RICHMOND, Va. -- High school students from Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield gathered for the first-ever Teen Summit RVA Saturday at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.
The goal of the one-of-a-kind field trip was to hear what teens are working through, allow them to collaborate together and give students a chance to make their voices heard.
“To have adults hear our thoughts makes us feel very liberated,” Mario Rivera, a student Huguenot High School, said.
Rivera joined 500 other teens from across the region ready to share their experiences. School and county leaders also came to partake in the day and listen.
Rivera found it most impactful seeing how just because students there may speak different languages didn’t mean they don’t have the same concerns.
The inaugural event was spearheaded by the Deputy County Manger in Henrico for Community Affairs in partnership with the other localities. They got the idea because leaders in these localities communicate about student issues, and wanted to have another way to hear directly from students about what they are facing. They also wanted to provide ways for them to be able connect about these issues and experiences.
The summit was funded by contributing partners with assistance from localities. Each school district worked on getting word out about the opportunity through the high schools. They set it up like a Saturday field trip and bused in the students to the Convention Center from their respective schools.
Ilana Simmons, a student at L.C. Bird High School, thought the summit was a great idea because she feels adults sometimes don’t know how issues are truly affecting teens until they hear it directly from them.
“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,” she said.
Students were able to express their thoughts and experiences on mental health, gun violence, education and employment.
Simmons said she felt most seen talking 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," she said. "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, also walked away feeling moved from the conversations around mental health. Lee said it gave students the ability to connect and learn from each other stories.
“I feel like it’s important to do stuff like this because it is a safe space,” Lee added.
Whether the teens were getting to learn about managing conflict, job opportunities, resources in their community or sharing their stories through art, many students said they felt heard.
They are hopeful local leaders can use this information to better help them.
"I hope this spreads to other communities," Simmons said. "I hope people watch it around the world and hopefully it can fix our community."
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