Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Refresh 2021: Fun, leadership and community building on the agenda for Nova Scotia high school students at upcoming NSSSA provincial conference

April 19th, 2021
Fun, leadership and community building are on the agenda for Nova Scotia high school students at upcoming NSSSA provincial conference, taking place virtually from StFX May 22-23

Nova Scotia high school students have many great reasons to attend the Nova Scotia Secondary Schools’ Association (NSSSA) annual provincial conference, Refresh 2021, taking place May 22-23, virtually from the StFX campus. 

Chief among them is that the student-led conference focuses on promoting leadership skills and community, in a warm, inclusive atmosphere, and it’s a lot of fun, say conference co-chairs Katie MacLennan and Ella Stacey. 

“This leadership conference will feature four incredible keynote addresses, opportunities to make friends from all over the province, and fun activities such as a talent show, "how-to" sessions and much more,” says Ms. MacLennan, a first year StFX engineering student from Bras d’Or, Cape Breton.

The weekend will be filled with friendship and an energy that’s a defining factor of NSSSA, she says. “The energy is so unique and so hard to describe. It’s a comforting, welcoming atmosphere that really brings out the best in you.”

“Through the NSSSA, I was able to conquer my fears of public speaking and it helped with the social anxiety I face,” says Ms. Stacey, a second year Dalhousie University student, originally from California, but who’s lived in Halifax for the past decade.

“My first provincial conference, Exceeding Expectations 2016, I was given a very warm welcome and gained skills, which I still use in my everyday life. By the time our last conference, Vision 2020, rolled around I was able to be myself, speak my mind, and be surrounded by many kids doing the same. The NSSSA is such an inclusive community, and I am always able to turn to the friends I made through it.

“This conference will be unlike anything done on a provincial level before. The pandemic took a lot from us all. It’s my hope that Refresh can bring some normalcy to the lives of high school students across Nova Scotia!”

The conference is open to all Grade 9-12 students in Nova Scotia. The registration fee is $25, with registration closing on May 1, 2021. Students can register here.

Refresh 2021, the organizers say, is a chance to take a moment to breathe and ‘refresh,’ to recognize the knowledge gained after many unexpected challenges and unforeseen changes in 2020. It’s also a chance to gain new strength and energy, to reinvigorate, and focus on the future. 


Ms. MacLennan says to make the virtual conference special, organizers will be shipping "Conference in a Box" boxes to all delegates who register. The boxes will include information and manuals about the conference along with some extra fun stuff delegates would typically get at a provincial conference.

Highlights from Refresh 2021 will include four dynamic keynotes and seven skill-building and how-to sessions over the weekend.

Ms. MacLennan says a welcoming tone will be set right from the start with an opening keynote delivered by Playfair, known for high spirited and high energy activities. Over the next two days, delegates will be inspired by addresses from filmmakers and StFX alumni Meghan and Marie Wright; the Nova Scotia Youth Project, whose mission is to make Nova Scotia a safer, healthier, and happier place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth; and Andy Thibodeau, a longtime NSSSA favorite, who closes the conference speaking about what we’ve all learned through a year of COVID-19 and how to apply that knowledge. (Bios for all speakers follow below.)  

While most students will attend the entire conference, Ms. MacLennan says delegates are able to attend sessions as their schedule allows. 


She says from her own personal perspective, NSSSA has greatly enhanced her leadership skills since she attended her first conference in Grade 10. At the time, she says she was quite shy, but has since grown to take on a number of leadership roles and has grown in her own self-confidence. 

“It’s mainly the energy that comes along with NSSSA. It’s a very unique high energy that allows you to participate as much as you like. Delegates have the right to pass, to say no thank you to participating in an activity. It gives you the ability to sculpt your own conference experience.”

Gaining new friends, listening to inspiring keynotes and attending the sessions with people who are going through the same things as you are just some of the benefits, she says. 

An added bonus to attending this leadership conference is that NSSSA is known across Canada and participation in it looks great on a resume, she says. 

