Selin Jessa is seen in Coquitlam

Acclaimed TEDx program expands to include kids — affirming a thirst for learning

Tales of early expeditions to Antarctica had a ship’s audience completely engrossed before a call over the PA system compelled the lecturing explorer to suddenly stop. The group pulled on jackets in a hurry, threw open doors and stepped from story world into reality, where pods of 30 killer whales surrounded their southbound boat. Selin Jessa found her sea legs on the grand vessel’s deck, and watched the big, beautiful creatures breach in and out of the ocean.

VANCOUVER — Tales of early expeditions to Antarctica had a ship’s audience completely engrossed before a call over the PA system compelled the lecturing explorer to suddenly stop.

The group pulled on jackets in a hurry, threw open doors and stepped from story world into reality, where pods of 30 killer whales surrounded their southbound boat.

Selin Jessa found her sea legs on the grand vessel’s deck, and watched the big, beautiful creatures breach in and out of the ocean.

“In our world and in this life over here (in North America), we get caught up in the day-to-day and forget to be open to those sorts of experiences, and we miss them,” Jessa said in recollection.

As the moment sank in, she grew acutely aware of the significance of caring for the earth.

“Sometimes it feels very hopeless when you want to try to make a difference,” she said.

“But when you realize everything is interconnected … it becomes easier to do your part.”

Though spoken like a sage woman checking off her bucket-list, the 16-year-old from Coquitlam, B.C. believes her journey has only just set sail.

The Grade 11 student will share her insights during a 12-minute talk with 200 high school students and a global online audience at an upcoming Vancouver forum, which will bring several other engaging youth speakers to the stage.

The April 5 event, called TEDxKids@BC, is an authorized spin-off of the popular idea-sharing TED conferences that are held around the world, but independently organized. Its founder describes it as the biggest of its kind in Canada.

Goran Kimovski’s goal is to transform young people into active participants in their own education. He hopes they’ll be galvanized to change the world.

“The current education system doesn’t really cater to the natural instincts that kids (have) for learning,” said the father of two daughters, ages eight and three, who tailor-made the event to fill the void.

The B.C. parent is striving to be a mentor to his kids instead of solely an authority figure, and that prompted him to connect with other educators who theorize that children are filled with drive and learn best by doing.

“It’s not so much about producing a conference in the traditional sense, it’s about creating an experience,” he said.

Youth volunteers are paired with adults who help them run the event at all levels, from selecting speakers to co-ordinating logistics to managing the website.

A Grade 11 student will act as MC, while others will film the presentations and post them on tedxkidsbc.com in the following weeks.

The event’s theme is moving inspiration into action, and will coincide with a TEDx event hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that will be held the same day in Berlin.

“It’s especially valuable that it’s coming from youth because it shows that we do care about change,” said Veronika Bylicki, who will orate on urban sustainability.

The 17-year-old from Vancouver said the forum’s youth-driven approach is powerful.

“Discovering things and exploring things that you’re passionate about, instead of just learning them from a textbook, can be especially important,” she said. “You feel like your learning is relevant.”

The Kids@BC forum had its premiere last October, and its youngest speaker was a 10-year-old girl who instructed her audience on how to transform any observation into a creative writing story.

Some time after Kishal Scholz’s talk, the parents of a 12-year-old boy who attended the speech told organizers that afterwards, their son had holed himself up in his bedroom for days.

Finally, they realized what was going on.

“He decided that he was going to try to write his own story,” Kimovski said. “That’s something that triggered in him.”

Another talk, called “sustainability begins with a smile,” was given by 17-year-old Aliya Dossa. The exposure helped in part to spread her program Youth4Tap, which encourages teens to switch from bottled to tap water, into dozens of schools, Kimovski said.

Jessa is now feeling a “cascade of emotions” preparing her own environment-themed talk, which will be dotted with descriptions of penguins, icebergs and cruising around Antarctic islands on New Year’s Day.

“It’s a big job that I feel like I have to do, to pass that message on,” she said.

She said her aim is to leave people with a sense of hope, which perhaps jump-starts others towards taking positive action, too.

“I definitely think that bringing together different perspectives is key toward solving any of the big challenges our world is facing,” she said.

A third Kids@BC event will be held next October with the theme of Connect.Inspire.Act.

For more information: tedxkidsbc.com

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