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Minnesota Students Come Together to Make a Difference

Posted: Monday, January 16, 2023 - 1:44 PM


Students from approximately 75 League member schools begin to gather at Park Center for a pep fest to begin the "Together We Make A Difference," student conference on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023.

Student Teams

Members of the North St. Paul and Two Rivers girls basketball teams visited and shared laughter during the lunch period. The two schools were scheduled to play later that night in a Metro East Conference game.

Student leaders from throughout the Minnesota State High School League’s member schools convened in a statewide conference on Friday, Jan., 13 to lend strong voices to the continuing efforts to ensure a safe environment for all students in which to learn and participate in all activities. The “Together We Make A Difference,” initiative was held at Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park and drew more than 750 student leaders from 75 member schools, that all proclaimed in unison the importance of having safe and supportive school environments.

“This is an opportunity to make history,” Osseo Area Public Schools Superintendent Cory McIntyre said during a prepfest-style gathering to open the conference. “Let’s take this opportunity to make change. Your voice will make it happen.”

In a setting that was accented with music, fun and fellowship, students also met in small caucus groups to discuss and advocate for themes that ranged from inclusiveness to respect to leadership opportunities within their schools and communities.

Feedback from discussion groups included the need to build moral integrity, creating safe environments of respect and being respectful users of digital media. Other focus areas were team building, relationship building, leading by example and providing positive reinforcement for others.

“The conference today gives our student leaders across the state of Minnesota a roadmap to addressing racial discrimination and barriers in high school athletics and activities,” North St. Paul Activities Director Jed Helwig said. “Students have the power to make the changes. Today was a day for them to get a better understanding of how powerful and important their voices are.”

One powerful display of reaching across the stereotype of bitter rivals came during the lunch period when student leaders representing the girls basketball teams from North St. Paul and Two Rivers high schools visited, laughed and posed for pictures. Later on Friday, the two teams were to play one another in a Metro East Conference game.

Creation of the “Together We Make a Difference” event had its genesis in response to acts of racial harm, bullying and uncivil behavior in the schools and surrounding communities. The League and its educational partnership organizations were united in addressing the acts of harassment and committed to the work of eliminating the behaviors in the member schools and at their events. In a memo to member schools last August, the League issued a joint statement with its partner organizations that condemned the mistreatment of anyone on any basis. “Racial, religious or sexual harassment is simply unacceptable in our schools or at school events,” the statement said.

The goals and action steps of the “Together We Make a Difference” initiative were developed to:

  • Identify and provide resources to assist schools and administrators in planning, preparing and implementing best practices to address and eliminate harmful behaviors and support students who have been impacted. 
  • Organize and facilitate student groups in bringing student voice to address this significant issue and develop a model code of behavior. Once developed, this code will be distributed to school boards, administrators, coaches, parents, and students statewide. The code will cover all aspects of participation in activities as well as behavior at school. It will include participants in activities and athletics, spectators, staff, students, and community members. Student leaders across the state have been engaged in trainings to lead regional student meetings.
  • Convene regional student meetings across the state, ultimately leading to a statewide student conference involving student leaders in athletics, fine arts and other activities to raise awareness about student conduct, bullying, gender, race and other issues and assist in the development of tools for all schools.

Forbes Solutions and Youth Lens 360 were contracted to facilitate the action steps and achieve the stated goals of the initiative. Seven regional meetings across Minnesota were held with students beginning in mid-September with an eye on a statewide conference to bring students and administrators together.

“This statewide conversation is a great capstone to the regional meetings that have been held around the state,” League Executive Director Erich Martens said. “Seeing the positive interaction of these student leaders from so many schools and their shared commitment to positively impact their school and competitive environments is outstanding. Without question, they embody the strong belief that “Together We Make a Difference.”

The League offers special thanks to the Osseo Area School District and Park Center High School for their incredible work in hosting the conference. Special thanks are also given to the Minneapolis Foundation for their generous financial support in hosting the statewide conference.

Joining the League in this partnership were:

  • MASA: Minnesota Association of School Administrators
  • MSBA: Minnesota School Boards Association
  • AMSD: Association of Metropolitan School Districts
  • MASSP: Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals
  • MNIAAA: Minnesota Interscholastic Activities Administrator Association
  • MSHSCA: Minnesota State High School Coaches Association
  • MREA: Minnesota Rural Education Association
  • MESPA: Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association
  • MASE: Minnesota Administrators for Special Education
  • SEE: Schools for Equity in Education

Information from the event will be synthesized by event organizers and shared with member schools for implementation.

“The conference today gives our student leaders across the state of Minnesota a roadmap to addressing racial discrimination and barriers in high school athletics and activities. Students have the power to make the changes. Today was a day for them to get a better understanding of how powerful and important their voices are.”
Jed Helwig, North St. Paul Activities Director
Osseo Supt

Osseo Area Public Schools Superintendent shared his messaging with student participants: “This is an opportunity to make history. Let’s take this opportunity to make change. Your voice will make it happen.”

PJ Hill

Minneapolis native P.J. Hill, a former basketball standout during his prep career, shared his high school and college journey with participants. He is a financial advisor and real estate developer.

Student Together Performance

A student performed a native dance in the Park Center High School auditorium during a session when students shared their talents.

Student Performance

A student group from host Park Center High School turned the school's auditorium into a lively, festive atmosphere with an urban dance routine.

Student paper 1

Through student-led discussion groups, themes were discussed and visions for respect, behavior and expectations were set.

Student paper 2
Student Paper 3
Together Logos

Here are the partners that teamed to host the "Together We Make A Difference" state student event.

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