I was blessed to take part in the ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International) Middle School conference which took place at North Shore Christian’s Beverly campus last Monday, October 28th. A good number of our own 5th, 6th, and 7th graders participated, along with many students from four other Christian schools of New England. As a 7th grade teacher, I was given the opportunity to listen alongside these students, and lead some small group discussion. Most importantly, I enjoyed encouraging these students in their own learning, and their creative expression of themselves, their faith, and their goals for making an impact.
Speakers Tim Eldred and Brian Aaby led the ACSI conference, as a part of their OneDay ministry program. The day was divided into three sessions, each of which included games, interactive questions between speakers and students, and time to reflect and pray. All of the games encouraged students to get out of their seats and interact with students from different schools, and I enjoyed watching the students getting to know each other and step outside their comfort zones.
The three segments that the students participated were titled Image, Imagination, and Impact. During the Image session, Tim and Brian led students in thinking about their own self-image, and how this is impacted by both the negative and positive words that have been said to us about ourselves. Students were given time to draw a self-portrait, and share things that they liked about themselves, and things they disliked about themselves. Brian and Tim led a role-playing activity in which students played the roles of a self-critical person, and Jesus, trying to imagine what Jesus would say in response to self-conscious thinking. It was clear that this activity had a huge impact on some of the students I talked to, because it gave them tools to use when they found themselves stuck in patterns of thinking negatively about themselves.
Tim and Brian also led students in an activity where they chose 16 attributes that described themselves. 12 of these attributes were positive, and 4 were negative. Students were then asked to narrow this list down until they came up with the 4 attributes that best described themselves. Then, in small groups, we looked at these lists, and students really opened up about the ways that they felt about these traits. All of the groups were instructed to consider the positive sides to the negative trait, and conversely, the negative side to their positive traits. We then brainstormed about how these traits could be used to positively impact our community and the people around us.
Finally, in the afternoon, students were given a task to work on as a school group on their Impact Project. This project made space for students to brainstorm and discuss tangible ways that they could positively impact their school or community. THey were asked to identify a need in their school, a desired outcome, create a purpose statement, and organize meeting times to include anyone that was interested in contributing.
I found this to be an incredibly empowering assignment for these students. The NSCS Beverly group got to work right away organizing a student-led group in which students in our school hope to pray for students in their school, as well as anonymously send encouraging notes and gifts. They were in agreement that this could be a tangible, powerful way to encourage one another and spread God’s love throughout our school community.
This activity enabled the teachers to give the students the prompts they needed to structure their conversation, and then step aside and let the students actively and intentionally work as creative, thoughtful leaders of their school. I was so proud to watch them do this, and a week later, they already have their first meeting set up to make this project become a reality. I can see how taking ownership of their ideas will allow them to make a difference in their school as an independent, student-led group. The students were excited to contribute to something that was their own, and something that really mattered to them.
This conference was so impactful for this very reason. Every activity empowered these young people and gave them space to view their own worth and potential from Jesus’ perspective. I was amazed to see how Brian and Tim validated these students in their struggles and questions that they are facing, and how these men recognized our students as leaders and change-makers, regardless of their age. This conference served as a wonderful platform for these young people to collaborate and brainstorm, and share their thoughts and ideas about real issues that matter to them. I am so thankful that I was able to take part in this, and I think this conference really made an impact on the lives of our students.