Four Grade 8 students pose together in front of a sign that reads Courage

A group of Grade 8 leaders is looking to normalize talking about mental health, substance use and gender identity by reminding their classmates that they are not alone.

The students – Yingfan B., Sophie D., Sofi E., Georgie S., and Nya T. – are hosting an afternoon conference for their fellow Grade 8s next week. The aptly named You Are Not Alone event focuses on these three topics, which the students identified as being important to them and others their age.

“We had a lot of ideas when we started deciding on the focus. It ranged from stuff that’s a little more normal to talk about in our Middle School to stuff that isn’t more commonly talked about,” says Georgie. “Even though we thought all of the topics were very important, we decided to focus on these topics that aren’t very common to talk about.”

“Whether they impact you personally or, say, a family member or friend dealing with it, we are aiming to have things that people can relate to and learn about topics that would help them for later in life,” adds Nya.

The event will be divided into two parts: a panel talk for all students, followed by breakout sessions. The gradewide panel will be hosted by the Grade 8 leaders as they interview Grade 12 students who will speak about their experiences related to the topics. Grade 8 students will then get the opportunity to attend a breakout session on the same topics, or attend a mindfulness session.

Leadership in Action

Grade 8 SMUS students have had the opportunity to organize and host a leadership conference for other schools in years past. They also get to choose the focus of the event, and have held previous ones on such topics as teens and technology, character and resiliency, and risk taking.

Last year, students didn’t have that opportunity due to COVID-19. But this school year, this small group of leaders was motivated to help relaunch the event.

“I really like the general idea of leadership. I like starting things and helping out. I’ve been to many conferences, so I've always wanted to start my own,” Yingfan says. “Even in Grade 6, I remember thinking, ‘Look at those eighth graders. That looks really cool and it’s all student-led. Maybe one day I could be planning it.’ And then when I had the chance to do it this year, I thought it would be a good way to continue a legacy at the Middle School.”

It’s another piece of the leadership development puzzle at SMUS and, particularly at the Middle School, in supporting students as they gain independence and take greater ownership of projects and initiatives in their communities.

“Leadership is one of the ways that I challenge myself to possibly help others, and SMUS offers lots of good leadership opportunities,” Sophia says. “I always try to take advantage of those when they come up. So this leadership conference was just another way that I could try to make a difference.”

They hope that by reminding their classmates that they are not alone if they are impacted by or struggling with any of the topics, it will help normalize openness and reduce any perceptions of stigma.

“We really do want people to know that they are not alone and there are people out there who will support you,” says Sophie.

Adds Yingfan: “Because we have Grade 12 students talking openly, we also hope that people learn from their experiences and learn how to support each other.”

We are incredibly proud of this group of Grade 8 students who have organized the event and the Grade 12 students who will be sharing their stories. It takes courage to step up to be leaders in a community, particularly a leader who takes intentional action to offer support to those around them with the aim of improving lives.