Review of Meadowridge School

For Our Kids Media

If you were to create a school from scratch, what would it include? What would you borrow from the past? What would you innovate? Where would you put the school, and what would it sit next to? As attractive as it might be to be located in the heart of a city, you’d know that there’s value in having room to grow and having access to a variety of outdoor learning spaces. You’d want trees to measure, animals to ogle, and leaves to name. You’d keep some private school traditions—houses, for example—while updating others. There would be uniforms, but there’d be options beyond just kilts and ties.

In the classrooms, there would be more tables than desks. You’d want opportunities to build resilience and teamwork, and you’d create spaces with those lessons in mind—just as much as you would develop quiet places to read and think big thoughts. You’d build something that was sympathetic to the environment and sympathetic to growth. You’d build in opportunities to review and the capacity to change. You’d want to be responsive to the people in the building and what they need, knowing that as people grow, some of their needs might change, too.

And that’s precisely what Meadowridge is. It’s literally a product of that kind of questioning, and the result is a school firmly rooted in its time and place. It’s a conscious reflection of the social, cultural, and natural contexts it sits within.

While all schools are unique, Meadowridge nevertheless proves the point. It’s an IB school, though it adopted that curriculum out of an understanding that the IB was an opportunity to formalize the values and the programs it was already offering, rather than adopting the IB and then aspiring to fulfill it. Meadowridge has rightly put its own character on the delivery of the IB, augmenting it in meaningful, creative ways.

And while parents look to schools to offer strong academics, and perhaps strong athletics programs, the best schools are notable for the health of the community that they encourage. Meadowridge is a prime example of that—the students and faculty clearly feel that they are part of something larger, and that they are participating within the life of the school as well as the life of the communities and families that compose it. It’s a vibrant, unique place. While Meadowridge may not be the most famous private school in Canada, it has a very large profile within private education, and schools rightly look to it as an example of how they might develop their programs.

Natalie MacMaster, “Sketches”

(For Penguin Eggs Magazine)

Natalie MacMaster is one of those artists that is described from time to time as a national treasure. She is that, but she’s a local treasure, too. There’s a video online of her going to play at Glencoe Mills Hall on Cape Breton with Bela Fleck in tow. The music, of course, is fantastic, though the most memorable part is simply when she enters the room. Nobody there treats her like a star, but rather as a friend who happens to play music—their music—with joy, skill, honesty, and love. Fleck tries to join in, but he comes from a world where virtuosity comes first, and he struggles to find a space in the mix. MacMaster is a virtuoso, though the world that she comes from is one where fellowship, connection, and seemingly no end of dancing, comes first. This is where she lives, and it shows.

This new collection, Sketches, continues the theme. It was inspired, as she writes in the liner notes, “when [guitarist] Tim Edey and I were just playing tunes together at my house.” Some of the tunes are old favourites, such as “Killiecrankie”—she writes that it’s one of her “favourite fiddle tunes EVER!”—though there are newer tunes, too, including one in honour of a family friend, Hannah Corkery. Indeed, if there’s anything that unites the material here, it’s friendship. “Patricia Kelso’s” was written for Yo-Yo Ma, who recorded it on a holiday disc. “Tribute to John Allen” is a collection of tunes in honour of John Allen Cameron, her cousin and 12-string guitar player. His son guests on the track playing his late father’s guitar. “Judy’s Dance” is for Judy, simply noted as a friend. The album ends with “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” a tribute in a sense to Bonnie Raitt, a friend that MacMaster hopes one day to have: she writes “Bonnie Raitt where are you? Come and play with me!”

All of it is impeccable yet never precious; fun yet never fatuous. MacMaster has a smile as big as her sense of dignity, and it’s the personality that she brings to the music that has made her the treasure that she is. She plays our music, even if you’re hearing it for the first time, with joy, skill, and honesty. She makes music for friends, and when we listen to it, she enters our lives, our houses, and she’s our friend, too. If there’s a better album of instrumental music out there this year, please do let me know.

The right sound for the right space

When PS.SPEICHER decided to augment their signature collection with a signature venue, they needed a sound system that reflected the growing reputation of their brand. They found it in Kling and Freitag’s VIDA speaker system.

for Kling and Freitag

PS.SPEICHER, a museum in Einbeck, Germany, is home to the world’s largest collection of German motorcycles—from a Hildebrand & Wolfmüller, the world’s first production motorcycle, to examples from the present day—as well as vintage cars and displays that bring the history of transportation to life. In all, the museum includes more than 400 vehicles in 6,000m2 of exhibition space. The building, too, is a draw: the collections are housed in a granary that was built in 1898 and listed as a heritage site in 1978.

It’s a unique space, with a unique purpose. When PS.SPEICHER was first conceived, the intention was to provide public access to an important collection of historic vehicles. That idea grew to include interactive displays and special exhibitions—including a Porche driving simulator and an outdoor theme park—to increase the natural audience for the museum.

Since it opened in 2014, PS.SPEICHER has quickly become a signature destination within the region, and rightly so. Described playfully as the “chrome jewels,” the displays and spaces appeal to a broad range of interest. In keeping with that profile, the facility was expanded in 2016 to include a multi-purpose event venue, the PS.HALLE. Able to accommodate up to 1000 people, the hall was designed to host exhibits, conferences, corporate banquets, and concerts. From day one, the sound has been delivered via Kling & Freitag VIDA speakers, ensuring quality sound for events ranging from intimate meetings to full-hall productions.  

The challenge

That wide range of events intended for the PS.HALLE posed some demanding requirements of the sound system. It needed to be diversified enough to support everything from ambient sound, to speech, to music, to live sound reinforcement. It needed to be flexible enough to address a wide range of space configurations, from banquet settings to productions mounted on the 152 m2 stage. It also needed to be accessible to a wide range of users, providing a full range of cutting-edge tools for use by professional engineers, while also allowing operation by less experienced technicians.

The solution began with K&F beam steering speakers: an array of two K&F VIDA L speakers were flown on both the left- and right-hand sides of the gallery. They were suspended by motorized hoists that can be positioned at two predetermined heights. The beams were adjusted and calibrated for each position, and the parameters saved as presets.

The cardioid sub module VIDA C mounted to the back of each VIDA L speaker reduces the build-up of low frequency. In the case of PS.HALLE, for speech and medium-volume music playback, the VIDA L/C’s deliver full-range sound without the addition of subwoofers. To further sub-bass extension when supporting live music and performance, two K&F SW118E SP subwoofers were used, with their parameters also added to the presets.

The result

Developing the sound system was a process of collaboration between K&F engineers and venue staff. It began with a presentation outlining the solutions being proposed, and to demonstrate the intended result. “A diverse group of people attended, sound engineers and lay people,” says Alexander Kloss, head of public relations for the museum. The principle donor, Karl-Heinz Rehkopf, was there, too, the man responsible for the initial collection. “He was thrilled,” says Ross.

Michael Kraasz, head of exhibition and event technology, was also a key player. “K&F VIDA is good for both speech and music. They sound natural, you can hear who is speaking. There is no need to reposition anything or change angles to optimize the sound for each use.” He adds, “I can also operate events that utilize only a few microphones myself, controlling sound via touch panel or a Yamaha TF-1 mixer … We only need to hire external technicians for events with special requirements, and there are only a few of those” in the course of a typical year.

Ultimately, a system was designed in consort with the venue staff, to reflect a unique constellation of uses, while reflecting and reinforcing the quality that the public has grown to expect of the museum. Says Ross, “K&F VIDA’s sonic performance convinced everyone.”

The most beneficial aspect of therapy isn’t a thing, but a relationship

For Athletix and Beauchamp Fitness

“People are always asking how it is different from a TENS machine,” says Michael Montoya. As a professional who works daily with neuromuscular stimulation, that can admittedly be a bit frustrating. Certainly Dr. Michael Ho—who markets a device known generically Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)—commands a disproportionate amount of attention if only for the ubiquity of his infomercials and the bikini-clad models that populate them.

While the twitching muscles might look nifty, and the bikinis, too, the infomercials trivialise the uses that electricity can have for our health and fitness. The problem is that it isn’t the whole picture, or even a significant part of it. TENS is to the world of therapeutic neurostimulation what EZ-Bake ovens are to the world of baking. It’s weaker than other therapies, topping out at frequencies often no greater than 250 hertz. More importantly, says Montoya, it uses a different type of electricity than your body does. “Your body doesn’t run on an alternating current,” which is what TENS machines typically deliver. “There’s a positive phase and a negative phase,” says Montoya. “What that means is that there’s a moment where the electric voltage is positive alternating with a moment of negative.”

The distinction is important. “This unit is creating a pulsed direct current,” he says, motioning to the device he uses in his clinic. Direct current, as opposed to alternating current, is what the body naturally uses. It’s what your body is using right now to activate muscles and drive the activity of the brain. Functional stimulation is distinct from TENS principally because it doesn’t change polarity but rather works to augment, in sympathy, what is already happening within your muscles and neural networks. It’s also vastly stronger. “This type of technology is creating upwards of five thousand percent of the chemical reaction that you would experience with a TENS unit.” It runs at a frequency of 10000 to 20000 hertz in order to create a wave form that brings blood into the muscle. Known clinically as a vasodilating waveform, “you’re pulling oxygen to those areas that have been injured, or which you’re looking to performance enhance.”

Working together

When he was working with me, Montoya asked at intervals if I felt any pain or discomfort. I’m not sure that I felt either. While I could certainly feel pressure, pain isn’t necessarily the word I would use. It feels less like electrical stimulation, whatever you might expect that to feel like—maybe like licking a 9-volt battery—than it does a deep, directed pressure. That sensation is augmented or diminished by increasing or decreasing the voltage, as well as moving the point of contact. During treatments, Montoya moves the stylus to locate points of connection and disconnection based on the feedback clients give. He works first diagnostically, to locate effects of disuse or injury within targeted muscle groups. Once the points of disconnection are located, he works over the course of weeks or months to gradually build strength and range of motion.

