MOUNT VERNON — Around 130 local youths in grades 9-12 from all Knox County schools, including the Knox County Career Center joined together Thursday to discuss a wide range of topics including leadership, mental health issues and how to respond when peers are struggling, and drug use and addiction.
The program, Youth Leadership Day, was the first of its kind and was coordinated by the Teen Advisory Council, a high school youth-led prevention group with around 40 members from Knox County schools; New Directions, the domestic abuse shelter of Knox County; and the Knox Substance Abuse Action Team.
TAC members from area schools planned Youth Leadership Day as a way to educate their peers on the issues they felt to be prevalent in area schools, Gracie Ziegler, a senior at MVHS and COTC sophomore said.
The “adult allies” that help TAC students with coordinating events lined up presenters that students could relate to and could speak about the issues that TAC students deemed relevant. As a predominately student-lead group, adult allies gave the students free range over the topics that Youth Leadership Day would cover.
“We organize [the student’s] thoughts and like give them the game plan … [but] they do everything,” TAC advisor Lindsey Lamp said. “They know what’s best. They know what’s prevalent within their peers and we also know that peer-to-peer interaction is the most beneficial for them.”
Dr. Gregory S. Sullivan, program director at Ohio University, spoke about leadership and specifically the style of leadership known as servant leadership, and taught students how to apply the tenets of servant leadership in their future careers and personal lives. Students also heard a presentation from Wayne Campbell, the president and founder of Tyler’s Light, an organization named after Campbell’s son who died of an accidental drug overdose. Campbell taught the youths about how to speak up if they see a friend struggling with drugs, about addiction and about the connection between prescription drugs and illegal drugs. Miss Ohio Matti-Lynn Chrisman was also in attendance and spoke to students about her struggles with depression and anxiety, and taught them about what to look for, say and do when a peer has mental health issues or is suicidal, and about how the youths can help spread awareness about mental health and suicide prevention.
“I would say [I feel more prepared for the future] going off of the Miss Ohio talk,” Heath Myers, a senior at Centerburg High School said. “If I am a boss, or like going into college — Centerburg is such a small school, there’s only 80 people in my class — so when I go to a class of 1,000 people and I have several people who maybe have these mental issues that I can be like ‘Ok, I know how to help you. I can approach this better.’ I can handle it better than I would now, or yesterday … because I know what to say and what to do.”
Colton Beard, a TAC member from Danville High School, explained that it was important to the advisory council to include all the area schools in the Youth Leadership Day because it brought a diverse group of students from different backgrounds together for conversation and encourages wider participation.
Ashley Phillips, TAC advisor, explained that beyond educating a wide range of students on the topics discussed, the event also served as a way to educate students about TAC and its mission to educate students about drug and alcohol use and healthy relationships.
“Our hope is that we make this an annual event,” Phillips said, “and that students walk away from the leadership day and share the positive messages and vibes with their peers. And so in hopes that school counselors might not have to actively seek out attendees, they have students coming to them showing interest.”
Students were invited to attend based on unique guidelines set by TAC members, according to TAC ally Lindsey Lamp. School guidance counselors were asked to invite students who go above and beyond for their peers or the school, and are helpful and encouraging; who are aware of events that are taking place in the world, in the county and in the school, and who desire to make a change; and students who have good attendance at school and are involved in extra-curricular activities, Lamp said.
“Like the go-getters,” Lamp explained. “The goal was to get all types of leaders. So it could have been that student that is in the classroom and that student’s goal is to get the students laughing, because that’s how they are a leader. Or the student that doesn’t necessarily have the greatest grades but they encourage their peers at everything that they do. So, we wanted a wide variety of leadership.”