If a teenager observes a schoolmate and standout athlete consuming alcohol at a party the night before a big game, should he intervene? If a girl knows a friend is digitally harassing a third party, posting nasty messages on social networking sites, should she report it?
Those were among the questions directed to 100 local high school students on Wednesday at the 26th annual Youth Leadership Conference at Glendale Community College. The conference — hosted by The Character and Ethics Project, a grassroots nonprofit dedicated to advancing good character and business practices — provides a forum wherein successful professionals and youth discuss character and ethical decision making.
"The point is to talk about what is a leader, what is ethical behavior in the business world and on campus, what are indications of character and how good character effects good decision making," said Susan Hunt, a retired Glendale Unified School District employee and co-chair of the event.
Students were drawn from nine high schools from the Glendale, La Cañada and Burbank school districts, Hunt said, adding that they represented a cross section of their respective student populations.
It can be difficult for parents and educators to counter the numerous examples of poor character that regularly play out in the media, said Kristina Provost, an assistant principal at Clark Magnet High School. But the conference helps to communicate students that they have potential, and will someday be contributing to society, she said.
"These students are our future leaders," Provost said. "They are going to be the ones that are determining the laws and regulations."
During the conference, students were paired with an adult mentor, including business owners, civic leaders and law enforcement officers, with whom they worked through character-building exercises. They outlined qualities of a great leader, and the challenges that come with making morally correct, but sometimes unpopular, decisions.
"It [helps students] understand how it can affect their life, and how it can help them to become a better leader in the future," said Clark Magnet senior Lyova Zalyan.
Participants also delved into current events, debating controversial news topics, such as the use of steroids in professional baseball and Bernard Madoff's infamous Ponzi scheme. Glendale Police Lt. Bruce Fox, the group facilitator, referenced former Glendale Police Chief Randy Adams, who left the department to accept a position and inflated salary with the police department at the embattled city of Bell.
"When he knew he was someplace where his bread was going to be buttered…he was one thing, but when he let his hair down, he turned into something else behind closed doors," Fox said.
Ardy Kassakhian, Glendale city clerk and co-chair of the conference, said the one-on-one time allows community leaders the opportunity to hear directly from young people on the problems they face and the issues that concern them.
The adult participants learn as much from the students as the students do from them, Kassakhian said. And the connection sticks.
"Sometimes the relationships that are struck up here last even beyond college," he said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun