C of I takes part in Caldwell Youth Forum

On a brisk September day, students from Vallivue, Caldwell, COSSA and Canyon Springs high schools descended upon The College of Idaho campus for the Caldwell Youth Forum, a one-day event aimed to provide training on how to make positive changes in their personal lives and high schools.

“We are getting these students to recognize their element of self-worth, who they are, and that they have a voice,” said C of I ski coach Ron Bonneau, chairman of the Caldwell Youth Forum.

From team building exercises and peer-to-peer presentations by College of Idaho student advocates, to in-depth discussions with high school administrators on how to bring about positive change, the blossoming of students into leaders was visible over the course of the day.

“It’s kind of like the McCall Wilderness Experience for freshmen at the C of I,” said John Hohnhorst, a College of Idaho student advocate. “Over just a couple hours, you could tell people were getting more comfortable and developing into leaders for their high school campuses. It was really cool to watch.”

In fact, the Caldwell Youth Forum, a part of the Caldwell Youth Master Plan, is based off the McCall Wilderness Experience, in which C of I freshmen travel to McCall, Idaho before the school year to bolster teamwork, inclusion and community between C of I students, faculty and staff in a summer camp-like environment.

In 2012, the City of Caldwell implemented its unique Youth Master Plan, the first in Idaho, which includes safety, out-of-school time, health and wellness, education and workforce readiness, community involvement and communication & relationships goals. At that time, the city asked Bonneau, who is also the C of I Outdoor Program advisor and leader of the Wilderness Experience, if something similar could be done for high school students.

“They gave me a call and wanted to know if the College would be interested in being involved…so we sat down and brainstormed a few ideas,” Bonneau said.

Now it its third year, the Youth Forum has continued to evolve. While the format hasn’t changed, each year presents a change in emphasis, whether it be bullying, bystander training or how to make better decisions in regards to alcohol.

“I wish I could have gone through something like this,” Hohnhorst said. “To see the students’ eyes open to that fact that they are all special individuals—while still young with so much more ahead of them in life— it’s important that they learn that now.”

And though it was just a one-day event, it’s only the beginning of an ongoing dialogue on how to reshape the culture and community at each high school, Bonneau said.

“We, together, will make a difference,” he told the students before they loaded the buses and headed back to campus, ready to take what they learned and apply it to their respective schools.

To check out more coverage of the Caldwell Youth Forum by Idaho Ed News, click here.

The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.  For more information, visit