Nearly 20 students from Brooks and Julian middle schools joined peers from across the near west suburbs for the second annual Youth Leadership Conference on Friday, Nov. 3. The event was led by Oak Park and River Forest High School students and hosted by the West Suburban Consortium for Academic Excellence in Summit, IL.
Julian and Brooks students rode the bus together and spent the morning participating in team building activities with peers from other districts. District 97 student participants were selected based on a demonstrated commitment to making their school a great place to learn and grow.
“We got there, went into a big gym, and found our partners,” said Mekhi, a seventh-grader at Julian who attended the conference. “We played games, ate, and showed off our team cheer. My team won.”
Team building activities included blindfolded dodgeball, cross the river, and other team building exercises that required communication and teamwork. Mekhi said break dancing and doing the worm during his team’s share out may have had something to do with their victory.
“After that, we went into a room and talked about how we can make our schools better. And then we came back and talked to the important people at our school,” said Mekhi.
At Julian, those important people included Tequila Butler, Associate Principal of Teaching, Learning and the Arts, Julie Eble, administrative assistant and Student Leadership Team sponsor, District 97 Assistant Superintendent of Middle Schools Dr. Luis Fernando De Leòn and District 97 Chief Learning Innovation Officer Dr. Eboney Lofton.
The Brooks staff team included Principal April Capuder and seventh-grade Individuals and Societies teachers and student council sponsors Kelly Belmont and Anna Kinnaman, along with De León and Lofton.
“It was a big eye opener,” said Brooks eighth-grader Jayden of his experience at the conference. “I learned that it is not just my peers and teachers around me, but an even bigger community.”
Loie, a seventh-grader at Brooks and communications and public relations representative for Brooks Student Council, said her team discussed ways to increase kindness among the student body at Brooks.
“We talked about building a community and a culture where everyone is nice to each other,” Loie said. “Instead of the people who are mean being dominant, we talked about how our school could be a place where kind people are in the majority, where we could build each other up instead of breaking people down.”
Julian seventh-grader Veronica said school climate and culture came up in their school-based discussion too, as well as peer influence and the pressure to follow the crowd.
“There are people at our school who think they are better than everyone else,” Veronica said. “We talked about how everyone is equal, well how they should be.”
The conference gave students time to talk about issues and concerns impacting their school. They also had time to brainstorm solutions and ideas to address these challenges.
“Maybe there could be a leadership course at Julian, so more people are leaders and not followers,” Mekhi added. He and his peers are looking to inspire a mentality shift in their school, creating change on the inside. “I used to follow this guy around,” Mekhi said. “Now I make my own decisions.”
For Jayden, the big takeaway from the conference was the power of community. “You can’t just do this alone. You have to collaborate with everyone, be open-minded, hear different ideas, understand different ideas,” Jayden said. “It’s about really understanding and opening, and not thinking it just depends on you.”
2023 WSCAE Conference Brooks Student Participants
2023 WSCAE Conference Julian Student Participants