While you might be thinking of the pain whenever he asks, the most valuable aspect of the interaction is precisely that: he asks. Montoya doesn’t just strap you in and turn it on, because functional stimulation needs to be an active, dynamic process, not something you can buy in a box. The real the value of the therapy resides in working together, and that’s what’s responsible largely for the results as well.  Blake Williams is a client and, seeing him in the gym today, it’s hard to believe that when he first arrived he was walking with the aid of two canes. He doesn’t now. That’s the result of the treatments, which necessarily is both the use of the electricity as well as the person using it.

It’s not TENS. It doesn’t come in a box. It isn’t advertised in infomercials, with bikinis. Because it’s not about that. It’s about a relationship. And that’s why it works.


Michael Montoya has been working in strength and conditioning since he was 17 years old. He has had the privilege of providing tremendous results for some of the best athletes in professional sports today. Mike’s background is centered around human physiology in respect to performance, and how our body is wired as an electrical circuit. Mike spearheads the NeuroPerformance department of AthletiX, ensuring that all athletes seeking neurotherapy receive proper treatment to promote an expedited, safe recovery. He also handles the programming for athletes on the backend to ensure all athletes understand the purpose of the NeuroPerformance phases of their programs  

Gee’s Bend Quilters, “Boykin, Alabama: Sacred Spirituals of Gee’s Bend”

For Penguin Eggs

Everything about this album is an absolute, unqualified, unbridled delight. It’s four women who live in Boykin, Alabama, and take part in a quilting tradition that began in the 19th century. They sing while they quilt, and the songs are polished just as the needles are, through endless passes through the fabric of their lives. “Quilting is a healing,” says China Pettway, one of the four. “I think quilting and singing is healing for our soul.”

This is a recording made recently, but in analogue on a portable reel-to-reel Ampex 601. It’s the same equipment used to make all those field recordings—per the Lomaxes—that have formed the canon of North American folk music. Inconceivably, these women have never been recorded before now. But thanks to this, people all over the world will hear them, because this is the kind of recording that people are going to share, and rightly so. It’s joyful, humorous, mysterious, wise. As with the entire tradition of field recording, it’s like listening through a cosmic keyhole onto another reality. It’s hard not to think that it’s a better one, despite the pain that has informed the African-American signing traditions that it exemplifies.

The first track is the women—Mary Anne, China, Larine, and Nancy Pettway—just in the studio giggling and trying out some lines. It’s the perfect beginning to a perfect, moving, telling, important recording. Some of the songs will be familiar; others won’t be. Some are tantalizing, such as “Give Me My Flowers,” which bears some relation to the Carter’s “Give Me Roses While I Live” though it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what that relation might be. Did “Roses” come before “Flowers,” or was it the other way around? It’s likely a little bit of both. “This Little Light of Mine” is the song you know, but at a tangent, in a minor key, making the chestnut new in ways you wouldn’t expect possible. But there you go. You have to hear this. Please jot that down, and do it as soon as you have a chance: “Must hear this.”

Great is an overused word, but it’s great in the truest use of the term. There are a few challenges—this is a full meal, not a mid-day snack—though all efforts are rewarded. The physical copy is recommended, this for the book, the essays, and the photos that come within it. Jazz guitarist Bill Frizell writes that, “music … [is] a reminder to see, to look, to listen. The women of Gee’s Bend are the pure embodiment of this. I was there for only a few moments. They may not remember me, but I will never forget them. I am so thankful.” Which is what music is about, ultimately. Ephemeral moments that nevertheless have the power to connect us in meaningful, substantive, powerfully mysterious ways.

The quilting tradition of Gee’s bend is distinctive. The designs are often asymmetrical, improvisational, and replicating patterns that were informed by the type and quality of the materials to hand. The artistic heritage is unique to the region, with the relative isolation of the community granting it the space to develop and evolve in its own way.

Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, “If You Can’t Stand the Heat”

For Penguin Eggs

Frank Solivan spent much of his youth in Alaska, which perhaps accounts for his range of talents. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a poet. He plays guitar, violin, and mandolin. He writes songs, sings, and is the leader of Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, the IBMA band of the year in 2014 and again in 2016. Their album, Cold Spell, was nominated for the Grammy for 2015’s best bluegrass album of the year. Solivan is also a professional chef, something hinted at by the band name as well as the title of this collection, “If You Can’t Stand the Heat.”

In his life, as in his cooking, he is keen to take chances, to go out on a limb, and to meet challenges with drive, dedication, and rabid ambition. That’s been evident throughout his career, but is particularly evident here. His mandolin playing alone is a big draw–tight, efficient, clean–though his voice is as well. This is bluegrass very much in the vein of the Punch Brothers and New Grass Revival a generation before: it roams the breadth of a very large musical territory. The players are at the top of their classes; the arrangements atypical for bluegrass, deploying a unique brand of confidence and gymnastic ability; the material unique, surprising. Mike Munford’s “Crack of Noon” is a standout, as is a take on Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number.”

The band can risk sounding a bit too perfect at times, a bit on the academic side, and there’s a pong of a pissing match in any bluegrass endeavour. But they rein that in, and the sounds, the voices, work fantastically well together. Where some tunes, such as “Lena,” take us closer to the core of the tradition, others, such as “Shiver” take us further out. “My Own Way” is a beautiful ballad that allows a nice break from the challenge of tunes like “Crave.” The band demands a lot of the listener, delivers on everything it promises.

Behind the scenes at the museum

Playing and learning within Toronto’s foremost cultural and scientific institutions

For Our Kids Media

“Maybe some children have overdosed on simulations on their computers at home and just want to see something solid — a fact of life,” says paleontologist Richart Fortey.  “Maybe a museum should be the place to have an encounter with the bony truth.” 

At some summer camps in Toronto, they can do exactly that and more. Hosted by the city’s foremost institutions, they get kids into the collections in a very literal way, interacting with the collections, learning from them and from each other. Simply arriving at these places every day, and walking through a door that most people can’t, is part of the thrill. Kids dream about getting behind the scenes — to lay their hands on the “bony truth” — and these camps make that dream a reality.

Art Gallery of Ontario Art Camps

The AGO is known for innovation, something that is symbolized in the redesign of the building by Frank Gehry, completed in 2008. The camps are about art, but they extend that in all kinds of interesting ways, exploring where art intersects with culture, science, and life. As such, the sessions don’t focus on media, but concepts. An Aviation session, for example, looks at flight using paper airplanes, the experimentation of Da Vinci as noted in his codices, and drawing birds in flight. One session looked at created habitat for urban wildlife. And on it goes. New themes are offered each summer, though all are as inspired as they are inspiring. The AGO camps are one of a kind, and have rightly grown a strong reputation and devoted following.

The McMichael Collection

The McMichael facility is as much of a national treasure as the art that it houses. You really can’t praise it enough—it’s truly a jewel in the crown of Canadian arts. In addition to year round programs, the summer sessions, in particular, unabashedly get kids involved up to their elbows in art, from creation to appreciation. The sessions are active, though created to really promote the work and the collections to kids on their level, inspiring them to better appreciate their talents as well as the talents of those around them. The experience of being at the collection, too, creates a sense of ownership for the works collected there. The gallery intentionally blurs the line between art and environment, and the camps seek to extend that, getting kids out into the world, and to see how that world is reflected in the work of some of the country’s greatest artists. These camps are not just art classes or art appreciation workshops, they are vibrant, well-led programs allowing kids to have fun while interacting with others around the arts.

Black Creek Pioneer Village Day Camp

It’s right to expect that Black Creek offers summer programs based in history, and certainly they do. That said, the programing is more varied, and more creative, than you’d think at first blush. Sessions range from craft programs, to superheroes saving the village from villains. Kids love to dress up, to try on new identities in new contexts, and that’s something that the setting here offers in abundance. Even for adults, it’s a chance to step away from the city, though without having to drive hours to do so. That environment is a draw, though so is the expertise and the creativity with which the programs are run. They’ve been at it a long time, and have built a strong staff and best practices. There’s certainly a lot to love, again, not restricted to a chance for kids to step back in time.

Gardiner Museum

The Gardiner Museum is one of Toronto’s most unique and engaging cultural gems, founded in 1984 by George and Helen Gardiner as a place to house and share their collection of ceramics. Recent shows mounted here by Yoko Ono and Ai Weiwei have proved that clay is a fascinating and dynamic art form. With extensive renovations and an expansion completed in 2006, the building was brought forward along with the intentions for it. The camps were part of that vision. They are expertly run by passionate instructors who not only know the craft, but can interpret it within its historical and cultural contexts. There is a nice range of session options, including half-day and full-day. Groups are intentionally kept small, with a maximum of 12 in each, and less in the wheel workshops. As such, everyone gets their own space, and maximum time with the materials. The art camp sessions extend the activity beyond clay, which is a nice addition. Younger campers are dropped off, though for the older ones, the TTC stop is literally right outside the door. The setting, frankly, is thrilling, something that adds to the experience. Spending days in a museum of this stature, working with people this engaged, can be transformative in all kinds of meaningful ways.

Royal Ontario Museum

At the risk of stating the obvious, the resources available at the ROM are varied, vast, and unequalled, and the summer programs make the most of all of it. Like the museum collections, the summer sessions are based in social and natural history, with each session based around a certain theme. Simply attending the museum for a week is, for many kids, a thrill in and of itself. Developing a relationship with docents only furthers that; campers feel that they have a unique access to the staff and the collections, and, frankly, they do. The summer programs have been running for more than 75 years, and while it’s less obvious in the day-to-day, there’s a tradition here as well, one of growing an interest in the world around us, and building an engagement with others based in a specific set of curiosities. The camps are very professionally presented, with programs run by expert, experienced staff. Any way you care to cut it, there’s a lot to love.

Ontario Science Centre

The experience of arriving each morning at the Ontario Science Centre itself can be inspiring, and doubly so for young people with an interest in space, science, or technology. The environment has a bustle to it, and certainly, there’s a lot going on. It’s also one of the foremost science interpretive institutions in the country, with a range of resources that are unmatched, and all of it created with a young person’s gaze foremost in mind. The goal of the institution is to inspire a curiosity and an engagement with science, and they achieve that in spades. The camps extend the expertise of the staff, and the half-day sessions are a particular example of that. They allow young people to wade in, testing the waters as it were. They and the full-day sessions are creatively programmed—it would probably be enough to just let the kids experience the exhibits and the collections, or park them in the IMAX theatre, but the staff has larger intentions, as demonstrated by the themes that they build the various sessions and programs around. Kids come away having had an unique experience of the centre, available only through these sessions, and having gained an expanded sense of their talents, skills, and abilities. Sharing time with peers of like minds, like interests, and like academic goals is also one of the reasons families enroll here, and why they come back each summer. The PA day and holiday sessions allow kids a chance to dip back into that environment at intervals outside of the summer season, reconnecting with familiar faces within a familiar setting. 

