

Similarly, it will be beneficial for students to get together at the Youth Summit to focus on these subjects, Maiorano said. As seniors, the techniques learned will also be something they can take with them out into the world, she said.

Summit plans

The Youth Summit will aim to help students generate healthy habits such as mindfulness techniques, yoga and exercise to counteract unhealthy habits that might have developed during the pandemic, Petrie said. Some of the unhealthy habits cited are spending too much time using phones, computers, televisions and social media.

Herkimer Central School District teacher Jennifer Olds will present about mindfulness. Tayley Borden, social and emotional coordinator for the Herkimer County Prevention Council of Catholic Charities of Herkimer County, will cover mental health awareness and resources and lead students in a bracelet-making activity. Hollie Raux, wellness coordinator at Catholic Charities of Herkimer County, will lead a physical wellness activity.

The student master facilitators will lead the day, guide some activities and help lead the development of action plans for each school at the end of the Youth Summit.

A System of Care grant through Herkimer County provided funding for giveaways for students that tie into the event themes – including backpacks, shirts, coloring books, colored pencils, pop fidget toys, journals and slime, Petrie said. Herkimer BOCES District Superintendent Sandra Sherwood also has been very helpful with organizing the event, Petrie said.

‘Throughout the valley’

At the end of the Youth Summit, students from each school will develop action plans to bring ideas and initiatives to their districts and create positive change.

“The thought was, “What can we do to focus on mental health and bring that back to schools to help other students?” Petrie said.

Rutherford said she think it’s important for students to get together for the Youth Summit and discuss ideas with other students, but the action plans that are developed for each school take it to the next step.

“If we can share that with the rest of the students in school, that’s very important,” Rutherford said.

Harrer agreed that the Youth Summit itself is a great opportunity but that following through with action plans for each school is necessary.

“For all of us to get together and bring that back to our schools is very important,” Harrer said. “It’s nice to get together and share these ideas throughout the valley.”

Connor said it makes sense to allow the students at the Youth Summit to develop the ideas that can be applied at their own districts.

“We know our school situations,” Connor said.

The development of the action plans should be helpful for both students at the Youth Summit and those who weren’t able to attend, Cooley said.

“I think we all know kids who are struggling, but we don’t know how to help,” Cooley said.

The action plans will provide Youth Summit attendees with the tools to make a difference, support other students and provide positive and motivational messages, Cooley said.

The Herkimer County Youth Summit reaches close to 100 students directly, but when the action plans are taken back to the schools, the Youth Summit can impact many more students across the region, Petrie said.

“I think that has a lasting effect,” Petrie said.



Students participate in a group activity during the 2019 Herkimer County Youth Summit

Students lead a “hype up” activity for the other students in attendance at the 2019 Herkimer County Youth Summit on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, at the Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES William E. Busacker Complex in Herkimer. The 2021 Herkimer County Youth Summit on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at Herkimer BOCES will be the first one since COVID-19. The event will give students the opportunity to discuss mental health awareness, mindfulness and wellness as they deal with the many changes to student life from the pandemic.