On November 12 and 13, the fourth of five Youth Days Conferences was held in Helena. For the second consecutive year this site experienced record student participation with numbers upward of 270. Twenty-Nine different schools from 17 different districts were represented at this student leadership assembly.

Students had the opportunity to work with national speaker Oscar McBride from California, standout educator and wellness strategist Bruce Colton, Jamie Williamson and Megan Hill along with their Special Olympics Youth Activation Committee, a team of students from Colstrip, and hundreds of their peers from around the region.

I have the honor of being the MBI -- Montana Behavioral Initiative -- consultant for the Butte School District. The district is in its fourth year of a climate grant (also referred to as the SOARS grant) which focuses on both behavioral and academic supports for students. Under the leadership of Jim O’Neill, Butte schools continue to expand those supports and speak the MBI language. We proponents of the MBI process believe that student voice is a critical component of a positive school climate, and that MBI Youth Days is one platform for that voice, as well as a place to develop and refine leadership skills. Thanks to Mr. O’Neill, Judy Jonart, and the School Board, the Butte schools were approved to attend this year’s Helena Youth Days.

My involvement with Youth Days spans over a period of 11 years. For six of those years I brought students from my middle school in Bozeman, and for the last five years I have been the facilitator for the conference throughout the state. In all of my time being involved with MBI Youth Days (approaching 40 different conferences), I have never been more impressed with a district than I was recently with Butte. Fifty-five Butte students attended, representing all nine public schools. Students took the opportunity to network with other schools, present a brief showcase about the positive things that are going on at their schools, speak about Helena service learning, and share action planning. I would describe their overall performance as exemplary! They were all very respectful, attentive, participatory, poised and confident. I was so very proud of how they represented their schools, district, community and themselves. What a delight to watch them soar!

Please believe me when I tell you that this group of young people genuinely renew my faith in humanity. They are now charged with continuing to contribute to the positive climate of their schools, to engage in a community project, and to continue to cultivate their leadership abilities.

Again, I would like to especially thank Mr. Jim O’Neill for promoting Butte’s involvement in Youth Days, giving up his Sunday to chaperone the students, being away from his office on Monday, and bringing six other outstanding staff members who made the same sacrifices. Those staff members include: Jennifer Luoma, Keith Miller, Brenda Miner (all part of the administrative team) Tony Hoffman, Chris Kebe, and Kerry Weigle. It is such a pleasure to work with all of you! Your student behavior and participation is reflective of your quality leadership and the work that all of your fellow staff members do so very well.

On behalf of the Office of Public Instruction, the MBI division, Virg Hale, Kelley Brown, Pam Cambell, Leslie Jorgenson and the entire Youth Day staff, Thank You!

-- Joe Moriarty, Bozeman, is a consultant for the Montana Behavioral Initiative.