Pete Smith, with the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity, was one of the co-producers of the Rural To Rural (R2R) conference held last fall, made a return trip to facilitate a workshop at the Mitchell District High School May 29. ANDY BADER/MITCHELL ADVOCATE
In order to engage today’s young people about their future, you have to truly engage them.
That’s what’s happening at Mitchell District High School (MDHS), the latest example a follow-up workshop held May 29 after some MDHS students attended a Rural Talks To Rural (R2R) conference last October.
Pete Smith, from the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity and co-producer of the four-day conference held in Blyth last fall, was invited back to chat with some of the students who attended, as well as others.
Guests from across the region as well as the world were part of the conference with the main emphasis on rural resilience and how important a sense of community and community wealth is in terms of energy, consumption levels and sustainability.
Shortly after walking into the MDHS classroom of 20 students, in Grades 10-12, Smith said he could feel the energy.
“This is the first time we’ve done this with high school students …. we’ll have fun, but the idea is to spark; to provoke a response. I don’t think this group needs much of that, they’re pretty jacked up anyway. Clearly, they get it. I can see when I look in their eyes they’re here, they’re present. But the idea is we need to work together as a community.”
Smith said some of the things being done in Europe, where 15 and 16-year-olds are feeling a sense of urgency and making a difference in their community environmentally and specifically with regards to climate, needs to be translated to this continent and what better place to start than in the small, rural communities like Mitchell.
“They are pushing it to the floor, they’re saying you aren’t even going to be here, this is our future,” he continued.
Smith, who led the two-hour workshop with University of Guelph PhD grad student Kim Davids Mandar, gave credit to pathways teacher Nick Keller, principal Petra Goetz and superintendent Jodie Baker for their foresight in opening students’ eyes and ears and have them chart the course for the future.
The next R2R conference is planned for 2020, so ultimately he said he’d like to see a group of students from MDHS present on a topic that they can bring to this community.
“The idea right now is to get them plugged into our way of thinking but the end game is to get them to offer an invention or a manifesto or whatever it might be, that we could actually do these things today and not wait until another five years go by,” he said.
The students first created a historical land map that included waterways and forests before collaboratively working on a colourful contemporary map of present day Mitchell. At the end of the workshop, students were asked to map how they want to see Mitchell in 2030 – 11 years in the future when they will be young adults starting to build their own lives. During that particular mapping, the students included a demonstration forest with wildlife, a hospital, environmental and agricultural classes at the school, composting and reducing what goes into the landfill and using the Mitchell dam to re-generate the water into a power source. They also envisioned a stop light at the top of the hill, a clear indication that they believe Mitchell will continue to grow. They were also leery about the town limits encroaching on the fertile farmland that surrounds it.
“I’m encouraged by the rural youth,” Smith said, saying a message for another day would be for the students to “go away but come back.”
“Get out there and see what the world has to offer but don’t forget there is a home here,” he said.