For the very first time, Teen Summit RVA was held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center on Saturday, March 18, 2023. Hundreds of students in the Metro Richmond area were selected to be part of the event. High school students from Richmond, Henrico, and Chesterfield attended the one-of-a-kind meeting.
The goal of the summit
The goal was for the high school students to discuss and work through issues they are dealing with today, such as educational challenges, employment, mental health, social isolation, alcoholism, drug use, suicide, gun violence, and school safety. Students from all the high schools were able to express their thoughts and experiences.
Gun violence was a big topic addressed because many of the students who were present had been recently impacted by that issue directly in their schools.
How the Teen Summit came about
The first-ever event was spearheaded by the Deputy County Manager in Henrico for Community Affairs in partnership with the other localities. Leaders in those places wanted to hear what students had to say about issues that concerned them. They wanted to have students voice their opinions and to let them know leaders are listening.
Contributing partners from localities helped with funding the event. Each school district helped to spread the word through the high schools. Attending the event was similar to going on a field trip where high schoolers were bused to and from the Convention Center.
Reactions from some of the students
Mario Rivera, a student from Huguenot High School joined about 500 other teens from across the region who were ready to share their experiences.
“To have adults hear our thoughts makes us feel very liberated.
“I feel like this is a great experience to express myself and speak for the youth and the people that are not brave enough to do this.”
Simmons said she was glad to be able to talk about mental health and gun violence. She said it had been hard for her as she recently lost a friend.
“We kind of feel like we have to depend on ourselves and others to help us get through these things. It kind of feels refreshing like a rebirth-type thing. I can talk without being judged. It's kind of like a fresh start."
MalaKai Lee, a student at Henrico High School, shared that the event gave students a safe place to connect and learn from each other's stories.
Results of the Teen Summit
Teens learned a lot about managing conflict, job opportunities, resources in their community, and sharing their stories through art. Many students said they felt heard. They are hopeful local leaders can use the information they shared to better help them in the future.
Simmons from L.C. Bird High School concluded:
"I hope this spreads to other communities. I hope people watch it around the world and hopefully it can fix our community."
The Teen Summit will be held annually. Other events and meetings will continue to be held throughout the year to keep the conversation going. Event leaders plan to grow the experience and involve other school systems like Petersburg and Hopewell.
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