Youth Leadership Institute Students Bring Experience and Strength

Student dances during YLI welcoming.

By Konrad Frank, Community Engagement Educator

Gunalchéesh, thank you to everyone who attended and gave us support for another successful year at the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI).

The youth leadership institute is successful due to the collaboration with students, school districts, Elders, community partners, and of course the coordination of AASB staff.

We greatly appreciate the time and efforts that came from both our students and presenters.

In our short, but productive time together, the Initiative for Community Engagement team and chaperones had the opportunity to watch our youth grow socially and produce great work.

“Watching the kids grow in many ways, including leadership skills, and meet new friends, gave me hope for the future of our community and state.”    – YLI Chaperone

Students had opportunities to interact, network and build relationships with both other students and adults throughout the conference. We intentionally provided supports for students and for chaperones throughout the conference to grow and challenge themselves to take healthy risks.

Elder Liz Sunnyboy takes part in a YLI activity.

The institute began with icebreakers and team-building exercises where we saw students just begin to build relationships through low-risk activities.

Next, we students were able to build their confidence slowly by practicing opportunities to use their voice while advocating for themselves, their peers and communities. We offered two separate workshops that gave students opportunities to use their voice comfortably, yet challenged them to step out of their comfort zones. One workshop offered by Trey from Diff3r3nt by D3sign taught spoken word poetry. Their final product was a powerful collaborative poem about leadership which students presented together in one voice.

YLI student orators perform at the Saturday Awards Banquet.

The second workshop focused on the skill of oratory. While preparing for this workshop I remembered growing up in a small community where I was comfortable with everyone. Even on our basketball trips, we saw familiar faces that made it easy to be social and take healthy risks. And once I went to college with a whole new setting and social structure, I suddenly lost my ability to be social or present simple class projects. But with the healthy nurture and support of an academic counselor who challenged me to take those risks, I felt strong enough to put myself out there, to do public speaking and grow more confident each time the opportunity presented itself. So I wanted to recreate that feeling in our short time together.

With the understanding that we cannot talk about that which we do not know or understand, I gave students the option of selecting a value that was important to them and telling the story of that value. With healthy feedback, some structure, and simple conversations in small groups, I watched these students grow in just two sessions. I always tell myself not to be surprised with what our next generation produces when it comes to working for the future, but they still amaze me nonetheless.

2nd Year YLI student Duncan Okitkun performs during the Sunday luncheon.

At the end of the last session, we gave students an opportunity to present on a little larger platform in front of their peers who attended the workshop if they wanted. Public speaking is one of the most difficult activities to do and something that took me some time to craft. Yet, we had students who were quiet the whole conference take the chance and speak to their values, teachings, and teachers.

It’s difficult to brag about any particular students because they all impressed me with their progression. And that was the goal. Regardless if they took the opportunity to present to a larger crowd, as long as they were getting more confident each time. I’m proud of each of them.

“It was really fun and I enjoyed making new friends. I learned so much and I really appreciate how the teachers and adults are willing to listen and help you.”    – YLI student participant

Claudia Plesa organized much of the Youth Leadership and she really enhanced the final part of our time together focusing on projects that each student wanted to bring back to their district/region.

Most students already come with understandings of challenges that may be facing their community and schools. So we wanted students to have this chance to work together, discuss and present their projects to their peers and ask for support with healthy critiques and suggestions. Students impressed. One group of students focused on building relationships between students and faculty. They recognized that trust has to be there in order for them to be successful academically. Another had a vision and goal to help make students in their district feel worthy, that they mattered. Recognizing that both good relationships and building a sense of worth can be good for their schools and communities.

YLI students came up with projects to take back to their communities and implement in their local schools.

All of the students brought their experiences and put their full selves into the work we did. With meeting them where they are at and building on their current strengths, students have produced and progressed these few days together. It was an honor to listen and watch them work. And am looking forward to doing it again next year. Gunalchéesh, thank you for taking the time to read my story.

“I had a great first experience and learned lots, and would love to attend it again!”    – YLI student participant

# # #