TEDx student presenters Sarah Walter and Thomas Abresch. (Barry Gerding - Black Press Media)

Central Okanagan students enlighten their peers, adults

TEDx presentations touch on variety of issues from gender diversity to racism

There are moments when adults become the students and youth are given the opportunity to enlighten their elders.

One such opportunity occurred last week with the fourth annual 2022 TEDx Youth Doyle Ave. program hosted at the Innovation Centre.

Before an audience both live and online, a group of 12 youths gathered to give a presentation about subject matters of personal importance to them.

For participant Sarah Walter, a Grade 11 student at Okanagan Mission Secondary, it was to advocate for others like her with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and how to make the school learning experience better.

“I mainly wanted to share how to advocate for yourself to make changes in the school system,” said Walter.

“One of my goals is to help kids growing up behind me and share my experiences to help them.”

For Thomas Abresch, a Grade 8 student at Dr. Knox Middle, he wanted to speak out in support of transgender student rights.

“I wanted to support transgender students and the things to say to them from their peers and the schools…to use my voice to help advocate for others,” Abresch said.

He “definitely loved the idea” that he could bring his message to adults to help generate greater understanding.

Graham Johnson, vice-principal of learning technology for Central Okanagan Public Schools, said the TEDx concept is not about improving public speaking skills, but about sharing ideas on a platform where students are leading the discussion.

TED Conferences is an American media organization that posts talks online for free under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.”

TED was conceived by Richard Wurman and Harry Marks in 1984 as a conference, which has been held annually since 1990. TED’s early emphasis was on technology and design was inspired by the origins of Silicon Valley, but in the years since has broadened to include science, cultural, political, humanitarian and academic topics.

The topics for the Central Okanagan School District event his year included truth and reconciliation with Indigenous people, sexual orientation, gender identity and racial stereotyping.

“We don’t really care about the public speaking aspect. We work with the participants to help with that beginning in November. What we look for to start from students is innovative ideas,” said Johnson.

He said those ideas tend to take on issues meaningful to youth that affect our entire world.

Johnson said beyond basic introductions at the start, the TEDx live presentation in Kelowna is run by students and presented by students.

“There will be some talks that will be tough pills for adults, including myself, to swallow at times…but that is the point, working with youth to make our world better, our schools better and our communities better,” he said.

He called it a paradigm shift that public education administrators are grappling with, from where adults make all the school education decisions to where students are given a greater voice.

“We find that often a lot of those decisions made by adults are not landing with youth…events like this help us to listen to youth and show their voice matters,” he said.

Johnson said the online presentations will be accessible in early May.