HERKIMER — Cyber bullying, drugs, unsafe sex and other topics students might not be comfortable discussing in their usual school setting were recently brought to the forefront at the 18th annual Herkimer County Youth Summit.
By having presentations, small-group discussions and collaborative project planning at the youth summit, the event acts as a way of including students in the community dialogue, said Chip Bassett, planner for the Herkimer-Oneida Counties Comprehensive Planning Program and co-chair of the youth summit.
Bassett reviews issues discussed by students, distributes the information to planning groups in the region and gives it to Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES District Superintendent Mark Vivacqua to share with local education leaders.
“It’s always interesting to see what issues they talk about,” Bassett said. “I think what’s unique about the youth summit is it takes them out of their normal environment and mixes them with students from different schools and backgrounds. It gives them the freedom of talking about whatever’s on their minds.”
About 100 high-school students attended the youth summit on Oct. 31 at Herkimer BOCES. In addition to including students from the 10 Herkimer BOCES component districts — Central Valley, Dolgeville, Frankfort-Schuyler, Herkimer, Little Falls, Mount Markham, Owen D. Young, Poland, Richfield Springs and West Canada Valley — this year’s summit also included students from the Town of Webb Union Free School District and the Herkimer BOCES Pathways Academy.
Vivacqua, who is the other co-chair of the event, opened the youth summit by welcoming students and introducing them to one of the day’s themes: technology and cyber bullying.
“Technology, it’s a wonderful thing; it’s made our lives a lot better,” Vivacqua said to the students. “The problem with technology is it’s easier to be meaner at a younger age.”
Vivacqua told students the goal is to combat cyber bullying and other issues that teenagers deal with.
“There is no trouble with bullying in schools where students care about other students,” he said.
Central Valley student Ian Wiernicki, who served as the master facilitator for the day, discussed purposes for the Youth Summit such as involving students in the community dialogue, getting kids to be active in the community, empowering students and training leaders.
“You are the ones who can change whatever you want to change,” Wiernicki said, to the other students.
Students from different schools put on presentations, which were all followed by small-group discussions. Students from various schools sat together at tables, reviewed discussion questions and reported on their thoughts.
Herkimer students Dan Adamek and Allie Giordano presented “Stopping Sexual Harassment and Cyber Bullying.” They provided definitions, reviewed local statistics and highlighted national efforts to combat the issue.
“Now, it’s time for us to take action at the local, grassroots, level,” Adamek said.
Page 2 of 2 - Central Valley students Brandon Yager, Rachael Thorp and Teigha Ward presented “Unsafe Sex.” They discussed concerns about not enough teenagers using protection during sex and whether that might be because some teens say they don’t feel like they can talk to parents or adults about the subject of sex.
The presentation advised students that they could talk to their parents, other trusted adults or Planned Parenthood.
Dolgeville students Eva Ricardo and Amanda Morse presented “Being a Good Role Model.” They discussed how students look up to older students when they are younger, so the students at the Youth Summit are probably being looked up to right now whether they realize it or not.
They talked about being a positive influence instead of a negative one and qualities of good role models such as being active in the community and not giving into peer pressure.
Challenging school issues
The last phase of the Youth Summit required students from each school to break off separately and determine an issue to focus on trying to improve at their school. Each school also identified the top four root causes of the issues, a statement of need, the top four strategies that students can undertake related to the issue and how schools and the community — including teens — can address the issue.
Students selected issues such as drugs, alcohol, bullying, harassment, drama, negative communication, apathy and planning for life after high school.
They came up with plans for addressing the issues such as conducting assemblies, organizing new groups, launching initiatives and working to set better examples.
At Central Valley, where the Ilion and Mohawk school districts merged into one starting this school year, the issue selected was meeting new people. Yager, from the previous Central Valley presentation, discussed the school’s plan.
To combat a perceived lack of interaction among students who don’t know each other, Central Valley Youth Summit students developed ideas such as having students make snowmen in the football field, hosting a field days event and starting a social club, Yager said.
“The basic idea is to try to get everybody to meet new people and not be shy and make new friends,” he said.