To strengthen feelings of safety and inclusiveness, especially at high school campuses, Canyons District has launched a Student Leadership Academy.
This academy, made up of high school leaders in academics, the arts, athletic teams, and student government will receive regular training on how to be at the forefront of inspiring all students to be respectful, civil, kind, and welcoming.
In other words, the tone of the school year — and a welcoming climate at every CSD high school — will largely be set by the students. They are, after all, the “influencers” of their school communities
A few hundred high school seniors on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023 attended the first training meeting of the Leadership Academy. The 9 a.m. to noon event featured breakout sessions on such topics as developing culture and inclusiveness, accountability, and ownership, identifying culture and school values, and the importance of psychological safety.
The training workshops on Tuesday also touched on leadership and skills for encouraging teamwork.
When students enroll and arrive for classes at Alta, Brighton, Corner Canyon, Hillcrest, Jordan and Diamond Ridge high schools, the hope is that they always will be met with student leaders “who are welcoming and inclusive,” says Canyons Superintendent Dr. Rick Robins,
From the first day of the school year to the last, if all student leaders — from the drum major to the lead in the musical to the senior class president — commit to maintaining a positive environment at the school, then the feeling has trickle-down effect to every member of the student body, Dr. Robins says.
Kevin Giddins, founder and senior partner of Sunlight Works, an organizational training company working with CSD to develop a culture of safety and inclusion, told students at the inaugural Leadership Academy meeting that they’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to strengthening the feelings of connection at their schools.
“What you are focused on is the result of what you are going to get. Take back the excitement and remember that what you model is what you are going to get,” he said at the outset of the training sessions. “I ask you as the leaders to pull one thing away for what you take to your school.”
Bryan Kehl, a Brighton High graduate who also played in the National Football League for the New York Giants, St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins, and the Kansas City Chiefs, also helped kick off the Leadership Academy activities. Culture in a team, he told the students, is distributed top down.
“Culture trickles down. It starts at the top — from the coach, the captain, and the leaders,” said Kehl, who also attended Albion Middle. “The actions of one affect everyone.”
The start of the Student Leadership Academy comes as Canyons and other districts across the state grapple with a decline in the number of teenage students who say they feel like they belong at school or feel safe from intimidation and harassment.
Brighton High senior and swim captain, Andrea Zurias was invited by her coach to participate.
For her, the No. 1 takeaway from the afternoon was a workshop that focused on positive self-talk. High school can be stressful and with athletes, there’s a lot of pressure to perform.
“A lot of the girls have a hard time being positive. So it’s just, ‘Take a second to breathe and try your best to do better,’” Zurias said. “It’s not just always about winning. It’s about trying to be the best you can on that day.”
An activity to reinforce the concept of team interdependence, or the extent to which a team relies on each of its members to function, was something that struck home with Hillcrest High senior Cooper Limb.
“I might bring some examples to my teammates on the wrestling and baseball teams,” he said.
Canyons will organize and hold three other Leadership Academy events throughout the year.
Pre- and post-surveys of the participants, as well as a review of annually conducted student-satisfaction surveys, will influence future topics and training sessions.