The second annual Youth Wellness Conference connected students with police in a positive way.
The day-long program, which took place Wed., Nov. 6 at R.B. Russell School (364 Dufferin Ave.), was presented by the Winnipeg School Division and the Winnipeg Police Service and featured presentations to Grade 7 and 8 students from across the division on such topics as cyberbullying and all-around youth wellness.
"There are approximately 10 students per school here, and we have various presenters and various breakout sessions for them to attend," said Lisa Bryce, WPS patrol sergeant and a co-ordinator of the conference.
"We’re trying to provide them with more information to help them make positive choices in their life. We have a nutrition and fitness session, street safety, Cool 2Be Kind (an anti-bullying program), and our cadets are also here to talk about how to apply to become a cadet and what the day-to-day activities of a cadet are."
The Youth Wellness Conference stems from the school resource officer (SRO) program, which introduces police officers into schools to build a better connection between students and the WPS.
"It’s so important for us to make those connections, and we know these are the areas that need it the most," said Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis, who was a guest speaker at the event.
"We know there are lots of other temptations out here, so building a relationship with police is key for them going forward."
"Oftentimes, young people and even adults don’t realize that yes, we have a job to do, but by and large we’re here to have those relationships with you. As I said (in his speech) for myself, growing up, when we’d see police, we’d go the other way. I want kids to know that doesn’t have to be the case."
Kevin Chief, MLA for Point Douglas and Manitoba’s Minister of Children and Youth Opportunities, was also a guest speaker at the Youth Wellness Conference. He said it’s important for students to know that police are their allies, not their enemies.
"You see with school resource officers, they’re not seen as police, they’re seen as people now. The students get to actually know the police officer," Chief said. "When you hear a 14-year-old kid call the chief of police ‘Devon’, that’s pretty cool. Not only is that great for healthier and safer communities, but it starts to let young people in our North End view police in a different way.
"I think it inspires them to start to realize, maybe for the first time, that maybe they become a police officer. To me, that’s really exciting."
Vern Brown, a Grade 7 student in the division, was particularly stirred by Chief Clunis’ story about failing Grade 6 and then, with the help of a teacher, graduating Grade 9 as a top student.
"I liked everything he (Clunis) said. It was really inspiring," Brown said.