 

Why do we go to school?

The best reasons aren’t always the ones you think of first

by Glen Herbert

“It’s very Harry Potter,” says Michael Simmonds, chuckling a bit as he does. I was speaking to him about what Havergal College does best, a school in Toronto where he is vice principal. Havergal is one of the foremost girls’ schools in Canada, and regularly ranks among the top schools in the nation. It really does have ivy-covered walls, and the fact that he’s comparing it to a fictional school for wizards feels a bit wilting. Hence the chuckle. He continues, “But, you know, I’m serious. Harry Potter lived in a closet, hid his special powers, knew he was different, and had to go to Hogwarts to be empowered. There’s a lot to be said for bringing a group of like people together … It’s a culture of empowerment.”

For everything that Havergal does—its list of alumni reads like a list of Canadian who’s who—it’s interesting that, when asked about the quality of the school, he doesn’t talk about outcomes, he talks about the culture and the learning environment. We too often think about education in terms of the stuff we find there: desks, books, curriculum, lessons. We also, I think wrongly, too often think of education in transactional terms: do this now, so that you can do something else later, such as get a job, or enter post-secondary studies.

The lesson of Harry Potter is that the real strength of successful schools community. The best educational environments are personal, relational. Karrie Weinstock says that “no child learns math before she learns the connection with her teacher. If the connection isn’t there, she’s never going to learn as well. This is the enduring value of connection and community.” Weinstock is a long-time educator, and currently vice-principal at Branksome Hall, another prominent private school in Toronto. Like Simmons, for her the strength of the school isn’t the buildings or the books, but the relationships that form there. When I asked her what makes a school a great school, she said “it’s a million small conversations” namely those between students, faculty, and peers. “I believe every girl comes to school every day wanting to be the best she can be. And then to meet adults and peers in that environment who are similarly aspiring—that’s a very good mix. That to me is a good school.”

” … the place where citizens prevail … “

The Learning Center was formed in 2003 to be that kind of environment, even if the founders perhaps didn’t think of it explicitly in those terms. Tylisha Miller, a teacher and director at The Learning Center in Port Elizabeth is like Simmonds in that she doesn’t see her work as simply teaching, or tutoring. She sees her role as one of listening, and supporting, and recognizing their special powers: the skills, talents, and personalities that students bring with them into the classroom. She describes it as an environment “where they don’t feel pressured but instead feel safe, loved and cared for.”

“For me it was not employment,” says Miller of finding a role at the center, “it was my new found family, my home.” It’s a place where, says Miller, kids “are given the attention needed to excel.” It’s a community in the way that John McKnight, director of the Community Studies Program at the Center for Urban Affairs at Northwestern University, defines it: “the place where citizens prevail.”

Why we do what we do

The support that we give, through the Grenadines Initiative, is in the service of those larger goals. That’s why we listen to teachers, first, before sending stuff—they know best what their students need, and we want to help them deliver it.

Because, ultimately, the real value of school is the people you find there. People like Morrie Hercules, who inspired other people, through example, to join the effort, including Felicia Frederick. People like Devvy King, who think about best practices, and are as open to their students as they are to new ideas. Or Jan Providence, who is excited about raising chickens with her students. She should be excited. It’s great work. It’s not really about chickens, of course, it’s about the quality of the relationships that hands-on learning can engender. That’s why kids go to school: to grow those kinds of relationships. To grow their sense of who they are and gain a confidence in bringing their talents to bear in their communities. To enter a space where people laugh at their jokes, and ache in the same places. A space where they know, without question: these are my friends, this is my school.

What makes a great teacher great?

What should parents be looking for in educators?

by Glen Herbert

Beth Alexander, a primary and elementary instructor at The Linden School, is a teacher that a lot of people think is great, including the prime minister. In 2017, she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence, and this year she was the first Canadian educator to earn a Lowell Milken Centre Fellowship. Beth is a STEM teacher extraordinaire, which is likely why she came to the attention of the Lowell Milken Centre. She built the school’s makerspace herself out of salvaged materials; she constructed a life-size model that allows students to climb inside a computer; she created a lab to explore the chemistry of candy; there wasn’t a K-8 computer studies curriculum, so she wrote one. But all of it, she feels, is in service to a set of relationships: those between her and her students, and those they share each other. For her, learning begins with those relationships. And when it comes to great teaching, she knows what she’s talking about. We asked her about what she likes to see in educators, and what she hopes her students will see in her. 

GH: What teacher did you have that really stood out? Who was your great teacher?  

Beth Alexander: I had two high school teachers that I thought were great. One of them was really strict. He had unbelievably high standards and gave so much work that we thought we would die. But he obviously really cared about the kids, so that combination of firm boundaries and a lot of love was really motivating and helped his students really grow. And then the other was the most loosey goosey. He let me take two weeks to research whether Paul McCartney really was dead and then give a presentation. Like, I gave this multimedia presentation about whether or not Paul McCartney was dead, which probably wasn’t in the curriculum! [laughs] But I learned so much from it. I don’t know why I cared about that topic, but I did, and he honoured what I was interested in; he didn’t impose his ideas on me; and he gave me a lot of freedom and encouragement.

Those two teachers were very different from each other, though I think kids benefit from a lot of different teaching styles. As long as you’re passionate about what you’re doing and really care about the kids, I think the particular style of teaching matters a little less. And it’s good for kids to see a bunch of different folks, because that’s the world.  They’re going to work with a lot of different people who have different kinds of expectations.

But both of those teachers really cared about me and they were both open to who I really was. That’s key. I distrust those teachers who say “here are my lesson plans for the entire year and I will not be deviating from them.” Well, what about the actual kids? Are you going to listen to what they want? Are you going to respond to what their needs are? Because you need to be flexible enough to do that.

In twenty years’ time, when students think back on the time they spent with you in the classroom, what do you hope they will remember?

Sometimes students will come back and tell me things that they remember, and it always surprises me. Often, it isn’t the things that I worked really hard on planning. Often it will be spontaneous things. So I think having a sense of humour is important.

But when I taught a core class and I had the same students all day long, I would send them anonymous surveys pretty frequently, just getting their feedback on how things were going. And one of the questions that I would always ask was “do you genuinely believe that Beth cares about you?” And if I got a single “no,” I would be really worried about that, and I would figure out what was going on. Because young people need to know that the grownups in charge of them care. That they’re seen and valued for who they are. I would hope that my students felt that that was really obvious from my relationships with them. I would also hope that they found the things I taught were interesting and useful, but that’s secondary. A really caring person who has a great relationship with students could probably teach the history of dirt and the kids would care. 

You’ve been described as an innovative teacher. What does it mean to be innovative?

When I was growing up, science class was: read three pages in a book and answer five questions. You wrote down the questions in your lined notebook, and you wrote the answers, and your teacher judged you 50% on the quality of the facts in your answer, and 50% on the neatness of your handwriting. That was how you earned grades. And if you were quiet while you did it, you got an A.

So, things have changed, but I think good innovators are people who don’t just change for the sake of change. That sort of innovation gets a bad rap, and I feel dismayed when some demand comes down from the ministry saying “you have to change this” when the old way was just fine. You know, reading a book aloud to a class, what can be a more old idea than that? Yet, in all my years of teaching, when I think about those moments when the kids were riveted, I was reading from a book.

But I think that the true spirit of innovation is when you’re constantly seeking to improve by being thoughtful about what is happening. I started a program here that combined a makerspace with a more academic idea of a makerspace, where you’re really using pretty high-level engineering skills to get kids to learn by doing. The fun in it is coming up with the new ideas, but the rigour in it is in genuinely assessing how well those ideas are working, and throwing out what doesn’t work and bringing in something new. And that involves consulting with a lot of people—I’m on Twitter a lot, grabbing ideas from other people, I’m reading the paper—and thinking about things that could be brought into the class. That’s innovation that isn’t necessarily about using a new machine, but thinking of a new connection. And that’s one of my favourite aspects of the job. Coming up with new connections, and rethinking things. Is there a way to take something hard and not necessarily make it less hard, but to find ways to motivate kids to push through the hard parts of it? The more multi-sensory something can be, the better. If you can touch something, if you can move it around, if you can taste it maybe—those are always better ways of teaching than just listening or reading. I’m not teaching in ways that I was taught in school, but instead trying to figure out about how kids learn better.

What are the moments in which you think “this is what it’s all about, this is why I’m here on this earth”?

The thing that I feel is worth as much as my paycheck are those moments when a student has discovered something new. I have a student who is in junior kindergarten, and every day is a brand new day for her. She comes into the lab, and she’ll get to use a tool for the first time. She used a pair of pliers one day. Another day she was using a handsaw—so she had on work gloves on and was given that opportunity to use an adult tool—and the joy on her face was unbelievable. The privilege of being able to introduce those things to her, that’s one of those moments where you’re like, “Ah, this is so fun!” That is worth a million dollars right there. They light up, you can see the adrenaline in their body and the excitement. When a kid says “I get it!” that’s catnip to me. That’s the sound that every teacher wants to hear.

How do you change the world?

Lynn Zimmer did it with a note on message board, a lot of hard work, and a sense of hope in human beings and their capabilities

by Glen Herbert

“I’m very practical,” says Lynn Zimmer. “I’d reached the point where I just felt very tired of having to be angry about everything all the time. I was looking for relief from that, so I wanted to do something practical that would make a difference. Not just being the person who was always complaining.”

What she did instead of complaining was to play a leading role in changing how the nation understands and responds to violence against women. Through her work she has called us, as a community, to live up to our principles, to see them enacted in law, and to demonstrate them in person. The impact she has had on individuals, local populations, and the nation in advancing the rights of women has been profound.

