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Reaching out to connect

Youth Summit lets students take part in respect-building activities

Posted: October 21, 2009 10:16 p.m.
Updated: October 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Student Michael Fleischmann, left, of Rio Norte Junior High School meets Tyler Tran and Damaris Herrera of Castaic Middle School as they participate in an activity.

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The Sports Complex Activities Center was buzzing with activity Wednesday morning as children played games and ate snacks with friends.

The games and activities weren't just for having fun. They were part of the city's annual Youth Summit, which teaches students how to become responsible in and out of the classroom. The event this year focused on teaching students the importance of respecting their peers and themselves.

About 350 middle school students from the William S. Hart Union High School District and Castaic Middle School participated in the event. Students split into four groups and participated in a variety of activities.

In one room, West Ranch High School ASB students Kaia Helana and Robert Viramontes were directing four conga lines. Each line played rock, paper, scissors as they moved around the room.

As students bumped into each other, they had to introduce themselves and play a round of the game.

In another room Steven Peters and Favian Guzman sat students in a circle, and had each one say something they liked about the person sitting to their right. The high school students made sure to get the junior high students out of their comfort zone, and tried they to get them to meet as many kids as possible.

"The canyon is really diverse," Guzman said. "This allows kids from across the canyon to meet and talk with each other, and have fun."

This was the third year high school students have been involved with the youth summit program, said Janine Prado, community services administrator for the city's community services division.

The high school students are crucial to programs like these because they can better relate to younger students who don't always feel comfortable interacting with adults, said Greg Lee, diversity coordinator for the Hart district.

"When we didn't have high school students involved, we realized there was a disconnect," Lee said. "High school students serve as a bridge between the adults and the junior high students."

The program also benefits the high school students participating because it allows them to use the leadership training they learn from class, he said.

In the main room, the events keynote speaker, Verne Johnson, led serious discussions with students on bullying and school violence. Johnson, a teacher at Bret Harte Union High School in Angels Camp, has been giving the presentation to students throughout the state since the beginning of the summer.

At the end, he showed a music video that reinforced his message of respect and tolerance.

"The presentation was really touching, and the video at the end was nice," said Elzabeth Johnston, a seventh grader from Rancho Pico Junior High.

After the presentation, students were given certificates that outlined what was expected of them as responsible students. Students are expected to sign the certificates, show them to their parents and turn them in to their teachers.

jrandles@the-signal.com

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