Learning synergy: High school students hone their leadership skills at NSSSA provincial conference

ANTIGONISH: High school students across the province rose to the occasion and are now working together to build something greater than themselves.

Learning what it takes to become a great leader was on the agenda as hundreds of high school students from across the province converged on StFX last weekend for the 28th annual Nova Scotia Secondary School Students’ Association (NSSSA) 2019 provincial conference.

“The theme of the conference is Synergy, and how great leadership means creating something bigger than yourself, whether it be a company or a movement or whatever you want to achieve,” said Alex LeBlanc, 2018-19 NSSSA conference committee co-chair. “Great leadership is not necessarily doing everything yourself, but rather having a goal and knowing the steps you need to take in order to achieve it.”

The NSSSA is a non-profit, student-led leadership organization, and the conference is the largest gathering of student leaders in the province. It’s open to any students in Grades 9-12 in Nova Scotia high schools.

LeBlanc highlights the many benefits of the conference; someone new to the NSSSA can expect to meet lifelong friends, make long-term connections and discover new aspects of themselves, while returning NSSSA members can also expect the best of times with old and new friends, and a new and refreshing outlook of what NSSSA can bring them.

He said if there’s one thing that organizers hope students can learn more about while attending the conference it’s what kind of leader they aspire to be, and how they can bring this piece of themselves out for the world to see.

A lot of the events that took place over the four day conference were based around helping people realize their synergy aspects within themselves and around them. Delegates participated in multiple skill-building sessions, where they’re put with random individuals to learn to work together as a team.

“You can approach it knowing nothing about leadership, or you can approach it being a very confident leader,” Mary Stackaruk said, conference committee co-chair. “I came in thinking I’m a great leader, I don’t need the NSSSA – but there is so much more to it. I feel I was a confident leader and then I was finally able to find my place as a leader amongst leaders.”

The conference, which is completely student-led, consists of delegates, the regular participant; skill-builders, people who lead those groups; cabinet committee members, who guide and plan the conference; and committee co-chairs, who oversee everything.

Stackaruk indicated there are a few common, re-occurring skill-building sessions that take place during the provincial conference; teamwork, “getting to know you,” and a mental health session; but the one session that changes every year is the theme session.

“We also like to come up with a theme based off current events in the school system; so last year’s theme was ‘Rise Up’ and the reason for that was because the year before was ‘Work To Rule,’” she said. “So the next year we decided we were going to rise up and now we’re saying after we’ve risen up, now it’s time to come together in teamwork.”

Outgoing StFX president Dr. Kent MacDonald said the university is proud to be a partner with the student-led NSSSA and is delighted to play a role in supporting high school student leaders as they learn and build new skills and discover so much about themselves and their potential.

In recognition of the passion and leadership abilities of the students in NSSSA, StFX has introduced five new bursaries to NSSSA members starting this September, which includes; The NSSSA Entrance Bursary and The Lorne ‘Abe’ Abraham NSSSA Bursary.

“StFX is proud to partner with [NSSSA] on their annual leadership conference and we wanted to go a step further by providing bursaries on an annual basis to some of their members who have chosen StFX as their post-secondary institution,” said Bob Hale, StFX’s director, ancillary services. “We want to help those who have experienced NSSSA to build upon the foundation the student leaders already have and take their personal and professional development to the next level.”

In the past, the conference’s theme was about building yourself and reaching your own potential, but LeBlanc said they wanted to build off of that and create a more team-work aspect of leadership.

“Synergy is defined as ‘the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements,’ which is what we believe leadership is all about,” he said. “We wanted to really focus on that as it’s a really important part of team work, is the fact that working together increases your potential because you’re around others that want the same thing as you.”

If someone has a dream, the NSSSA will show them how to make it happen through a leadership standpoint and work together with others to discover what they really want.