Yet, it all began, in a sense, in 1972, with a note she pinned up on a message board at Women’s Place, Toronto, where she was working as a volunteer answering the phones. The note read: “Want to do something for women in distress? If you’re interested in starting a women’s shelter please come to this meeting.”

Ten women showed up and the result was Interval House, Canada’s first shelter for abused women, and also the first shelter of its kind in North America. It opened on April 1, 1972. It quickly became a model of what could be done, as well as how to go about it, from concept, to funding, to staffing. Just fifteen years later, in 1987, there were 264 shelters in centres across the country for women fleeing domestic violence. At the last detailed national count by Statistics Canada, in 2014, there were 627. In that year alone—just one year, 2013/14—those shelters admitted 60,341 women who were at risk.

ywca-board-of-directors

Lynn Zimmer (centre) with the board of directors of YWCA Peterborough Haliburton. (Photo courtesy of YWCA Peterborough Haliburton)

 

“… the thing I love about the YWCA …”

Zimmer once commented that, in the earliest days “we didn’t know that violence was such a big deal, we thought of it more simply. We thought, ‘they’re married to jerks and they need to get away. We can help.’” Speaking to her—especially when she says things like that—she’s a kindred spirit, someone who knows the things that we all struggle with and can share in the frustrations that we all share. It’s that quality, perhaps, that has allowed her to be the kind of mentor that she’s been to so many along the way, and ultimately to have the impact that she’s had.

It’s what brought her to a leadership role in the Peterborough YWCA in 1984, one she will retire from later this year. “The thing I love about the YWCA,” she says, “is that it’s an organization that does a huge amount of advocacy, but it’s grounded in the programs and services that we deliver in local organizations. What always informs our advocacy is the experiences of women and what they tell us about their lives.”

She notes that while the YWCA may be relatively small, it has amassed more than a century of institutional memory doing exactly the kind of work that it’s still doing today: helping women to achieve equality in an unequal world. And that’s the work that she’s brought forward in her tenure there. At the last annual general meeting, YWCA board president Neera Jeyabalan said that “during her years as the thoughtful and courageous leader of our YWCA, thousands of women and children fleeing violence and abuse have been given a safe space to find their way towards a better future.”

“… to feel that there is even one other person in the world that wants her to succeed.”

Zimmer readily admits that it’s not easy work. “I do really think that humour and proportion are sometimes what saves us,” she says when asked if it ever feels overwhelming. “The other thing I always say is you can’t do this work without having hope. …  At some level you have to be hopeful about human beings and their capabilities. Because all of the systems—the legal frameworks and the governments— they’re all created by people,” including those that serve only to aggravate or augment the barriers to equity and equality. “And yet it’s the power of people together, having some kind of a shared vision, or shared values, or a shared will, that actually makes change happen.”

For her, it often begins with a conversation. “It’s hard to really understand where the barrier lies” she feels, without really listening to each person’s story, beginning with the assumption that, while there may be similar themes, no two are the same. “So many people assume that the barrier lies within the person. You know, ‘if she were just doing this the right way, she’d get the results she needed.’ When in fact there are layers and layers of barriers that are systemic and that are longstanding and so entrenched that they’re invisible to everyone around her. And sometimes if you’re not the person that’s in that situation, or in her life, then you can see it more clearly because you are not also completely embedded in it. And that helps her see that, ‘oh yes, I am strong, I am doing the right things. It’s just that this situation is impossible.’”

Zimmer suggests an example of a woman, say, in a violent marriage. The violence may be the most immediate and apparent layer, but it’s only one of many that litter the past and that lie in the future. And they all relate. “She met the guy in high school, and her schooling was derailed.  So, she hasn’t got an education. Even if she works she’s going to be paid a minimum wage. She won’t be able to afford child care. So she’s constrained on all fronts. Which leads her to believing that the only thing she can do is remain with her abuser or on social assistance. Because it would take so much for her to accumulate money, and resolve, and the confidence in herself. And to feel that there is even one other person in the world that wants her to succeed.”

There are lots of institutional-type conversations to have, and, to be sure, Zimmer has had all of them over the years. “You can advocate with other organizations in how we do our work together … and with government about their policies, about legal changes that ought to be made, about the way they fund or don’t fund services that women need. It goes up to that big macro level, looking for social change. But it starts there, person to person.”

“we talk a lot about women having choices ”

While finding a safe place in moments of crisis has rightly been the initial thrust of much of the work over the last four decades, Zimmer has turned her attention to the next: building programs that will help women find their paths to the future. In her words, to be able to offer “a period of security to do the hard work on making those transformations” toward independence and stability.

That’s the nut of Homeward Bound, a recent initiative. It’s about moving out of shelter—out of the Interval Houses and Crossroads of the world—into independent housing; gaining a facility with goal setting, financial literacy, college preparation and academic readiness; being supported through career counselling and affordable childcare. “Hopefully, at the end of four years,” says Zimmer, which is the term of participation in Homeward Bound, “they’re launched into housing, a job that’s going to support their family, and they’re on their way to economic security.”

So far, that’s exactly what it’s doing. The first group of four women have completed their first year of academics, and are now into their second year. “They’re all doing really well,” says Zimmer. Another eight women were admitted into the program and, this past September, started their first year of college programs. They are able to follow their interests, though “we’re encouraging women to look at skilled trades and technology. We see that as the field that will really guarantee them a good wage.”

“We talk a lot about women having choices,” she says, “but sometimes there really are no reasonable choices she can make. The range of choices is very, very constrained.” Zimmer has crafted Homeward Bound as a means of creating those kinds of real options, and of opening up a greater array of choices. Like Interval House, it will also become a touchstone for the kind of work that can be done, and and inspiration to others to take it up. To help grow and sustain Homeward Bound and like initiatives, a fund has been created which will be managed through partnership with the YWCA Community Foundation.

The impetus for that fund was to honour Zimmer’s leadership while helping realize some of her current goals. While Zimmer is retiring, she’s also moving into this next phase of the work that she’s done all her life. To listen, to mentor, to demonstrate. To change the world.

Through Zimmer’s leadership, the YWCA has been developing community development programs to help women living on low incomes to access support with dignity and community belonging.  They include:

START (Support Team for Abuse Response Today)
A one-day-per-week violence against women service hub. A woman who has experienced abuse can drop in, without knowing what help she needs or who does it, complete an intake interview, and then be connected in person to several different service providers.

YWCA Women’s Centre,  Minden
Outreach and transition support, longer term counselling and a unique rural shelter model.

Family Court Support
Free, confidential court support to women who are making their way through Family Court and are living in, are leaving, or have left an abusive situation:

Transition Support
Free, confidential support to women who are fleeing abuse or are concerned about the health of their relationship.

Crossroads Shelter
24-hour emergency shelter, meals and support for women and children fleeing abuse of any kind—physical, emotional, sexual or financial—365 days a year.

Nourish – Belonging Through Food
Dignified access to food, gardening and cooking skills along with programming designed to empower individuals to advocate for themselves and others and grow a just food system for all.

HERS – Haliburton Emergency Rural SafeSpace
Independent living units for women and children fleeing abuse

Centennial Crescent Housing
Second-stage housing for women-led families impacted by abuse

Homeward Bound Peterborough
An innovative wrap-around service helping inadequately-housed or homeless mother-led families earn college diplomas, start careers and achieve economic self-sufficiency.

Camping on campus

Summer camps hosted by some of the best universities in North America

for Our Kids Media

Camp is about environments: allowing kids to access new ones, to engage with new communities of people, and to enter new communities of interest. In some instances, that’s the university environment. For many campers, sessions hosted on campus offer the first meaningful experience of university life—there are new people, new ideas, and new passions to experience. Staff and instructors come directly from the university culture and community, bringing an added layer of enthusiasm, energy, and expertise. The facilities themselves, it goes without saying, are exceptional, including teaching spaces, lab spaces, and varsity athletics spaces. From the Ivy League to the halls of industry, does it get any better than this? 

Cornell University

Debate is undergoing something of a resurgence in popularly with young people, and delightfully so. There are some great skills associated with it, including communication and higher order thinking, though kids like it for the best reason of all: it’s fun. The Cornell International Summer Debate Camp is world-class in every way, hosted on the campus of a storied university. It can be an eye-opener in all sorts of ways, particularly through engaging with peers from around the world who share academic aspirations and the talents and drive to achieve them.

University of Ottawa

The U of Ottawa team is known as “GG” for garnet and grey, the school colours. The Gee-Gees Sports Camps, hosted here through the summer months, are a direct expression of those programs: expertly run and conducted in a professional, world-class setting. Lunch is in the caf, included in the session fees, and there is an option of daily swimming in the Olympic sized pool. The coaches are hired from the varsity programs, and getting to know them is part of the experience. All skill levels are welcome, including elite athletes intending to develop their skills, to kids who just want to try something new. In all, it’s as inspiring as it is athletically sound.

University of Toronto

Some camps are truly one-of-a-kind, and DEEP Summer Academy is one of them. Developed by the outreach office of the department of engineering at the University of Toronto, the intention was to offer an intensive STEM program for university bound kids. The resources on hand are as good as it gets, and there is a keen focus on involving girls within the program, inspiriting them to participate in areas where women remain underrepresented. The programming is advanced and challenging, and students from around the world apply to be accepted to the program. Sessions are taught by faculty of the university, and topics are cutting edge.

Summer Youth Programming at the Daniels Faculty continues that theme. The building, newly built at the Spadina Crescent, is itself worth the cost of entry—it’s the latest home for the University of Toronto’s school of architecture, landscape, and design, one of the leading schools of urban design in Canada. It’s a hub of art, design, and community-building, hosting a range of programs and learners, from professional think tanks, to graduate studies, to undergraduate programs that use architectural studies as a means of augmenting a liberal arts-based education. The mandate is to provide research, teaching, and service. The camps are part of the overall project as well, bringing young people into this setting to explore the people, the environments, and the work done here. At the camp sessions, students engage in collaboration with peers to explore, well, just amazing stuff, such as the theme for the 2019 camps: how drones can disrupt aspects of city life. Programs for high school students offer opportunities to explore careers in design, while being exposed to a wealth of new ideas and cross-disciplinary thinking. The potential for these experiences to be transformative is very high. Barring that, they are simply a great way to spend some time with others. All is seamlessly administered and managed, staffed by instructors and mentors who are passionately involved in their fields of interest, and keen to express their enthusiasm for the work.