Keynote Bios


Carol Ann Fried, Empress of Friedom Training Services, is passionate and committed to bringing playfulness and laughter into the workplace. Best known for helping people discover their “JoySpot,” she obtained her MEd in counselling psychology from McGill with a BA (honours) in psychology, sociology and romance languages from Dalhousie University. Carol Ann has enjoyed faculty appointments at McGill University and UBC. Carol Ann has been a professional speaker, facilitator and consultant with business, education, health, government, technology and the helping professions for over 25 years. Before finding her true calling as a motivational speaker and trainer, she was most successful in show business with screen credits including guest host for Howie Mandel on TV's "Deal or No Deal," voice coach to Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne, and Sarah McLaughlan, and body double for Kim Basinger in the motion picture, "9 1⁄2 Weeks.” Proud recipient of the coveted second prize in CBC Radio’s world-famous answering machine contest, her latest creative foray is into the world of improvisational theatre, where she performs with Vancouver Playback Theatre. Carol Ann’s sessions are invariably hailed as practical, dynamic and fun.


Meghan and Marie Wright


Meaghan and Marie Wright are twin sisters and filmmakers from Dartmouth, NS. After completing marketing degrees at StFX, they co-founded Mirror Image Media, a full service video production company based in Halifax. There, they found their love for filmmaking and wanted to help tell stories around social issues. Mirror Image Media produces documentaries and promotional content at the local and national level. Some clients they’ve worked with are the National Film Board, CBC, the Canadian Cancer Society, and United Way. Two of their documentaries have circulated internationally at film festivals — The Social Shift, a feature length film on a cross Canada journey discovering social entrepreneurship, along with Transform, a short autobiographical documentary on spinal cord injuries. They were recently on Season 7's Amazing Race Canada and competed as the only east coast team. Currently, they are directing a feature length documentary on the North Preston Surf Program, which dives into the historical and cultural reasons behind the lack of diversity in surfing. They are passionate about creating change and bringing marginalized voices to the forefront through film. 


NS Youth Project - Mitch Hill & Sefin Stefura


Mitch Hill

Mitch Hill is a queer and non-binary community organizer and activist from Cape Breton, NS. Mitch has been a grassroots 2SLGBTQ+ activist since their youth. Over the past nine years Mitch has held a variety of hired and volunteer roles within local pride organizations, AIDS service organizations, and other nonprofits. They hold a Bachelor of Business Administration from CBU while being a proud anti-capitalist. Currently Mitch works as a community educator for The Youth Project, specializing in 2SLGBTQ+ education in schools from elementary to university, and professional development. They are also a health and wellness educator for the AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia. Mitch is vice-chair for the Cape Breton Center of Sexual Health, and a board member with The Ally Center. 

Sefin Stefura

Sefin Stefura grew up and still lives in Dominion, NS. Sefin had been volunteering with the Youth Project between 2017-19 and has been working with the Youth Project since the summer of 2019. He has a passion for helping the 2SLGBTQ+ community, and he hopes to be a positive role model for struggling youth. He has a healthy obsession with his cat named Prince, is a proud new uncle, and is a massive dork. Sefin is currently in year three of obtaining his Bachelor of Arts/Community Studies degree. In his free time, he can be found working on his 2SLGBTQ+ novel, Final Encore.

Andy Thibodeau  

Andy Thibodeau was called “Mr. School Spirit” by King’s University College at Western when they named him alumni of the year in 2014. This passion for leadership and school spirit started in Grade 7 when Andy successfully ran for student council vice president. From organizing dances in 8th grade, pep rallies in high school and orientation week in university, Andy’s enthusiasm for youth leadership led to his unique career of inspiring students and staff across the continent. Since 1992, Andy has delivered presentations to schools and conferences across North America. Over two million people have seen him speak in all 10 Canadian provinces and 40 US states. 2021 will be Andy’s 13th appearance at NSSSA. As half of “Andy & Stu” speakers from 1992 to 1998, they keynoted the first FIVE NSSSA conferences!  Andy empowers leaders because he was always an active school leader: Student Council VP in elementary school, Student Council President at Laurier Secondary School, and Orientation Week coordinator in university. A highlight of his student leadership career was when Much Music named his high school the “Most Spirited School in Canada” while he was president. 



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