Future state leaders flock to JDHS for conference

About 300 students expected to attend leadership gathering

Posted: Thursday, October 13, 2005

Alaska's future leaders are converging on the state capital this week.

Juneau-Douglas High School is hosting students from all corners of the state for the Fall 2005 Alaska Association of Student Governments leadership conference that begins today. More than 300 students are expected to attend the conference for two and a half days of workshops, activities and networking with their peers.

"At the end of the two and a half days I hope that the students learned a lot, improved their leaderships skills and felt like important things were discussed," said Clay Wertheimer, JDHS student body president.

The theme for this year's conference is "Cruising Through Leadership," to honor the role cruise ships play in Alaska, he said.

JDHS student government adviser Joseph Powers said hosting the fall conference in Juneau is a big deal for all Southeast Alaska schools. He said the conferences are generally hosted by one of the Anchorage schools to accommodate the influx of students.

"There will be a huge presence from Southeast," Powers said. "We're trying to give a feel that it's all of our conference, not just the Juneau conference."

Powers said more than twice as many students from Southeast schools will be able to attend because of travel costs. He said Sitka, Mount Edgecumbe and Ketchikan High School will each have about 20 student representatives, up from the normal eight they are generally able to bring to Anchorage.

JDHS student body Treasurer Katie Willis, a conference registrar along with Wertheimer, said students from all different size high schools have converged to discuss regionally and nationally important political issues. She said Barrow, Unalaska, Nenana and Kodiak are a few of the high schools that will be attending.

Willis said it is interesting and informative to compare the similarities and differences between the rural and urban schools.

"It's really eye opening to talk with these students that come from such a different place," she said. "We all come from Alaska but Alaska is such a vast state."

The conference begins at 4 p.m. this afternoon with an opening ceremony, followed by a dinner and business meeting. Students will spend Saturday attending a variety of workshops composed of 20 students each on various topics. Wertheimer said there are 18 workshops, nine of which are geared toward leadership and nine that are activity-oriented. On Sunday students will attend three "pods," or groups of about 100 students that are cycled through mandatory presentations.

"A couple of people have been working really hard to contact leaders in the community and the give leadership workshops where students can learn and hone their leadership skills as well," Wertheimer said.

Students will also be presenting proposals on education that will be debated and voted on by the students. If the proposals receive a majority vote the issue will become publicly supported by AASG.

Wertheimer said the JDHS representatives will put forth a proposal supporting an increase in the age of eligibility for high school dropouts.

"It's going to be interesting what resolutions come forward because there's always some hot topics that provoke a lot of discussion," Willis said.

The students will also be nominating and campaigning for AASG leadership positions.

Willis said the JDHS student leaders have been putting an exuberant amount of work into getting the conference ready. She said they met throughout the summer and after school and every weekend so far this school year.

"It's pretty much a round-the-clock kind of thing," she said.

Powers said the students have been working so much on the conference that he has had to kick them out of the school some evenings.

"When you think about the sheer amount of hours that it took to pull it together, and all the kids doing this are involved in sports, drama or music plus taking a full academic day, and that's pretty impressive," he said.

Powers said that if people knew just how much effort and time the students have already put into the conference people would be amazed.

"You just get a feeling that, yeah, the future is going to be OK," he said.

Willis said she hopes people understand how much high school students care.

"We're working hard and there are interested students who want to work to make Alaska a better place," she said. "I think if anyone's concerned about the future, I think it's good to know this is going on. It kind of breaks the typical stereotype of teenagers I think."

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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