The programs at Camp U of T Mississauga are also impeccably run and creatively varied, making the most of the wide range of resources at hand. The sports sessions are exceptional, and all campers, no matter the program, have access to the varsity pool. The themed programs—including academic topics cast in playful light—give kids an age-appropriate sense (i.e., it's fun) of what university academic life is like. Some offerings are unlike any you’ll find anywhere else, including forensics—there are only three programs like this in Canada, and this is the most engaged, best outfitted—as well as things like Biz Science, which combine seemingly diverse interests and diverse approaches, from lab work to role play. The leadership training programs bring closer to home something that is more common in overnight camp settings, providing an opportunity for young people to grow into new roles, new responsibilities, and a new appreciation of the skills and talents that they personally can contribute to a group environment. In all of that and more, there’s a lot to love, both for parents and kids. These are some the best, and best run, most consistently managed day programs in the region.

Camp U of T Scarborough hosts leadership training programs that bring closer to home something that is more common in overnight settings, providing an opportunity for young people to grow into new roles, new responsibilities, and a new appreciation of the skills and talents that they personally can contribute to a group environment. The afternoon programs—including academic topics cast in playful light—are run as mini-University sessions, giving kids a sense of what university academic life is like. In all of that and more, there’s a lot to love, both for parents and kids. These are some the best, and best run, day programs in the region.

Ryerson University 

The resources at Ryerson Summer Day Camps are rich and ample in ways that, understandably, other kinds of camps could never replicate. Science sessions are held in world-class, fully equipped lab settings; sports are conducted in professional-grade facilities. That's true of all offerings, which are varied and unique. There are News Academy camps, where kids learn about journalism while participating within a professional news gathering and broadcasting setting. There’s a bit of imagination to it all—kids who dream of being on camera news readers, for example, will be living the dream—but not much, given that, well, it’s all real and it’s all happening, with real equipment. For the right kids, it's literally a dream come true. Less obvious at first glance, but equally true, is that camps are run by staff who are at the same level, and who are themselves looking to careers in the areas that they teach within, if not having already achieved that. The location is a draw, to be sure, in the heart of the city and easily accessible by public transit. The camps have been run since 1984, and are administered with expertise and experience.

The location of the Ryerson Performance Youth and Community Programs couldn’t be better, and that’s true for the facilities as well. Drama, to some extent, is about dreaming, and having the use of professional theatre spaces only enhances that. Further, the staff is expert, as is the administration, allowing for high-quality instruction and productions. The levelling allows kids to get used to the idea of being on stage, and then grow into an appreciation what they can bring to it. The location and program support, too, contribute to a very professional package. 

Queen's University

For young people with a passion for engineering, attending the Connections: Queen’s Summer Engineering Academy (QSEA) has the same gravity as, say, a child who loves basketball attending a week of practices with the Raptors. The setting, the staffing, the resources, the approach—it’s all the real deal, within one of the country’s foremost academic institutions. No punches are pulled, with attention to chemical, civil, electrical and computing, geological, mechanical engineering, and others. It’s not for everyone, to be sure, but, again, for the right child, it’s as exceptional as it is unique. Day and overnight options allow for a wider range of engagement, but the immersive overnight programs are a particular draw. Participants interact with peers of a like mind and academic ability, as well as academics and professionals in the field, all which can be both transformational and inspiring.

York University

At the York University Lions Camps campers can experience a wide range of athletic activity, from field sports to martial arts. The intent is to bring young people together around a range of inclusive wellness activity, to challenge them a bit, and to build their confidence and resilience a bit at the same time. The staff is sympathetic to all of that, made up of youth leaders from the York student community.

Science Engagement sessions engage with the outcomes of the provincial curriculum, extending them in a range of meaningful ways, through hands-on, cooperative learning. Students also work within a professional setting, and learn from student leaders that themselves are working in those fields throughout the year. The facilities, as you’d expect, are exceptional—a majority of the sessions take place within Faculty of Science at the Keele Campus of York University—as is the organization of the programs and sessions.

Tucked away in leafy Bayview and Lawrence neighbourhood, Glendon College of York University is like an oasis of peace and quiet, all nicely accessible via public transportation. During the summer months, it’s home to Camp Glendon, with sessions that reflect some of the strengths of the school, including bilingualism, of which Glendon College is a national leader. Likewise, a tennis program is run out of the Glendon Athletic Club, a 55,000 square foot full use fitness facility. There’s a buzz there, one buoyed by a community of people who exemplify the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle. Staff and instructors come directly from the university culture and community, bringing an added layer of enthusiasm, energy, and expertise.

McGill University

Storied, old, beautiful—environment is important, and McGill, unquestionably, sets the right tone in the heart of Montreal. The MWS Montreal Language Camps are intensive language immersion  programs, picking up where other immersion programs fall short, adding cultural immersion as well. Yeats said that education shouldn’t be about filling a bucket, but lighting a fire. In terms of language learning, as well as independence and personal development, that’s what MWS does.

Missy Raines, “Royal Traveller”

Women in bluegrass—unfortunately, sadly—get short shrift. Ask about the greats, and you’ll open the floodgates for a lot of testosterone. That said, women have long been doing great work and, while often enough, have actually been acclaimed for it. Much of what we think of as bluegrass guitar—a rhythm with a melody picked within it—is derived from the Carter Scratch, named for Mother Maybell Carter. She learned to play that way because men wouldn’t play with her, so she had to do both herself, and changed the world of acoustic guitar forever. Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard would also top the list, though part of an unbroken chain, one that brings us to Missy Raines, who has made an indelible mark in what some might unfairly see as a man’s world. All of that is prologue to this beautifully crafted and conceived album, “Royal Traveller.” The album title references a label on a cosmetics case that Raines once had with her, and which caught her eye one night, while on the road. There’s an irony there that she brings forward on the song of the same name. The song “Swept Away,” will—and should—get more attention, and this is why: all five who sing and play on it are, like Raines herself, the first women to win IBMA player of the year awards for their respective instruments (Raines, Sierra Hull, Becky Buller, Molly Tuttle, and Alison Brown). Raines, for her part, has gone on to win 7 times. That backstory adds a lovely dimension to the music. The rest of the album follows in kind. It’s more approachable than some of the work Raines is better known for, that being her albums and tours with the jazz-inflected New Hip. There are lots of other guests here, too, and all as welcome as old friends. Tim O’Brien features in a delightful duet with Raines on “Fearless Love,” as the Steel Wheel’s Trent Wagler does on “Goodbye Virginia.” The string arrangement of Ola Belle Reed’s “I’ve Endured” is as poignant as the sentiment. And on it goes. There’s only one name on the cover, but there’s a welcome crowd participating in the tracks. This album will very rightly feature on lots of best of the year lists come Christmas time—it’s simply one of the best things you’ll hear this year.

Profile: Carmette Gooding

By Glen Herbert, for The Grenadines Initiative

“We call it the Big Rock,” says Carmette Gooding, “but it’s the only rock.” She recalls jumping off of it into the surf when she was growing up on Bequia. “We’d wait for the biggest wave to come, then we’d jump in it. When the wave was breaking. We loved that, I loved that as a kid!”

I say that it sounds like a fun place to grow up. “Fun place?! Not in my day. It was hard work!” She remembers walking across the island to get milk for the family. “I used to go there every morning before school to get a bottle of milk. I would get up so early, it was dark you could barely see through the bushes. I had to go through all those gullies, and up the hill and down, before you go to school. To get the milk for our breakfast. That was the only milk we had then. We didn’t have any can milk or powder milk, or all of this kind of stuff. We had to go for it every morning.” I ask if she ever felt like saying, forget this, get your own milk. “Forget?! You forget and your mom and dad knock your head off!” She bursts into a laugh, then adds “You couldn’t say no in those days.”

Still, it does sound like fun, and in truth she admits that much of it really was. She recalls making banana and fish dumplings, and long days at the sea. “In those days you’d never even feel the sun, either. You’d be on the beach all day, all day sitting in that sun waiting til people finish the cooking, and then you go back in the sea again.”

I spoke with Carmette in Solana’s, the shop in Port Elizabeth she runs with her daughter. Sitting there, it feels like being in the thick of things, and perhaps you are. Spend long enough and perhaps the whole island will drop in. “My mother’s the kind of person, everybody knows her,” says Solana. “Everybody feels comfortable coming in and telling her their problems. They know her and they can relate to her, and she will sit down and talk with them.”

“She could get carried away sometimes,” says Solana. “If she could help everybody, she would. She doesn’t like to tell people ‘no.’ She likes working with people who are just as passionate as her about taking care of things that need to be taken care of.” She’s got lots of opinions, as well as a brilliant way of expressing them. When I once asked her about the value of volunteerism, she said “the more you pay, the less work you get.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that, borne of her decades of experience on various committees and initiatives.

Apart from work in the shop, Carmette is the FedEx agent for the island, and sells real estate. Since the 1990s she’s been treasurer for the Bequia Mission, a role she continues today with the Grenadines Initiative. It’s been years of raffles, and repairing homes, delivering food and supplies, selling books at the book sales beneath the almond tree. “I always enjoy meeting people,” she says. “And why not? I love doing that kind of work.” I ask if she’s game to oversee the book sale tables on Hero’s Day again this year. “Why not?! Of course.” And she means it. She’ll be there.

The sargassum crisis

An initiative taken jointly with Action Bequia may be one of the first steps in addressing the problem. It certainly won’t be the last.

By Glen Herbert for The Grenadines Initiative

“This may be the worst algal bloom in the history of mankind on earth that we’ve ever seen,” says George Buckley, a professor of the Harvard University Extinction School. (Buckley has created an excellent backgrounder on the problem, which can be viewed here.) That algae, sargassum, is a weed, though the potential for it to affect lifestyles and livelihoods is substantial. When researchers use the word “crisis” in reference to the bloom, they are thinking specifically of its ability to impact to the economies throughout the Caribbean.

