Hundreds of students from across the province have converged at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton this weekend to attend ‘Speak Out’ — a conference designed to give youth a voice in their education.
The event is intended to give students the chance to share their ideas and concerns on a kaleidoscope of topics — ranging from preparing for diploma exams to dealing with bullying and mental health concerns, social media management and celebrating diversity.
While there, each attendee will also have a chance to sit down with the education minister, Jeff Johnson, for a one-on-one conversation about what matters to them.
Johnson sees these conversations as invaluable.
"We’ve [already] got the opportunity to talk to teachers and trustees and parents...," said Johnson on Friday, "but not always do we have a really good chance to sit down for a weekend and talk to students about what’s important to them."
"When we talk to the students, we get common messages... kids want to make sure they have excellent teachers in front of them that care about them... they want to be in safe, caring schools and environments. And they want a relevant education."
There's no better way to find out exactly what students want, says Heather Whitfield, a grade 12 student from High Level, Alta.
"It makes sense to have youth talking about youth issues," said Whitfield, who jumped on a plane immediately after finishing her biology diploma exam on Friday in order to attend the event.
"To be taken seriously, and to have our opinions valued and considered is really a great stepping stone for students," she said.
Emily Marriott says she agrees. Marriott, a University of Alberta student, is currently serving her second term on the Speak Out Student Advisory Council.
"I’ve met so many principals, vice principals, people in Alberta ed, news reporters — everybody listens to us, which is a really fantastic opportunity."
The conference is also an excellent opportunity to broaden students’ perspectives, says Lane Bonertz, a grade 12 student from Rocky Mountain House, Alta.
"I’m always curious to see what ideas people have [here]," said Bonertz. "There are so many different perspectives [and] there are ideas here that may have not been considered previously."
"Coming from a rural background, I felt I had a really unique perspective I wanted to bring forward and I felt what better way to do it that through Speak Out?"