The students and staff of the Weyburn Comprehensive School, and the community of Weyburn at large, went "flat out" to stage the 2012 Canadian Student Leadership Conference, which began on Sept. 25 and wrapped on Saturday night with a special banquet and closing ceremonies at Crescent Point Place, and a MuchMusic dance party at the Curling Rink.
Close to 1,000 student leaders and their staff advisors, from high schools located in every province of Canada, converged on Weyburn for the national conference, which promoted and inspired leadership in the students with keynote speakers, workshops and breakout sessions, fun activities and entertainment.
In addition, there was an opportunity on Saturday to give back to the host community as the students were divided up into several groups who fanned out over the entire city and area to do two to three hours of volunteer work for facilities, groups and organizations.
"It was a lot of planning, and it surpassed all we had hoped or expected as the students and staff were just amazing. The hours they put in to help was way more than we expected," said Joanne Jensen, co-chair of the conference along with Margot Arnold.
"The community support was great; it was truly not just a school event, but it was a community event," she added, pointing to the over 200 billet families who took the students in for the five days, and many who volunteered to help in different ways throughout the five days.
From the school side, Jensen noted they had 90 students who were trained as "spirit leaders", who led groups of student delegates through various trips and workshops, and over and above that, some 375 students volunteered to help out in some way during the conference.
Asked for what stood out as special to her from the conference, Jensen said the many connections that were made helped make the event special, with the visiting students making connections with Comp students, advisors and local teachers connecting, and student delegate making connections with their billet families.
In terms of a highlight event, she pointed to the group photo of the entire conference group in the shape of a maple leaf on Saturday morning, noting they spontaneously broke out into "O Canada", a "very touching" moment for her. "It was a symbol of what the conference is all about. I think it touched a lot of people to witness that."
The national president of the staff advisors association, Nicole Haire of PEI, said of the Weyburn conference, "This has been a week of learning and personal growth, of a lot of memories and network building … The investment is already paying off for you. Hundreds of staff and students and people from the community worked to make sure everything ran as smoothly as it did."
"We trust everyone here will carry what you've learned with you as you return to your school and your community," she said.
The three hostesses for the conference, students Marissa McCallum, Sasha Shupe and Karli Ochitwa, also shared how fun the conference was for them.
"For the past month, our whole school has been buzzing over the coming CSLC, and it turned out really really awesome," said Sasha, adding the entire community and the billet families were also all involved.
"I can honestly say this was one of the best weeks of my life, being here with all of you," said Sasha.
Marissa pointed out that two years, she and Karli attended the CSLC in Montreal, and said "at that time, it can't get any better than this!" Then the two girls also attended last year's conference in Corner Brook, Nfld., and she said once again she had to say, "it couldn't get any better than this", but added she had to say the same about Weyburn's conference.
As she's graduating, the 2012 conference will be her last, and said, "The conference has changed my life, in a most positive way."
Weyburn was introduced by the three hostesses as the "Hospitality Capital of Saskatchewan" to the student delegates during the opening ceremonies on Sept. 25. This was especially true, as residents opened their homes to over 600 students attending the conference.
Three Weyburn families shared their experiences of spending five days with their billets. "It was a great experience to host these students," said Bev Hansen. "I can't wait to see what leadership roles that they will take someday in the future."
Hansen billeted four boys, two from Alberta and the other two from Quebec and Nova Scotia. "We managed to entertain and feed them," she laughed. "They were very well-mannered, conscientious boys. They were definitely among the many higher-standard students who were attending the conference."
The students from Quebec and Nova Scotia were "quite surprised by how lush the area was; one of them had thought that Saskatchewan would be like a desert," said Hansen.
"They definitely enjoyed the conference," added Hansen. The family didn't have much time with the billets, as they were dropped off at the school at 8 a.m. and picked up at 8 p.m. every night. All the billets had a special supper with their families on Friday evening.
Sandy Spencer Johnson had five girls at her house, three from Newfoundland, and the other two from Ontario and Alberta. "They meshed really good when they arrived at our home," said Spencer Johnson.
Some of the comments from these five girls included that "people were very friendly, and particularly for the girls from Newfoundland, they were surprised that there were no winding roads," said Spencer Johnson, adding they also had never eaten perogies or smokies before, so this was their Friday night meal at the billet's home.
"They were such good girls, they were so polite and well-spoken. Most of them had done these conferences before," added Sandy. "They were so excited to go to the conference every morning and they were so full of energy every day."
"I never thought that billeting would be this fun," said Spencer Johnson. She added that for the students at their house that they had fun, and learned a lot from the conference at the same time.
Four male students from eastern Canada were at the home of Ray Hamm, one from Nova Scotia and three from New Brunswick. "They were so busy, that we didn't see very much of them," said Hamm.
"But they were very nice boys, very polite and very cooperative," said Hamm. "They only said positive things about their experiences. They talked about the places that they went, and were very pleased about the whole leadership conference."
Two of the New Brunswick students had to leave Weyburn earlier than the rest of the students, departing on Saturday morning. "They live on an island just off New Brunswick, and the only way to the island is by ferry. They had to catch an early flight so they could get on the ferry on time, and get back to school on Monday morning."
Ray said that he enjoyed being a billet for these young men. "I was really impressed with the calibre of the students."
Overall, Brenda King who chaired the billet committee, was very impressed with the support from Weyburn residents who provided billet space.
"We had roughly 202 homes in total, but also had 150 emergency spaces. The community was fantastic in opening their homes for these student leaders."