by Kimberly Senf, Senior Librarian & Middle School Teacher 

In early May, four Middle School students headed off to Winnipeg for the Middle School CAIS Conference. This was the first conference for Middle School students that was offered by CAIS, and we had many students who were eager to take part in the opportunity. The four students chosen to attend the conference were two grade 7 students and two grade 8 students: Jet Kearns, Zoe Bourgeois Huard, Susie Mackenzie and Megan Hughes. Accompanying the students on this adventure to Winnipeg were Ms. Kilbertus and Ms. Senf. 

The focal point of the conference was on building leadership capacity in Middle School students. With 27 schools in attendance, it was also a great opportunity for our students to work together with students from schools across Canada. 

The conference was hosted by three schools in Winnipeg: St. John’s Ravenscourt School, Balmoral Hall School and Gray Academy. We spent our first evening at Gray Academy, where students and chaperones listened to a keynote address by David A. Robertson, the author of The Barren Grounds and many other young adult novels. He spoke about the power of storytelling and how stories have a unique ability to lead people to knowledge, empathy and action. Students were also given a sneak peek into the session for the following day with a group called Captains and Poets, who have a robust social emotional learning program.

The second day was spent at St. John’s Ravenscourt School, a school with an impressive footprint that sits alongside the Red River. Students had the opportunity to dive deeper into the programming offered by Captains and Poets and also challenged themselves with some games and activities into the evening.

The three days of the conference were packed with learning opportunities and experiences that our students (and chaperones) will not soon forget. The third morning was spent at the Human Rights Museum, an awe-inspiring building with a tremendous amount of curated resources on the history and current status of human rights in the world. You would need weeks to make your way through the museum but we managed to visit a few exhibits in the hours that we had devoted to the museum. Following the museum, we headed to The Forks market and onward to our final school, Balmoral Hall. We were treated to impressive performances by their students, as well as a talk by an indigenous educator. 

It’s safe to say that it was a bittersweet goodbye on our final morning, as Winnipeg treated us to beautiful May weather and we also had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful students and teachers from CAIS schools across the country. While it was our first conference, it certainly will not be our last. We’re keeping tabs on where the next Middle School CAIS conference will be in 2025.