411 in the 413 conference 'inspired and led by youth'

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Photo Gallery | PHOTOS: 411 in the 413 Youth Development Conference

Video | The 411 in the 413 youth development conference gets underway at Hancock Shaker Village

PITTSFIELD — When it comes down to it, students crave leadership, and creative opportunities, and a day off of school.

On Thursday, with sunny and blue-skied weather on their side, 75 area high school students found all of the above and more during the 10th annual "411 in the 413 Youth Conference," returning this year to Hancock Shaker Village.

The free day-long event is offered through high school guidance departments to up to 10 students from each public high school and Miss Hall's School, which also helps to organize the event.

Nataly Garzon, coordinator of positive youth development for Berkshire United Way, another event sponsor, characterized the conference as an event that's "inspired and led by youth."

It's a place where they can, for a day, meet peers from different schools, perhaps make new friends, discuss current events and trends, try their hand at new activities, and find people in the community who can help them develop ideas and connect with resources for transitioning into community and professional life after high school.

Each year's program offers different themes and workshops, and students can sign up to participate in three sessions, with a lunch break between.

Conference themes are planned during the fall. During a brainstorming session, Garzon said her intern, Hayden Gillooly of Miss Hall's, brought to the table the idea of having participants explore their identity. The idea was approved by the other conference planning partners: Adam Tobin, UNITY program associate for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, and his intern, Lakena Darkins, of Drury High School; Luiza Trabka, Youth Operational Board and special projects coordinator and sexual health education facilitator for Railroad Street Youth Project, and her intern, Markus Louw, of Bard College at Simon's Rock, both in Great Barrington.

This year's conference featured workshops relating to four tracks: environment sustainability, the arts, social justice, and business and technology.

Some 35 professionals from all over the Berkshires and beyond volunteered to teach hour-long workshops, with evocative titles like, "I Know When That Hotline Bling: Climate Change is Calling," "Virtually You (Defeating Cyber-Balkanization)," and "The Scales of Gender and Gender Identity & Sexuality Diversity," among others.

"It's pretty unique to see theater games, woodworking, and robotics for climate change, all offered at the same conference," Darkins said.

Kicking off the event, was a keynote panel of the region's female leaders: state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Gailanne Cariddi, and Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer.

Farley-Bouvier stayed on to chat with a dozen young constituents during a panel called, "State Government: How is it Relevant to Me?"

Upon hearing some students say they felt they weren't "political," the state representative said, "We all have a lot of interests, and there are a lot of other things going on in the world and in our lives. But there are some things we need to stay engaged with at least some of the time, and I think politics is one of those things. We all have to stay informed enough so we don't have a tiny group of people making decisions for everyone, all of the time."

Farley-Bouvier also told the students, "If there's an issue you are passionate about, you can have a real effect on that public policy."

In other workshops, presenters prompted students to be thoughtful about what they want to do, and how they can do it, even if the idea is initially intimidating.

For example, Lindsey Berkowitz, a school programs coordinator for Flying Cloud Institute, challenged students to experiment with materials to design their own plastic bottle rockets fueled by chemical reactions between baking soda and various acidic liquids.

"Labs are where you're told what to do, but experiments are where you make it up for yourself," she said.

McCann Technical School sophomores Tristin Carson and Lucas McLain, and Monument Mountain Regional High School freshman Nathaniel Annand, seemed to have a blast together, refining their prototypes.

Of all first-time "411 in the 413" participants, Carson said, "I think it's good that you get to come here, where some people get to do things they like and other people get to experience things and see if they like them."

"I think it's a pretty good social experience for us, too," said Annand.

In another workshop, held in Hancock Shaker Village's Brick Dwelling, students got the chance to paint an entire intricate outdoor scene in an hour, led by Michelle Iglesias of Berkshire Paint and Sip. Like Berkowitz, she encouraged participants to "try" and "experiment."

And in a "Hacking the Future" workshop, Devin Shea and Patrick Danahey, co-leaders of the newly launched "RESET" magazine, invited students to dream. In an exercise called "dreamlining," teens were asked to write down and think about "five things you dream of having and five things you dream of doing in life," and how, in reality, those dreams might be achieved or changed over time.

Such are the fundamentals of the "411 in the 413" conference that have remained the same over the past decade of events.

Said Berkshire United Way's Garzon, "As youth are developing and emerging as adults in the workforce, and the world, learning how to navigate it is so important."

Reporter Jenn Smith can be reached at 413-496-6239.


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