ANTIGONISH: Students from across Nova Scotia are busy preparing for a province-wide annual leadership conference in Antigonish next month.

The Nova Scotia Secondary Schools Association (NSSSA) “Rise Up” conference will take place at StFX from May 17-20.

This year’s conference co-chairs Katelyn Libbus and Patrick Wallace, both first year students at StFX, are heading up the team of high school students responsible for planning the conference. Both students started attending the annual event in high school before getting involved as organizers.

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“My older sisters were a part of it. They always seemed to have a lot of fun and they always encouraged me to go,” said Libbus. “When I ended up going to the conferences I wanted to get more involved, so I helped plan them eventually, too.”

The organizers hope to welcome approximately 250 student delegates to this year’s event.

Wallace told The Reporter the major goals for the conference include helping students develop teamwork, communication, and other leadership skills while giving them the opportunity to connect with each other and learn from guest speakers and facilitators.

This year’s keynote speakers include Carol Ann Fried of Friedom Training and Coaching Services, body percussionist Troy Sexton of the group STOMP, and Toronto-based motivational speaker Sunjay Nath. The schedule also includes sessions on goal planning and interactive skill-building activities. Much of the facilitation is done by high school students who have attended previous conferences and want to take on more of a leadership role.

“There’s also a lot of facilitated discussion where you learn about other people’s opinions and beliefs and just get a wider range of perspectives,” Wallace added.

Libbus urges any students who may be interested in taking part in the NSSSA conferences to give it a try.

“I think what I’ve learned is you never really know how much you can actually do, because when you think about it, we were just a small group of high school kids, and then all of a sudden we’re planning this huge conference for hundreds of kids,” said Libbus.

Wallace said being involved with the conferences has helped him develop lasting skills that he can apply in many areas of his life

“I was surprised by how much I could grow as a person just by going to these conferences,” he said.

“A lot of the students who go… end up getting more involved in the community and in school. You’ll find NSSSA leaders on the student council and volunteering on the weekends and evenings.”

The NSSSA is a non-profit student-led organization that was founded in 1992. In addition to the annual provincial conference, the NSSSA holds smaller regional conferences throughout the year, as well as an annual Inclusion Conference, which is organized for students who identify as having a disability and for anyone who would like to take on a leadership role.