Students from 14 Lakeland District schools congregated at Midtown Hall on Thursday for Prince Albert’s first Take the Lead! Youth Conference.
Lakeland District for Sport, Culture and Recreation (LDSCR) hosted the conference in collaboration with the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association (SPRA) and the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region (PAPHR).
Altogether, 104 participants attended the event, which seeks to help students develop leadership skills while increasing opportunities for physically active play.
“It’s peer-led physical activity, so you have older kids running physical active programs for younger kids -- leading the games, getting them involved,” LDSCR youth recreation coordinator Cassie Bendig said.
“A lot of the time it’s kids that haven’t really let their leadership skills shine before, and it’s just a new program for them to get involved with.”
A provincial initiative established in 2009, the Take the Lead! program has seen approximately 86 schools across the province take part over the last five years.
Among participating schools at the 2014 conference were four Prince Albert-area institutions -- St. Michael Community School, St. John Community School, Princess Margaret Public School and Vincent Massey Community Public School.
Other Lakeland communities represented at the conference included Porcupine Plain, Wakaw, Duck Lake, One Arrow First Nation, Muskoday First Nation, Meath Park, Rosthern, Naicam, Nipawin and Mistawasis First Nation.
“Take the Lead! has really exploded in the Lakeland District,” SPRA youth engagement consultant Tanya Murphy said, praising the work of local organizers.
“These girls are fantastic in promoting it and getting into the schools and communities at the grassroots level and actually training these youth to be leaders and to be active in their environments.”
While leadership is a major component of the Take the Lead! program, Murphy highlighted the program’s emphasis on inclusive play and having fun.
“If you don’t know how to throw a ball, you’re not really going to excel in softball and probably not want to participate,” Murphy said. “This is about every child being able to experience the fun and the benefits of physical activity without barriers, without being told, ‘No, you’re not good enough.’”
Bendig noted, “The whole point is to have fun -- get kids to play again and encourage that excitement, that movement, instead of being lazy and picking up their video games.”
Prior to dispersing for three breakout sessions, assembled students listened to a presentation by keynote speaker Kendal Netmaker.
The founder and CEO of lifestyle clothing brand Neechie Gear, Netmaker grew up on Sweetgrass First Nation in a low-income, single-parent household.
In his address to the students, he discussed many of the hurdles he had to overcome in order to attain his current success in a prominent leadership role.
Following Netmaker’s keynote speech, students broke into three smaller groups for the various sessions.
Youth leadership was the theme of Session 1, which included various activities meant to reinforce student leadership skills.
Active outdoor play was the focus of Session 2, as students participated in team-building activities while enjoying forms of play such as jumping rope and playing with hula hoops. Paralympic athlete Brittany Hudak and boxer Kristin McKay facilitated the second session.
The day’s activities culminated with Session 3, a flash mob at the Prince Albert Exhibition Centre in which students burst into the Saskatchewan Community School Association Conference being held in the building’s main hall.
This is about every child being able to experience the fun and the benefits of physical activity without barriers. Tanya Murphy
The flash mob came as a surprise to unsuspecting community school co-ordinators, who watched as a massive wave of students in colourful T-shirts flowed into the building and began dancing, performing pushups and throwing balloons in the air to the accompaniment of the Katy Perry song Firework.
“It’s teamwork, right?” Bendig said. “Everyone has to work together in order to make a flash mob happen. So if they can all incorporate everything they’ve learned today (and) work together to ‘attack’ the community school co-ordinators, then it’s going to encourage them to have a great day.”
Thus far, Prince Albert and Regina have been the only cities in Saskatchewan to hold Take the Lead! youth conferences, although Murphy noted that organizers are hoping to expand the program into other districts.
Whether Prince Albert hosts another Lakeland District youth conference next year will depend upon the reaction of teachers and youth leaders to Thursday’s event, as well as whether organizers are able to find sponsors again.
Murphy was optimistic about the possibility.
“This really blossomed in Lakeland and I don’t see it mellowing out anytime soon,” she said. “I think for sure there’ll definitely be another opportunity to do this next year.”
Additional information on the Take the Lead! program is available at www.spra.sk.ca/takethelead.