Expert in the field of youth development, Derek Peterson presented to sixth through eighth grade students from Breckenridge, Wahpeton, and St. Mary’s schools the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 5 at Breckenridge High School. An afternoon presentation was scheduled for students from Rothsay and Campbell-Tintah, as well as Breckenridge High School students. His presentations are meant to increase caring and connection within schools and the community.
“What are you going to do with your lives?” Peterson asked the students. “Here in Wahpeton-Breckenridge, here in the Head of the Red, do you really know that you can go anywhere from here? Because you can,” Peterson said.
Peterson was told in his youth that he could go anywhere from his hometown of Lidgerwood, North Dakota and be anyone. However, he was never taught how to do that, only told that he could. Peterson intends to show youth how they can get anywhere and be anyone they want.
Although Peterson was never shown the tools, he found himself traveling the world. He spent 25 years in Alaska, lived on a sailboat in the San Francisco Bay area, spent nearly two years riding a bicycle from northern Alaska to the southern tip of South America, owns a surf shack in Mexico and has worked with the United Nations.
Peterson demonstrated through an exercise that people are taught at a very young age and throughout development to be independent and to rely heavily on themselves. He then instructed the audience to sit down and stand up.
“The problem is, if you do everything by yourself, you’ll only be as big as yourself,” Peterson said.
“If I do everything by myself, I will only be as big as myself,” students, community members, and school staff chanted.
He explained that everyone has the option to be independent. However, if people have dreams and goals larger than themselves, they need to add more people.
Peterson then instructed students to partner with one other person, introduce themselves, sit on the floor back-to-back, interlock arms, and proceed to stand up together. Each time the students performed this task, Peterson instructed the students to make their group larger. From two students, groups expanded to four students, four became eight and eight became 16.
This activity exemplified his philosophy of adding more people: by adding more people to perform a task, the easier it will become.
Students then discussed how the activity is similar to working together on where they are and where they want to be. A few answers that students provided were: trust each other to try their best, the need for different strengths and talents, motivation, and communication to complete a task.
Students engaged in multiple other activities where students had to communicate with one another, trust one another and support one another to complete the activities
Peterson focuses his philosophy of youth development to create a web of support for every child. The web of support should consist of at least five caring adults who can provide love, support, mentorship and encouragement.
“It can be anyone,” Peterson said. “As teenagers, you create those people.”
The thicker the support, Peterson claims, the less likely someone will participate in risky behavior and experience feelings of sadness. Furthermore, the more likely someone will have the capability to bounce back, graduate from high school or college, not give up and thrive.
Intangible measures are also created within the web of support. Among many of these qualities are courage, integrity and honesty. These qualities are not qualities someone “gets,” but rather qualities “caught.” These qualities are caught in the web from those anchors of support created.
Peterson is the founder of the Institute for Community and Adolescent Resiliency — Unifying Solutions (ICAR-US) and a youth development speaker. ICAR-US brings research from natural and social sciences together to create a framework for the development of individual youth.
He will hold presentations at Wahpeton High School Wednesday, Nov. 6 and the community is invited to Day of Hope at the school that evening at 6 p.m., where he will also be the featured speaker.