This past weekend, teenagers from all over the Norton Sound region participated in Youth Leader Training. Packed into Unalakleet’s high school gym, the young leaders didn’t shy away from tough topics. Over the course of the workshop, they tackled sensitive issues like suicide prevention alongside learning important skills like leadership.
Counselors at the training admit these issues can be difficult, which is why the workshop encourages taking healthy risks. Marjorie Tahbone was at the training and worked as one of two motivators to keep enthusiasm high. “They’re things that are scary; we may not want to do them, but they are things that are healthy to do, because it builds your character,” she says.
The workshop prepares participants with one big piece of advice: listen with your heart. Organizers like Carl White advise students to be actively engaged in the moment, which will help them become a community resource. He says students were elected by their peers to participate in the workshop based upon their approachability. “What we do is we ask students, ‘if you had a problem, what student would you talk to?’ And then we bring those in to the office, and then, we select students who have been selected by students.”
Equal to its focus on leadership, the weekend produces data, as well. Students take the School Climate Connectedness Survey to quantify what these future leaders are seeing in their own classrooms. Michael Isom, a school counselor at the event, says it shapes how they’re able to help students. He says “the climate survey is instrumental, because it gives students a vehicle to talk and trust some of the things they’re concerned with throughout the school year.” He says that information is utilized to start focusing in on areas students identify as needing work.
After attending last year’s session, Miriam Kulowiyi and Vadim Yenan of Savoonga hosted a barbecue for their village and put on educational presentations about different virtues and bullying. White hopes that this year’s students will bring what they learn at Youth Leader Training back to their communities.