Rachel Bownes with her teacher Ashley Aoki at Naramata Elementary School this week. Aoki has organized a Grade 5 leadership conference for students throughout the district on Oct. 25.

Student leadership conference hits home

Nearly 500 Grade 5 students taking part in leadership conference in Penticton

When you ask 10-year-old Rachel Bownes what can her life do? The answer is: “Plenty.”

What Can My Life Do is the the title of the Grade 5 leadership conference she is excited to be participating in, organized by her Naramata Elementary School teacher, Ashley Aoki.

Nearly 500 Grade 5 students from all of the district elementary schools will gather to listen and talk about life, leadership and making a positive difference from From 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre on Oct. 25.

“I see the world as something that can be changed. There are good people and there are bad people. I see the world as a little bit in between,” said Rachel, during a break in classes. “I wish there would be more world peace and that people wouldn’t fight. Some people don’t have families or places to go for education and they can make a very big change. I really want to help them to be able to have that change.

“I’m going to listen (at the conference) very respectively and I’m going to learn and see if I can make a change through my leadership — to be a better person. This will help us learn about leadership and how to be leaders.”

Aoki has a variety of speakers from the community who will be talking to students about their own personal experiences and overcoming issues.

“I like to present the points from a problem-solution perspective because it has to be a balance,” said Aoki, who went with secondary students last summer to Tanzania to work on an orphanage under construction. “To leave a 10-year-old with the dissatisfaction and disappointment that the world is a horrible, ugly place is a complete disservice. But to be left in a place of empowerment is the goal; ‘here is a problem we have and we came up with a a solution.’

“From my perspective I look at the students in my classroom as the next leaders and our scientists. It’s important for me to provide them with a well-rounded experience of education and how important it is to be critical thinkers and to communicate.”

The title of the conference is part of a quote from the late Benjamin Cole Brown, who was a good friend of one of Aoki’s friends and a humanitarian aid worker.

The full quote is: “Stand against the grain and get a purpose and cause in your heart and say ‘What can my life do?'”

Brown was killed in a small plane crash returning from Haiti, where he had been helping out following Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

“I think sometimes peoples’ lives are too much in the ‘not good enough realm’ and I like the spin on what can I do in service for other people whether that be on a school, local or global platform,” said Aoki, who added that her time in Tanzania only strengthened that resolve for her personally. “How can you be of service to others?

“We have people who have done remarkable work on a local level and a global level and either their story is missed or not heard enough that should serve as a great reminder and help our students.”

While she admits there is added pressure on kids these days at a much earlier age, Aoki doesn’t believe global awareness is a bad thing.

“I think children are exposed to more of the wonderful beauty as well but there are the tragedies too,” she said. “I believe it is important for our students to be critical thinkers and to communicate.”

Rachel summed up her feelings simply as: “I want to make the world a better place.”

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