Close to 100 students attended the 2021 Herkimer County Youth Summit at Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES and developed action plans to bring back to their schools.
Students from 11 school districts and programs picked a variety of issues to focus their action plans on – including stress, bullying, respect, social interaction, expressing feelings, mindfulness, discrimination, coping strategies, mental health resources and positive affirmations.
Central Valley students, for example, came up with an action plan including creating positive affirmation posters, painting murals in bathrooms, putting up a list of coping skills in bathroom stalls and hosting a guest speaker. They hope to get approval and enact the plan by the end of the 2021-22 school year.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that in that timeline and make a difference for our schools,” Central Valley senior Gabriella Lawrence said, while presenting the plan at the Youth Summit.
Each of the districts and programs developed action plans during the Youth Summit on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at the Herkimer BOCES William E. Busacker Complex in Herkimer and will take the plans back to their schools to benefit students across the region. Youth Summit organizers will follow up with each school around March 2022 to see how the plans are going.
There were six students who served as master facilitators for the event: West Canada Valley Central School District seniors Madilyn Connor and Gianna Rutherford, Herkimer Central School District seniors Kalista Maiorano and Bailey Harrer, Mount Markham Central School District senior Kelly Cooley and Central Valley Central School District senior Gabriella Lawrence.
Catholic Charities of Herkimer County facilitated the Youth Summit along with Herkimer BOCES. Catholic Charities of Herkimer County Executive Director Maureen Petrie served as the Youth Summit coordinator. The event focused on mental health awareness, mindfulness and wellness..
The student attendees were 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.
The student facilitators and Petrie welcomed students at the beginning of the Youth Summit.
“We couldn’t have the Youth Summit last year, so I’m very excited to see all of these schools participating this year,” Petrie said.
The student facilitators organized a great day, Petrie said.
“Their hope is that what you learn today will help you be able to help other students when you bring ideas back to your schools through your action plans you develop later today,” Petrie said.
Near the end of the Youth Summit, students from the school districts and programs met in groups with their schoolmates to develop the action plans, which they then presented to the rest of the Youth Summit participants.
Action plans included many ideas such as involving school clubs, organizing interactive activities, bringing in guest speakers, having small group meetings, creating anonymous drop boxes for students to express their feelings, putting up posters in hallways and bathrooms, adding positive affirmations to morning announcements, hosting a mindfulness school event, setting up safe places to de-stress, using resources already available to students such as school counselors, providing more resources to students, hosting a self-care day for students and integrating positive messages into classrooms.
Mount Markham students decided to deal with multiple issues including healthy coping skills, mindfulness, discrimination, respect and kindness. Their action plan includes involving other students, replicating group activities that were done during the Youth Summit and other ideas such as setting up a “Zen Zone” where students can de-stress.
“If students are feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated, they can go down to the “Zen Zone” and relax,” Mount Markham senior Kelly Cooley said.
‘Your thoughts matter’
The guest speaker for the 2021 Youth Summit was Herkimer Central School District fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Olds, who talked to students about mindfulness and how she learned to use mindfulness techniques to manage anxiety.
“It’s just been a real tool for me to get through life in a more positive way,” Olds said.
Mindfulness is science-based and used by professional athletes, the military, police and others – including students in her fourth-grade class each year, Olds said.
“It’s the ability to pay attention to this moment – right here, right now – without any judgment,” she said, adding that the idea is to not attach a story or anything positive or negative as thoughts float through your head.
Research says that 10 minutes a day of mindfulness is very helpful, Olds said.
“It actively changes the pathways and neurons in your brain,” she said.
Thinking about a positive or negative experience can directly impact your body, Olds said.
“Your body will react, and you will feel like you’re back in that place,” she said. “Your thoughts matter."
Olds told students about various mindfulness tools including using breathing techniques, exercising, watching meditation videos, thinking of things that make you grateful, listening to music, eating healthy snacks, using grounding methods, taking a nap and writing in a journal.
Olds mentioned how students received journals at the Youth Summit, and she gave each student a small, symbolic rose. The flower of a rose is beautiful, but a rose also has thorns, Olds said. A rosebud, however, provides hope for the future, Olds said. She encouraged students to write in their journals based on the symbolism of the rose by writing about the good, the bad and the things that make them hopeful for the future.
That journaling technique can help students learn what makes them feel stressed, what mindfulness techniques work for them and more, Olds said.
“My biggest piece of advice to you as kids is to get to know yourself,” Olds said.
Youth Summit activities
Some light-hearted aspects of the Youth Summit included a Halloween-themed Kahoot! game, lunch for students and free giveaways provided by a System of Care grant through Herkimer County – including backpacks, shirts, coloring books, colored pencils, pop fidget toys, journals and slime.
Additionally, students received 2021 Herkimer County Youth Summit shirts, featuring a design by Herkimer BOCES Visual Communications Media Arts student Delaney Kerr, a senior from Frankfort-Schuyler Central School District.
Students also participated in three different stations hosted by Catholic Charities of Herkimer County focusing on the themes of the day.
At one station, Tayley Borden, social and emotional coordinator for the Herkimer County Prevention Council of Catholic Charities of Herkimer County, discussed mental health resources and led students in a bracelet-making activity. At a second station, Catholic Charities of Herkimer County staff discussed journaling and coping techniques and had students create bookmarks for their journals.
At the third station, Hollie Raux, wellness coordinator at Catholic Charities of Herkimer County, led a wellness activity with discussion of stress cues, positive reactions to stress and the power of positive affirmations.
“The more you repeat these positive phrases, the more your brain believes them,” Raux said.
The student facilitators for the 2021 Herkimer County Youth Summit pose together during the Youth Summit on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES. From left: West Canada Valley Central School District seniors Madilyn Connor and Gianna Rutherford, Herkimer Central School District seniors Kalista Maiorano and Bailey Harrer, Mount Markham Central School District senior Kelly Cooley and Central Valley Central School District senior Gabriella Lawrence.
The student facilitators for the 2021 Herkimer County Youth Summit introduce themselves in front of the Youth Summit on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES. From left: Herkimer Central School District seniors Bailey Harrer and Kalista Maiorano, West Canada Valley Central School District seniors Gianna Rutherford and Madilyn Connor, Mount Markham Central School District senior Kelly Cooley and Central Valley Central School District senior Gabriella Lawrence.
Herkimer Central School District fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Olds gives a speech about mindfulness to students during the 2021 Herkimer County Youth Summit on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES.
View more photos from the Youth Summit at www.facebook.com/HerkimerBOCES.