To date, nearly nothing has been done to counteract the effects in a way that answers the sheer size of the bloom. Some hotels in Mexico have been using sargassum as a medium in which to grow mushrooms. Other communities, including that of Mustique, rake the beaches every day at dawn. Those things are a starting point, to be sure, though they will soon be overcome by the scale of it all. Says Buckley, “the treatment that’s being done so far is at best reactive. We really need to look quickly beyond that in terms of controls,” including harvesting it in greater quantities, and establishing recycling facilities where it can be prepared for industrial use.

20150810a7seaweed.75502.jpg950x534__filtersquality80We’ve partnered with Action Bequia and to submit an application for a major grant to the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA), a World Bank organization, targeting the problem. As noted in that grant application, this isn’t a one that can be solved easily, nor is it one that can be addressed without significant partnership across the island and throughout the region. We believe that education is an important first step, both on island and beyond. If you have any ideas for student programs, we’d like to hear them. As happens so often, it’s the work and the voices of children that can gain a unique purchase in the international commons.

The fact that SVG has been elected to the UN Security Council puts the country, its communities, and its organizations in a unique position. This could be an opportunity to play a significant leadership role. That might begin with raising awareness at the UN, using the issue as a means of lobbying for a greater engagement with climate change initiatives. David Leonhardt of the New York Times wrote this week about a Yale University study that found that, since 2011, the number of Americans who say they are concerned about climate change has risen substantially. He reports that the primary reason cited by respondents was that they were “directly experiencing climate change impacts.” The second was, “hearing about climate change impacts.” That’s a story that Vincentians can tell. Bequia, to be sure, has had a longer period of direct experience than the majority of the world population, first with the rising sea levels—there used to be beach off the Belmont Walkway not all that long ago—and now this.

It goes without saying that most people in the world don’t know what sargassum is, how it can affect them, or how they contribute to its growth. The irony is that they are one of the causes—the runoff from farms in North America is one of the main contributors to the crisis. Buckley notes that “help is needed from all fronts, particularly [from] those that are not on the islands. The victims can only clean up so much.” It’s a global problem, not a regional one, and it requires a global response. How the world responds will provide an analogue for how it will respond to later examples of the effects of climate change. Ultimately, this isn’t a story about how we treat the environment, it’s a story about how we treat each other.

We don’t have any answers, but Action Bequia and the Grenadines Initiative are keen to work with local projects and initiatives. We’re also able to accept dedicated resources from benefactors in Canada, the US, and Britain to support those activities. An important and simple first step is to join the Bequia Sargassum Action Group, either online, via their facebook group, or in person. Please do that.

Sometimes it’s not the big things that change the world: the treaties, the work of presidents and prime ministers. Maybe this will be one of those cases. Perhaps it begins with raising our voices, both within the community and beyond. Bending the ear of local politicians, certainly, is indicated. Delivering messages by and on behalf of the local student population is too. Given that Vincentians may have easier access to the halls of the United Nations puts us in a position not only of opportunity, but responsibility. SVG is the only Caribbean nation to have that pulpit. In many ways, the next two years may prove to be a very interesting time.

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Do island students need STEM?

STEM is about engaging collaboratively, thinking creatively, across disciplines. And, in education and business, its fast becoming the way of the world.

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STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. And, at its simplest, that’s what STEM programs provide: an intensive focus on the hard sciences.

In practice, however, it’s much more than that. The best STEM programs are ones that not only stress the academic areas, but do so in an interdisciplinary way; they are programs where the sciences aren’t siloed—learning math in one classroom and chemistry in another—but integrated so that students not only perceive the connections between them, but also apprehend their mutual application.

STEM programs achieve that, largely, through problem-based learning, with each of the elements providing tools for discovery, creative problem solving, and communication:

  • Science: questioning, observing, predicting
  • Technology: applying analytic tools, putting ideas into practice, being inventive
  • Engineering: building, understanding material properties, designing effective solutions
  • Math: identifying patterns, making connections, communicating results

That’s what distinguishes STEM programs from the science classes that we knew when we were in grade school and high school. Physics, for example, was the class that we took, and little if any effort was made to relate it to the other science disciplines or, all too often, practical application. STEM programs, in contrast, are curiosity driven, applied to real world problems, ranging across disciplines, and conducted in collaboration with others. Physics isn’t so much a thing unto itself, but rather a set of ideas, principles and tools that can be used to help answer questions and solve problems. Yes, there are still bricks and inclined planes, but they’re a starting point, rather than an end point of study.

STEM in schools

The goal of STEM programs is to get beyond the prejudices that we might have about the sciences, including, say, the difficulty of physics or the nerdiness of computer coding. Those things are less in evidence today than they once were, but STEM programs take that even further and work to make the sciences inviting, approachable, and inspiring.

If there is a dark side to STEM, it’s the awareness that women continue to be underrepresented in industry, something that can be a catalyst for the adoption of a STEM approach. “Now more than ever it’s important to see strong female leadership in the tech industry,” says Reshma Saujani, CEO & Founder of Girls Who Code, one of the most visible STEM programs out there today. She’s right of course, and in all kinds of ways. Girls want to be involved in tech, but often there remain hurdles to involvement. That’s coupled with an awareness that industry benefits from a proliferation of voices, perspectives, and approaches. It’s about parity in the workplace, as well as making sure that talent is encouraged and applied to the best advantage for all.

The introduction of STEM-specific programming is a bit of a rising tide in the private school market across the country. St. Margaret’s School in Victoria, BC, was an early adopter. There, and elsewhere, the adoption of STEM is aligned with gender parity. In 2016 the Coalition of Single Sex Schools of Toronto (COSSOT) devoted its annual conference to the intersection of gender and the sciences, and was titled STEMinism (a neologism of STEM and feminism). Keynote speakers included Dr. Shohini Ghose, director of physics and computer science at Wilfrid Laurier University, and Dr. Renee Hlozek, professor of astrophysics at the University of Toronto.

The association of STEM and gender is absolutely valuable, and the benefits are readily apparent. That said, it’s important to note that, at its core, STEM isn’t about gender specifically but rather about how schools approach the delivery of science and technology curricula. It’s about how we frame questions, as well as growing awareness of the how questions are best asked and the tools available for answering them.

A new relationship to science

STEM programs seek to reorient students’ relationship to science, namely through working collaboratively. Especially in the past, scientists were thought of as lone geniuses. Einstein, for example, devising the theory of relativity while riding a bicycle through the countryside, Newton sitting beneath a tree, Pythagoras cogitating in his cave, or Darwin scribbling away in his berth on the Beagle.

There is some truth to those ideas, and in the past many people did actually work in isolation. Einstein very famously did. So did Gregor Mendel and Marie Curie. Many, however, didn’t, and Thomas Edison is a great example of that. The oft-repeated idea that he invented the lightbulb, for example, reflects a desire to see inspiration and lone genius at the core of scientific discovery and technological advancement. But Edison would better be celebrated as one of the first in the world of technology who saw what the tech fields would in time become, i.e., collaborative. Menlo Park was perhaps his greatest invention, a facility bringing hundreds of people together, along with their talents, and applying them to solving real-world problems. For the light bulb Edison built a team of people to help find the right filament, and they experimented with hundreds of materials, from carbonized banana peels and beard hair, to, ultimately, tungsten. (Robert Friedel and Paul Israel in their book Edison’s Electric Light: A Biography of an Invention note 22 inventors who created incandescent lamps prior to Edison—he wasn’t the inventor so much as the director of the lab that was first to produce a commercially viable prototype.)

STEM programs adopt and promote that idea, namely that science and technology isn’t a field dominated by lone geniuses squirreled away ruminating on problems. Rather, it’s a celebration of the community of people around the world that, working together, will solve the problems that we face and, together, make the greatest advances.

Profile: Sister Cherrylyn Glynn

For nearly three decades, Sister Glynn has been providing essential services to the youth of Bequia

By Glen Herbert

“I love my work because I get to meet people directly,” says Sister Cherrylyn Glynn. “It’s one-to-one. I do counselling, I get to meet the families.” For the bulk of her career Glynn’s been in the role of nurse practitioner, working out of the hospital in Port Elizabeth. Her office there is organized, clean, if a bit spartan. The one photo on the wall, wedged behind the electrical intake, shows her when she was a nursing student. “That’s when I was in the clinic as a staff nurse,” she says when I point it out. “I had a breast-feeding support group for the mothers. We used to go all over St. Vincent, our group. We went to all the clinics to show them what we do and how they can initiate their own groups.”

Glynn first arrived on Bequia in 1990 and has provided a broad range of care ever since. Today, when she’s not called by her nickname, Cheps, she’s known as Sister Glynn. “It’s the rank of our nursing profession. I don’t know why the ‘sister,’” she says, aware that some might think it means that she’s a nun. “We have males but they are referred to as charge nurses, not brothers. But once you reach the level of ward manager, then you earn the handle of ‘sister,’” something she’s rightly proud of.

Glynn was educated on St. Vincent, and she has developed in her profession and educated others ever since, including as a preceptor at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. In her current role she runs health clinics as well as the school health program, an aspect of her work that she particularly enjoys. “I love to see that parents adhere to my dietary instructions, my dental instructions, and so forth. And that by the time I see the children again in Grade 6, I can see real improvement.” Children have a complete health assessment when they enter primary school, and then again when they are preparing to move to secondary school. In some cases she’s seen the children of those she first saw when they entered school.

Having an effect

In her work and her demeanour, Glynn is an example that the most important aspect of health care isn’t the stuff or the buildings, as important as those things are. It’s the relationships and the expression of care—the knowledge that you have someone by your side who knows you and recognizes what you’re going through—that can form the most abiding, and often most effective, aspect of primary medical practice.

In the course of her career Glynn has done conceivably tens of thousands of in-office exams. She’s also advocated outside of that, oftentimes in ways that many don’t see, or don’t feel directly. “I pick up conditions that would have gone unnoticed, things that would have been missed,” she says, “I like to see that they’ve gotten the necessary referrals and help that they need,” especially in cases of cardiac pathology, which present with some regularity. But it’s the small stuff, too. “A few years ago, when I see children and I ask ‘do you eat your vegetables?’ they say ‘no.’ But now I’m hearing children say ‘I love tomatoes, I love cabbage,’ so I know that it’s” having an effect.

