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Students tackle high-school issues during
20th annual Youth Summit at Herkimer BOCES

Nov. 3, 2015

Video highlights from the 2015 Herkimer County Youth Summit are shown above.

HERKIMER – This year’s Herkimer County Youth Summit at Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES marked two decades of students coming together to address issues at their home schools and help inform local leaders about what teenagers are concerned about.

A report is produced from each year’s summit and shared with various planning groups and with local educators, said Chip Bassett, planner for the Herkimer-Oneida Counties Comprehensive Planning Program.

“I’ve been involved in coordinating the Youth Summit now for 20 years, and it’s one of my favorite events,” Bassett said. “It gives us an opportunity to meet with students and hear what’s on their minds, as well as sharing their ideas with other people in the community.”

The 20th Herkimer County Youth Summit welcomed students from Central Valley Academy, Dolgeville, Herkimer, Frankfort-Schuyler, Little Falls, Mount Markham, Owen D. Young, Poland, Town of Webb Union Free School District, West Canada Valley and the Herkimer BOCES Pathways Academy at Remington.

Herkimer BOCES District Superintendent Mark Vivacqua welcomed students to the Youth Summit. He said the topics students identify as important – such as civility and being kind to each other – are mostly the same as 20 years ago, when he was a principal at Poland and just starting to gain access to the Internet through Newport Telephone.

Vivacqua’s message was that students haven’t changed or become meaner over the past 20 years, but technology has changed so much that it impacts the conversation.

“What has changed is if you want to be cruel to somebody, you can be cruel to them to the world,” he said, referencing posting comments about people or photos and videos of people online. “So when we talk about civility, it’s a lot different of a discussion than 20 years ago.”

Next, this year’s Youth Summit master facilitator, Justin Jones, a junior student at Central Valley Academy, went over the plan for the five-and-a-half-hour summit.

“And just remember to have fun,” Jones said, to the other students.

To start the activities, students were split up to sit with students from other schools for icebreaker activities and discussions.

Shelly Ceglia, Frankfort-Schuyler music teacher and Youth Summit advisor, said that experience is helpful for students.

“I hope that our team takes home the ideas that they’ve heard from others,” Ceglia said. “I think that’s the best part about Youth Summit is that students get to hear that they share things with other school districts and also they have areas where they maybe are struggling where other schools aren’t or that they’re excelling where other schools aren’t.”

Later, students from each school were grouped back together to choose and define an issue at their school, brainstorm root causes of the issue, select the chief root cause or causes, develop a problem statement, brainstorm strategies, determine the best strategies, develop action plans and complete their reporting forms.

“It gives them an opportunity to talk – which lots of times with the daily grind of classroom, we don’t take that opportunity, we don’t have that much time, and it also brings a diverse group of students from within each school together to have a conversation that those students might not spend time together normally,” Ceglia said.

The school groups all leave with an action plan to implement at their home schools, Bassett said.
“We give them the opportunity to come together and think about it and come up with a plan,” Bassett said, “and let them loose.”

There were several student presentations during the event: Little Falls students presented “Stopping the Use of Smokeless Tobacco,” Herkimer students presented “Encouraging Open-Mindedness,” Frankfort-Schuyler students presented “Promoting a Caring Attitude and Caring School Environment” and Mount Markham students presented “Respecting Individuality.”

In the afternoon, guest Kelly Conroy, youth services educator from ACR Health, presented “Respecting the LGBTQ Population.” The school groups also had discussions on the topic of “building mutual respect.” Herkimer BOCES culinary and hospitality students prepared a lunch that was provided to the Youth Summit participants.

Phil Collins, a senior Pathways Academy at Remington student from Richfield Springs, designed this year’s Youth Summit logo, which features a tree with the names of all the schools eligible to participate along branches.

Collins said he spent about a week thinking about ideas for the design whenever he had spare time. The more he thought about the goals of the event, the more natural the idea of a tree became.

“I wanted a design to represent all schools coming together to branch out and learn more about each other’s schools, and then come together to find a root solution for the causes of problems,” he said.

When Collins first finished the design, however, he didn’t like it very much, but people kept telling him what a great idea it was, and then he grew to like it, he said.

“Everyone actually changed my mind on my own design,” he said.

One important message Collins hopes other students take away from the Youth Summit is to report student drug addictions to authorities even if the student is your friend. It’s better to lose a friendship over reporting drug-addicted students than for them to lose their lives because of it, he said.

“They don’t really know how to stop because it is an addiction,” he said.

Collins said that students coming together from schools across the county assists students with addressing concerns at their own schools.

“It gives everybody more of an idea of how to help others,” he said.

Jones also talked about the ways the Youth Summit can benefit the participants.

“I hope people get the experience of working together and training to become future leaders and that they take this opportunity to expand upon on it and bring it to the schools – that other community leaders and stuff will help out and embellish their ideas,” Jones said. “I hope people just bring these ideas with them wherever they go – encouraging open-mindedness as one of the ideas – and just bring it with them wherever they go.”

Ceglia said it’s “wonderful” that the students’ opinions are put into a report that is shared with community planners and educators.

“I think anytime that you can include students and youth in the decision-making and in the conversation about decision-making, that can only inform the decisions,” she said.

Students at 2015 Youth Summit
The 20th annual Herkimer County Youth Summit took place on Thursday, Oct. 29, at Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES with students from Herkimer BOCES component school districts, the town of Webb and the Pathways Academy at Remington. Pictured here, some of the students pose for a photo wearing their 2015 Youth Summit shirts with a design by Pathways Academy student Phil Collins.

Pathways Academy student Phil Collins
Phil Collins, a senior student at the Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Pathways Academy at Remington, displays the logo he designed for the 2015 Herkimer County Youth Summit on Thursday, Oct. 29, at Herkimer BOCES. Collins said he used the goals of the Youth Summit – such as students branching out by learning more about other schools and finding the root causes of issues at their own schools – as inspiration for the tree design.

Youth Summit Master Facilitator Justin Jones
Justin Jones, a junior from Central Valley Academy, served as the master facilitator of the 2015 Herkimer County Youth Summit on Thursday, Oct. 29, at Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES. Pictured here, Jones goes over the purpose and goals of the Youth Summit and the agenda for the day.

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