Chatham Christian School (CCS) hosted its second annual GLOW Grade 8 Leadership Day, welcoming 87 students from seven schools for a day of fun and deep thinking about how to shine within their own communities.
The day challenged students to consider how they can be a leader and a light in their community right now—without waiting until they reach high school or graduate. The event took place Nov. 14 from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and featured a guest speaker, three workshops, a pizza lunch and time to discuss and reflect with one another.
“We want kids from the community to feel like they can come away from that day empowered to go out and do something in the community,” says Laura Swan, CCS vice-principal and GLOW organizer.
The energy throughout the day was high, kicked off with students receiving glow sticks and face painting upon their arrival. Many students danced and sang along to a music video featuring a song called Glow, where the words are displayed on the screen from sparklers.
CCS is a Kindergarten to Grade 12 school. In addition to its own Grade 8 students participating in GLOW, Grade 9 to 12 students were invited to sign up as volunteer student leaders to help organize and run the event.
Grade 9 CCS student Martha participated in GLOW last year, and this year was a student leader. “It was great to see all the schools come together and have this awesome day, they all got to work together and learn a lot of leadership skills and meet new people they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Martha says.
“Maybe we made a difference with GLOW, I think its a cool opportunity that could lead to other things,” she adds.
The idea of a leadership day for Grade 8 students formed last year when Ms. Swan learned that the membership wanted to engage more with the wider community. About 40 students attended the inaugural GLOW, with five schools represented.
The growth this year was partly due to positive word-of-mouth and also increased promotion. CCS spread the word through a ministerial church network, the public radio and UCB (Christian) radio stations, outreach to various schools and the homeschooling network. Anyone who heard about the day could register a Grade 8 student to attend.
Strathroy Christian School, Maranatha Christian Academy, Wallaceburg Christian School and CCS’s own Grade 8 students participated in the event, as well as students from three public schools, a student from Laurentian Hills Christian School in Kitchener and some homeschooling students.
With CCS being in a smaller, remote community, having an event that brings together students from such a large network provides an opportunity for CCS students to realise they can make an impact and reach out to people beyond the immediate community, Ms. Swan says. The wider community also gets to experience the Christian school.
“It allows us to share what’s happening in here with a bigger audience and engage people in the community with what our school is all about,” she adds.
GLOW day engaged community volunteer partners as speakers and workshop leaders. Pastor Tom LaBonte shared a motivational message. Born with a disability, Mr. LaBonte says he has overcome circumstances and God is using him as a leader.
“I wanted the students to know leadership isn’t something you’re born with, it’s something you learn, you gain skills—no matter how unlikely you may be God can still use you as a leader in your context,” Mr. LaBonte says.
He broke his message down into the “ABC’s of leadership,” A for Attitude and the way you see the world, B for Belief and your principles and values, and C for Community and the people you surround yourself with. Sharing the concepts in this accessible way resonated with students, and many mentioned Pastor LaBonte’s talk as a highlight from the day.
After Pastor LaBonte’s message participants broke into three groups to circle through workshops. Mark Reinhart from the Thames Art Gallery and the CK Youth Engagement Programme led an interactive workshop using yarn bombing, with students wrapping yarn around objects to create a visual network of the ideas presented. The exercise was a colourful example of how art can exist anywhere and is supported through collaboration and interconnectivity. Mr. Reinhart says the workshop maximizes participation.
“Engagement levels were high, rooted in a sense of curious play that forced them to move and think compassionately with each other as they created their shared yarn environment,” he tells the OACS News.
Erica Kitchen from the United Way of Chatham-Kent led a session on volunteerism in the community and what it means when organizations are non-profits. Wallaceburg Christian School Grade 8 student Sydney says learning about volunteering at GLOW made her want to volunteer more for non-profit organizations, such as her school’s thrift store.
CCS’s own student leaders ran a workshop in the gym, leading participants through collaborative team-building competitions using mats. Pastor LaBonte notes the activity was interesting to witness. “It was so cool to watch the kids figure it out and see whose role is what and how they get there quicker. Watching them fail, of course, but then watching them succeed.”