Volunteering with the Bequia Mission

“I was intrigued by what they were doing, and because of that I volunteered,” Glynn says of her first involvement with the Bequia Mission. At first, she packed food hampers and helped ensure that those who could benefit from them received them. For the past decade, she’s worked closely with Linda Harrier, providing lists of supplies needed on island, from an EKG to cotton balls. “I like the stickers. You know, when the children come in and you give them at sticker, they feel so good. And I give a pencil to the kindergarten kids … ” Her voice trails off, though the smile remains. She doesn’t say it, and perhaps would demure, but the stickers and the pencils are emblematic of the care that she offers to the children of the island, the personal interaction and the relationship that builds from it.

It’s an interesting thought experiment to wonder about the net effect that Glynn has had on the health of the island population. True, she’s not working alone, something that she’d hasten to point out. But for so much of the program of care during her career, she’s been the front line. She manages her clinics and is the go-to person round the clock. When I toured the hospital with her, she was on a day off, but was stopped regularly by the nurses for advice on how to handle this and that, or what she felt about a patient’s progress. You’d think that kind of constant attention might wear thin, though Glynn smiles through it all, and clearly enjoys and appreciates the role that she fills. She admits that it feels good to be needed, and to know that her work helps others. For three decades she’s been a quiet example of the impact one person can have, while also providing an example to others, especially young girls, of what they can do, too.

Growing up in a changing world

Now more than ever, kids need camp

by Glen Herbert for Our Kids 

 

Up until the mid-1960s, a typical day at Camp Wanakita began as it always had: with a compulsory, camp-wide skinny dip. The camp was still all-boys, and modesty clearly wasn’t at a premium: the campers needed to be clean and, without showers, it was the lake or nothing. That wasn’t specific to Wanakita, of course. At Wapomeo, an all-girls camp, the dock was outfitted with curtains to shield the girls from passing boat traffic.

In some ways, to be sure, camp isn’t like it used to be. While much of the programming of the early days would be familiar to campers today—canoeing, woods lore (ecology), singing, theatre, tennis, archery, arts and crafts—other activities wouldn’t be: boxing, folk dancing, poetry composition, and riflery. As the needs of parents and campers changed, so did camp, often in keeping with the times.

Still, one thing that has remained, and that’s what camping is all about. Eugene Kates, past director of Camp Arowhon once said that “it’s important to let people learn the feeling of doing something well. Kids bloom if you can get them hooked on striving for excellence. And that’s what I think camp should do.”

Camp, from the very earliest days, was about challenge, growth, and identity. “At camp I figured out who I was,” says Jocelyn Palm, longtime director of Camp Glen Bernard. “To me, that’s it. You learn to be independent. I believe children learn to make decisions by making decisions, we just need to let them try. I feel strongly that we have to help young people acquire values that will help get them through life. And camp does that.”

 

I believe children learn to make decisions by making decisions—we just need to let them try.
—Jocelyn Palm

 

Certainly, if there is a consistent commitment to what camp has been throughout its history, that’s it. What kids need—to find out who they are, to gain independence in a safe and supportive environment, to learn how to make good decisions and forge positive relationships, to acquire the values that will help them in life—well, that hasn’t changed either.

Establishing the tradition

The traditions we associate with residential summer camp—the values, the activities, the aesthetics—are in many respects due to the work of one man. If there is a patient zero of the camp experience that is common across Canada today, it’s Taylor Satten. Returning home from the Boer War, Statten joined the YMCA in 1902 and soon became the national Boy’s Work Secretary, a position that included the directorship of Camp Couchiching in Orillia, ON. There he branded himself “Chief,” took the Ojibwa name Gitchi-Ahmek, and added First Nations lore and woodcraft to the programming. He also established the Canadian Standards Efficiency Training program, a series of graded activity levels intended to give children the opportunity and incentive to develop intellectual, social, physical, and religious skills.

Of course there were other youth programs at the time, and some of them, such the scouting movement, were wildly popular. When Lord Baden-Powell published his book Scouting for Boys it became an international sensation. Adventure, resourcefulness, friendship—the values of scouting were clear, and the concept behind it appealed to parents’ desire for structure, consistency and their hope for their children to find a constructive place within society.

What made Statten’s programs unique was the focus that he brought to them. In place of the regimented, sum-is-better-than-its-parts approach of scouting and cadets, Statten built programs around the individual, seeking to develop each child’s potential and to celebrate their individual strengths. Camping in Statten’s hands was about expression, independence, and an appreciation of the diversity inherent in any group. Adventure and resourcefulness were important, but so was imagination, identity, and a close appreciation the natural environment.

In 1916, Statten put his ideas into practice by founding Camp Ahmek, a camp for boys set within the boundaries of Algonquin park. The centerpiece of the camp, then as now, was the stone fireplace in the main hall, one that Tom Thomson helped build, hauling the sand for the mortar that would bind the stones. Pierre Trudeau would sit before that fireplace as a camper, as did all three of his sons both as campers or staff. Justin Trudeau, in speaking of camp, described his experience while giving what is, effectively, a precis of Statten’s initial vision: “[camp] had an immeasurable impact on my family and me. For my father, my brothers and I, being campers and counsellors at Ahmek taught us much about nature, about responsibility, and most importantly, about ourselves.”

Wapomeo, a sister camp to Ahmek, followed in 1924 and, taken together, the two camps provided a model for many, many camps to come that in turn reflected the organization and the values that Ahmek and Wapomeo had demonstrated.

 

For my father, my brothers and I, being campers and counsellors at Ahmek taught us much about nature, about responsibility, and most importantly, about ourselves.
—Justin Trudeau

Looking out, looking in

By the 1950s, summer camp had become an icon of Canadiana, something that has remained true to this day. When Michael Budman went to Camp Tamakwa as a camper, he discovered a culture and an aesthetic that would later become central to the Roots Canada brand, a company he co-founded. When Roots ultimately outfitted the Canadian Olympic teams from 1998 to 2004, there was a little bit of summer camp in the image that Canada, as a country, was projecting to the world.

Certainly it wasn’t just the look that impressed Budman, or indeed anyone who encountered summer camp, but also the values that were represented there: confidence, communication, leadership development, environmental stewardship, and self expression. “The keys to becoming a good citizen are knowledge, caring, and action,” says Jocelyn Palm. “These are important requirements in the wise use of the environment and also carry over into everyday life. Campers learn to share, how to appreciate all types of personalities and cultures, and how to function as a member of the camp community.” When asked why she chose to install composting toilets at  Glen Bernard, Palm responded, “if I’m not prepared to be a role model and show kids the technologies that are going to make our environment sustainable, who’s going to do it?”

Since even the very earliest days, functioning as a member of the camp community was promoted as something akin to functioning as a citizen of the wider world. Glen Bernard Camp director Margaret Edgar held weekly talks, and in one in 1928—this was a typical weekly address, not something out of the ordinary—she told the campers that “We are debtors to all the world. From all corners of the earth the gifts of the peoples of other lands are brought to us. We live in a world where the vast distances are bridged by commerce and transportation, by cables and radios.”

“For Edgar,” writes Jessica Dunkin, “camp was a place where girls learned to live in a community with those who were different, an invaluable skill in what [Edgar] saw as an increasingly globalized world.” Again, this from the 1920s—when it comes to thinking locally and acting globally, camps have long been at the leading edge, often providing leadership to those outside the camp community.

Building programs

While some camps continued to hone a very traditional experience, others built out programming in order to further reflect what some parents and campers were looking for. Themed programs, enhanced facilities, and new ideas came to the fore. Arts, in particular, became a prominent focus, and programs including copper enameling and pottery took their place alongside woodworking and music. Dora Mavor Moore was a drama instructor at Tanamakoon in the 1930s, inspiring a drama program that has lasted the intervening decades. She also designed the theatre that is still used there today. Likewise, Arowhon’s theatre program was begun by actor Lorne Greene when he was a staff member there.

While theatre programs existed at some camps, larger scale and section-wide productions became more common in the 1970s, something that is reflected in the musicals—such as “Free to Be You and Me,” “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”—that remain mainstays at camps across Canada today. Over the years, it’s the camp environment that has traditionally given children a chance to take risks and perform in front of an audience. Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Sam Raimi and Mike Binder all got their starts at camp. (Many camps have starred in movies, too. Meatballs was filmed at Camp White Pine, Indian Summer at Tamakwa, and Disney’s Camp Rock, starring Joe Jonas and Demi Lovato was filmed at Camp Wanakita.)

Enhancing leadership

Into the 1970 and 80s, formal leadership programs were introduced, including two-year student counsellor, or counsellor in training (CIT) programs. These not only served the campers by placing a clear focus on leadership, they also served to augment the staff training already in place. As now, when counsellors begin working with cabins, they’ve effectively had months of training rather than weeks, and they have spent two years looking forward to the responsibilities of leadership.

In time, many camps that had been just for boys became co-ed. In 1969, Camp Wanakita took the idea of bringing camp to a larger audience one step further by inaugurating family camping, adding a week-long session at the end of the summer to allow families to enjoy the camp environment together. The idea had immediate appeal and was fully booked well in advance. Today, the concept is common, with some camps offering family sessions throughout the summer in addition to the traditional residential camp programs.

It was a different, to be sure, but nevertheless is emblematic of something camp had always intended to provide: an important, meaningful experience that you can’t get anywhere else. David Stringer is son of Omer Stringer, the legendary canoeist and outdoorsman, and a director of Camp Tamakwa, the camp his father helped found. There he continues the tradition that his father, and others, put in place all those years ago. “If he could see this third generation of kids tipped over on the side of their canoe, paddling, he’d be thrilled.” David is too, because, like his father, he knows that through camp he’s able to make difference in the lives of children. It’s less about specific skills than it is the sense of mastery. It’s about the confidence that comes with being alone, in a canoe on a lake, deciding where you’re going to go. And then going there.

 

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What does it mean to be a global learner?

