Nearly 1,300 eighth-graders from rural communities of Acadiana sat attentively Thursday morning as motivational speakers urged students to embrace wise choices.

“What we’re really doing is giving our youth choices,” said Wanda Burke, director of the Southwest Center for Rural Initiatives and one of the speakers at 15th annual Back-to-School Summit hosted by the center.

“We’re giving them the chance to make great choices,” Burke said.

Javion Domonter, from Breaux Bridge Junior High School, sat through a morning of presentations about a variety of topics, including careful use of social media, commitment to school and safe sex.

“I learned that I can be a better person by changing the way I act,” said Domonter, 13.

After the morning presentations, the students explored a series of booths on substance abuse, cyberbullying, family violence, alcoholism, healthful eating and entrepreneurship.

The Southwest Center for Rural Initiatives is an Opelousas satellite campus of the Southern University Ag Center.

This year, seven parishes participated in the summit: Acadiana, Allen, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Evangeline, St. Landry and St. Martin.

“I’m very impressed with the young folk and how attentive they are,” said Adell Brown Jr., interim chancellor of the Southern University AgCenter. “Oftentimes, you see our young folks today missing some basic facts about life, about health and wellness, about behavior, and (the kids today) seemed to be focused on it and interested in it.”