At the end of the day, participants were given a postcard and wrote their own personal commitments to the ABC’s of leadership. The cards will be mailed to the students later in the year as a reminder of their commitments.
The visiting Grade 8 students learned about leadership, while the 13 CCS Grade 9-12 volunteer students demonstrated leadership in action as they facilitated the event. The student volunteers signed up for various responsibilities, and a shared online document outlined the schedule for the day. Ms. Swan enjoyed seeing the student leaders lead the Grade 8 groups in conversation and utilize their own skill sets.
“I love student voice, student agency and giving students control over their learning,” Ms. Swan says. “I am a huge fan of education outside the classroom, so I see these things we do at school as opportunities for students to be learning.”
After the participants left, Ms. Swan and the student leaders debriefed about the day. She asked them what skills they had used that could be put on a resume, bringing to light how the students were using their own leadership skills throughout the day. After the debrief, despite being tired from the energy they put into the day, the leaders took care of what clean-up was still needed.
“It is really encouraging to see (the student leaders) have that responsibility and to take that initiative because they are invested, because they see the value of the day,” Ms. Swan says.
Grade 12 CCS student Jamie used her communication skills as emcee for the day. “While having other people learn about their leadership it also taught me about my own leadership, which was also really cool,” she says.
Jamie recalls when she was in Grade 8 feeling awkward to let go and be out of her comfort zone, which made her want to encourage the participants. As the person in charge of music and the first to talk to the group she felt the importance of her role in setting the right tone for the day. “I allowed myself to be a role model for them, so they could see it’s OK to have fun,” Jamie says.
She enjoyed helping to keep them energized during the day, for example, when she needed their attention she created a chant calling the letters “G-L” with the participants shouting back “O-W!” The chant caught on, as Jamie saw a participant and his friends using it during their lunch.
Jamie planned what she wanted to say throughout the day. Being closer in age to the Grade 8’s then the teachers or guest leaders, she notes she was able to relate to them and share her thoughts on leadership. “I think it was important that I had that freedom, so I could give that perspective,” she says.
Shortly after GLOW day Jamie saw some of the participating students at a volleyball game. They approached her and told her how much fun they had. “It made me feel so good because I helped that happen, I was a part of that,” Jamie says.
Ken VanMinnen, CCS head administrator, gives credit to Ms. Swan’s efforts and says having the high school students step into leadership roles showed the younger students how leadership is reachable. He sensed the participants wanted to be at the event—more than just a day away from school—and says having them be exposed to ideas and think about what’s upcoming in their lives and who they are going to be is beneficial.
Inviting all Grade 8 students into the school that day and having so many schools represented brought a spirit of collaboration and connection beyond the immediate CCS community.
“Fundamentally, our school serves the Chatham Kent community,” notes Mr. VanMinnen. “When we do any event, we will invite our geographical community because they may be interested, rather than just assuming we know who are people are.”
Matt Charron, Grade 7/8 teacher at Wallaceburg Christian School, has attended both GLOW events and appreciated seeing CCS collaborate with both Christian and public schools.
“For some (students), this is their first foot into the door of Christian education, so to see something completely different and unique I think it is cool,” he says.
Pastor LaBonte also says seeing the different schools come together for the event was notable, as was the topic of leadership.
“You look at our culture right now—we lack leadership, we lack leadership with integrity and honesty so to stop for a day and at least try to set the future a bit better than it is today is a beautiful thing,” he says. “I hope this event keeps going for years to come.”
GLOW day convenes youth in an environment that encourages them to have fun and be challenged through team building exercises and personal reflection. It provides youth with a meaningful and memorable experience and presents important concepts around leadership in an accessible way. Just as the Grade 8 participants were encouraged to let their lights shine bright in their communities, the CCS high school volunteer leaders demonstrated how they are already living that concept. To learn more about GLOW and next year’s event, contact Ms. Swan at the school to be added to the information list: www.chathamchristian.ca.