Elected officials join students for ‘Next GEN’ Assembly of Leaders

SWLSB and EMSB team up to help form the next generation of leaders

Secondary school student leaders from the Laval, North Shore, Laurentian and Montreal regions were joined remotely by local federal and provincial elected officials at John F. Kennedy High School in Montreal on April 28 for the first annual Next GEN Assembly of Leaders.

The students participating in the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board’s Secondary Student Leadership Certificate program were from Laval Junior Academy and Laval Senior Academy in Laval, from Lake of Two Mountains High School in Deux-Montagnes and from Ste. Agathe Academy in the Laurentians.

Building connections

The English Montreal School Board students were all from John F. Kennedy High School in the Montreal borough of Villeray/St-Michel/Parc Extension.

According to Daniel Johnson, a spiritual animator with the SWLSB, who worked with Rocco Speranza, his counterpart at the English Montreal School Board to organize the event, the idea was simple: Connect young people with Canadian and Quebec leaders to discuss issues facing the country and province.

“We wanted the students to work in diverse groups on complex issues,” Johnson said in an interview with Newsfirst Multimedia, adding that the event is believed to have been the first of its kind across Canada.

From the left, Next GEN program facilitator Vicky Kaliotzakis, student participant Angelo Varuzza and student participant Alejandro Gutierrez. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

Learning from the leaders

He said the students’ objective was to learn from their Senator, Member of Parliament or Member of the National Assembly and offer solutions to issues that their politicians relayed to them. Johnson said the student leaders worked hard as they were confronted with ideas and problems that they had never had the opportunity to explore before.

“It’s ideal for our students to see government leadership in the process, even though the voice of the students is also important,” said Speranza. “For the youths to be able to work with the government leaders who make decisions about things like education or health was a good thing for them to see how the process works and that their voices are valued.”

Heard from MNAs and MPs

From the Senate of Canada, Senator Tony Loffreda spoke to the students remotely about the Senate Inquiry on Immigration.

Vimy MP Annie Koutrakis (who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport) spoke on Transportation issues. Alfred-Pellan MP Angelo Iacono spoke about High Frequency Rail service. Saint-Laurent MP Emmanuella Lambropoulos talked about the Notion of Gender Based Violence. And Saint-Léonard–Saint-Michel MP Patricia Lattanzio addressed the Gun Violence issue.

Among the members of the Quebec National Assembly, Viau MNA Frantz Benjamin talked about Education. Mille-Îles MNA Francine Charbonneau talked about Bill 9 (a piece of legislation that proposes replacing Quebec’s National Student Ombudsman).

Chomedey MNA Guy Ouellette talked about issues involving end-of-life care. Nina Segalowitz, an elder and leader within the Montreal Indigenous community, delivered the keynote address. She also spent time working with the student leaders as they grappled with the topic of gender-based violence.

Interacting with leaders

By the end of the day, the students were ready to deliver their feedback and they formulated ideas and responses directly to the political leaders. “Through interactions like these, we can build more compassionate communities and a better country for all,” Johnson said, estimating the valuable lessons in leadership the students learned during the day.

The students taking part in the Next GEN Assembly of Leaders got a chance to interact and speak virtually with MPs and MNAs from Laval and the greater Montreal region.

He said the conference was unlike any other concept ever applied to develop leadership skills in students. “Because the students are working directly with the politicians on real issues and offering real solutions, this is something that usually isn’t done at this type of conference. This is tactile work where students have a voice and they have a seat at the table.”

‘Young but not powerless’

Several students we spoke to said they were already inclined to take on student leadership challenges, such as participating on student council or taking part in organized sports. But the Next GEN Assembly of Leaders was yet another option to develop their leadership skills, they said. “We are young but we are not powerless,” said Kassylia Bourque of Lake of Two Mountains High School.

Alejandro Gutierrez, a grade eight student at Laval Junior Academy, said he came away impressed by Vimy MP Annie Koutrakis’ message. “She was amazing and had a lot of things to say,” he said, noting that she seemed very knowledgeable of her dossiers.