It would have been easy for Luis Marquez to sleep in on Tuesday morning and spend the early part of his day hanging out with buddies.
After all, he had a week break from school.
But he took the advice of a teacher, partnered up with his best friend, and showed up at the 2011 Teen Summit at Golden West Elementary to both broaden his horizons and have a little bit of fun at the same time.
The event – sponsored by Kaiser Permanente and hosted by Give Every Child a Chance – opened his eyes to a variety of things that teens face today like cyber-bullying, and presented educational information in a way that young people can not only understand but actually enjoy learning.
“That cyber-bullying thing really made me realize how often it happens and what the consequences can be for some people. People have actually committed suicide over it,” he said. “It’s really been educational but fun at the same time, and that makes it better.”
Marquez wasn’t alone in being caught off guard by some of the presentations that were made Tuesday.
Alex Cortez – who has known Marquez since kindergarten – said he was blown away by the fact that the people leading the groups cared as much as they did about the kids that were there to learn.
“I honestly thought that it was going to be a lot different. I didn’t think that they were going to care as much as they do,” he said. “I really enjoy it. They’re helping kids by showing them the right ways to do things. They’re leading by example.
“I would definitely recommend this to other eighth graders next year.”
According to GECAC Executive Director Carol Davis, the event – which drew kids from 24 different schools in the area – saw the number of participants this year more than double over last year’s attendance. With an aggressive push by program director Chuck Crutchfield – who visited every school in the vicinity to push the event – the event actually filled up with 300 registered teens.
While the breakout groups and sessions might have been different, the common theme that made Davis happy was the fact that the students were willing to be there during their week-long fall break.
“As long as they’re here and they’re doing something constructive they’re not out there on the streets where trouble is a real possibility,” Davis said. “They’re here learning about healthy life decisions – how to exercise and eat right and have fun. It’s just great to watch.”
Andrew Mendoza, Kaiser Permanente’s Community and Government Relations manager, saw the event as more of a springboard for the students who could take what they learned on Tuesday and not only apply it in their own lives but impart that knowledge on their families as well.
In an area that’s culturally diverse like the Central Valley, bilingual students sharing what they learned with parents, Mendoza said, is just another positive byproduct of the event itself.
“I really think that an event like this empowers them to think about living a healthier lifestyle, and it provides education about how to do that,” Mendoza said. “And this isn’t education only for the kids. It’s an event they enjoy so they’re going to talk about it to their friends, their parents and people in the community. And sometimes there’s a language barrier there so it’s going to get communicated.
“Maybe then the benefits will reach a family as well.”
The event – titled Better Engaged Students THRIVE – was geared towards making healthy life decisions.