Schools like Pickering College are redefining international education

by Glen Herbert for Our Kids

 

There was a time when the concept of international education and global learning was principally about experience: getting students out into the world, travelling, first to Europe and then further afield. The world was posited as a rich museum of culture, art, and experience. At Pickering College in Newmarket, Ontario, that concept has been turned on its head. There, a school-wide global learning curriculum is less about experiencing the world than it is enabling and empowering students to act effectively within it. It’s less about becoming good tourists, and more about becoming good global citizens, positing the world not as a museum, but as a home.

That’s the thinking that informed the creation of Pickering’s Global Leadership Program (GLP) which was launched in 2017. “I want our students to believe,” says Headmaster Peter Sturrup, “that they have the capacity to look at a situation that they feel may not be just, may not be fair, may not be right, and … [feel they can] do something about it. To not just sit idly by and be frustrated that, well, there’s nothing I can do … We want to teach them to be creative, to come up with new and different approaches, and then to actually do something about it.”

The GLP was essentially reverse engineered from that goal, based in an understanding of the skills students would need to succeed in academics and life while cognizant of the kinds of experience that universities would be looking for. The intention is to develop global leaders for the world they’ll move into after graduation, ensuring they have the skills and attributes necessary to engage meaningfully with the challenges they’ll encounter.

What does it mean to be a good global citizen?

While many global learning programs are geared for the high school years, Pickering begins instilling the concepts as young as JK. “It grows as the students grow,” says Andrea Cleland, coordinator of the GLP middle school program. In the primary years, students think in terms of their agency within the classroom. When the students move on to the junior years, that community becomes the school community, and so on. In the high school years, “that’s when their world really opens up, and they’re beginning to really think in a global way.”

As an administrator of the middle school, Cleland oversees a period in the students’ lives that can be as difficult as it is central to their personal growth and development. “This age group is really looking at figuring out who they are, developing and solidifying their identity, so that’s what we target.” That includes working with students on the building blocks of their learning: figuring out what their skills are, what their challenges are, and helping them gain a sense of what they love and what they’re capable of. “The second piece is being able to enact change: knowing what it means to be involved in community, being able to advocate for things that are important to them, and knowing how to do that in a way that respects the people that they’re working with.”

The middle years program culminates in a TED-talk like presentation to answer the foundation question “Who am I? What can I do?” In the talk students present their topic area, why it interests them, and then explain where they want to take it as they move into the senior school. Cleland feels that that action piece is what sets the GLP apart. “It’s not just saying, Ok, you’ve learned it and off you go. Instead, it’s saying, OK, you’ve learned this, now what are you going to do, and how are you going to [use it to] be a global citizen and engage in a way that’s authentic?”

“Who am I? What can I do?”

In many ways, the approach has already proven itself through tangible results. The diploma culminates in the Capstone project, where Grade 11 students write a research proposal based on a global issue of interest to them—suggesting solutions and implementation—which they pitch in front of a judging panel. Kim Bartlett, director of teaching and learning, recalls one of the first students to complete a Capstone project, designing and engineering equipment to scale walls. Today he is completing an engineering degree at Northwestern University where he was part of a team that helped develop the fuselage for the SpaceX Mars missions.

Says Bartlett, “these are the kind of kids that are now coming out of our programming. They’ve got the thinking skills, they’ve been trained in integrative thinking. We want all of our kids to have that kind of experience.” As such, the force of the GLP has been applied across the breadth and depth of the curriculum, not merely the obvious areas, such as STEM or social studies. “In all of our programs, there is a strong focus on real-life experience,” says Noeline Burk, head of the arts program. “It’s not just whether or not you’re the best drawer in the class; it’s about being able to develop an idea and see it through to a successful ending.” Burk believes that art is about more than expression, and that it can and should be used to develop communication, presentation, and even entrepreneurial skills.

That intensive focus on skills, and ensuring that they are brought to the fore, is what ultimately gives the GLP its character. It understands is that a good global citizen isn’t one who simply recognises the superficial differences between cultures—the “food and dance” approach to international and cultural diversity—but rather one who has the skills to navigate the world, to collaborate effectively and empathetically with others, to think creatively about the causes they believe in, and to realize all of that through positive action.

“When we designed it, the goal really was: ‘what do we want our graduates to be able to do at the end?’” says Bartlett. “It was really about imagining the ideal graduate.” Says Sturrup of the GLP, “as it fulfills its potential, it’s setting students up to be successful not only in university, but successful in whatever they want to do.” It understands that the globe isn’t just out there, it’s here too, and that being a global citizen begins at home.

 

Living in the moment with Adolphous Greely

 

Twenty-five men, 350 pounds of supplies, and a chance to change the world.

by Glen Herbert

“This was not simply some new Arctic expedition,” says historian Michael Robinson, “this was really an attempt at a new science of the world.”

It was the international polar year, and fourteen expeditions set off to collect data about the world. Together, they would offer a clearer view of the earth’s climate than anyone had ever had before. Some of the data, including that gathered by the Greely expedition, is still valuable to us today, if not quite for the reason that those involved in the expedition intended. It’s a gauge of climate change, and we’d be the poorer without it.

greely_group_525

Adolphous Greely was mesmerized by what involvement in this kind of study could mean, and he dove in, seizing the chance to be exceptional. Under his guidance, and taking 25 men and 350 tonnes of supplies, the expedition set off for Lady Franklin Bay, arriving on August 26, 1881. They had everything they needed and, after the Proteus weighed anchor for ports south, they were free of one thing that Greely thought that they didn’t need: a ship. Until a ship returned to pick them up in a year’s time, they would be cut off from the world in every possible way. Like Robinson Crusoe, the rest of the world would cease to be.

Unlike Crusoe, they were in one of the harshest, least fecund environments you could ever hope to find. “Pee freezes before it hits the ground,” says Jerry Kobalenko, “and even your breath condenses into little crystals that snow down and fall on your sleeve.”

Still, Greely watched the Proteus sail away and later wrote, “I am glad the ship has gone … it settles the party down to its legitimate work.”

He believed that, given the harsh conditions, any ships would be considered “cities of refuge,” places to escape to should the going get rough. When confronted with the difficulty of the task at hand, Greely feared that the crew would choose to sail rather than to stay. Removing that option, he believed that their resolve would be galvanized, and success—now the only option—would be assured.

17732febf02abb78116d544bc7e1fac6c896745aAnd he was right. That first year the crew created Fort Conger, an outpost of buildings, barracks, and offices. They also meticulously took 500 measurements a day—temperature, wind speed, barometer levels—with unerring precision.

In organizing the endeavour, Greely was prescient of a problem that we all live intimately with today: in a world of endless distractions, can we ever focus on the moment, the person, or the task in front of us? If you were stuck on a train for a few days with only one book, you’d probably read it. Stuck with a bunch of books and a smart phone, most people would likely read none. We talk a lot about living in the moment, though that’s because we have so many options that make being in the moment such a completely difficult task.

While Greely certainly didn’t think in these terms, the idea nevertheless is there: making the most of what you have means understanding that it’s all you’ve got. It’s the same concept that animates our interest in the Apollo 13 mission, encouraging a level of cultural fascination that we’ll never have for the Apollo 11 mission. Eleven gave us a quote, of course, “One small step for man.” But 13 gave us the better quotes, including one that my kids can recite accurately and gleefully: “Houston we have a problem.” Jim Lovell said that while crammed in a tin can, in space, with two others so close they were touching, realizing that they might never make it back earth. He also said, “We’re not going to go bouncing off the walls for ten minutes, ’cause we’re just going to end up back here with the same problems! Try to figure out how to stay alive!” Failure wasn’t an option, and whining wasn’t either. On a disabled spacecraft, there aren’t any cities of refuge, and perhaps that’s why Lovell and the rest of the crew are still alive today.

As much as we like those kinds of ideas—being in the moment, being proactive rather than reactive—we don’t often choose to live them. When my wife and I began marriage counseling, I mentioned this idea to our counsellor. I felt that, in a marriage, we too often think of the ship there in the harbor, knowing that if things got bad enough we could get on it and sail away. And, yes, there are points in a marriage when leaving seems like a good option. Add kids to any relationship, and things can become strained. Distances, disturbances, confusions. There are so many things that enter a marriage, so many people, so many new experiences and a crush of emotions that inevitably come along with all of them. Added to that, we are constantly surrounded by cities of refuge. The magazines at the grocery store check out are a window, however skewed, onto some of them: better sex, new love, divorce. Tinder, Ashley Madison, and all the other dating apps suggest that there are people out there, thinking the same things, if not just down the street, then certainly no more than a text message away. At weddings we gather our people together in order to watch the marital analogue of the Proteus sail away. Like Greely, we reflect afterward that we are glad that it’s gone. We look forward to stability, constancy, and a future that lacks some of the uncertainties that, prior to marriage, we had been living with. We passed the audition; we got the part. We’ve found the moment that we want to live in, and we’ve decided, together, to get down to the legitimate work. And then we become distracted. When a moment becomes uncomfortable, there are so many alternate realities that we can imagine and ruminate on. “Until death do us part” morphs into “what if?” Seeking a city of refuge becomes less daunting than facing the challenges we’re presented with.

When I mentioned Greely in counselling I was wondering what life would be like if we didn’t have any what ifs. If we could focus on the moment in front of us, free of the ships nagging us from the harbour, and face it alone knowing that it’s our lives that we’re saving. Without the “what if?” would we be able to address our problems more functionally? In the absence of escape clauses, would we settle down and focus on our legitimate work? For all his faults, I’m inclined to think that Greely was right, and that we could, and that we would.

The problem, sadly, is that Greely’s story doesn’t end there. In July of 1882, the ship that was supposed to bring supplies for the second year was unable to make it through the ice that blocked the way north. People in Washington became distracted with an election, and a war, and other things crowded in. Greely and his crew look to the sea expecting something, yet they see nothing.

In July of 1883, the Proteus heads north again with supplies, but is crushed in ice and sinks in Smith Sound. Greely and his crew head south in search of provisions, travelling in small boats that had only been intended for use gathering information near the camp, never for a voyage on the arctic sea. After 51 days, they arrive at Eskimo Point, having survived most of the journey atop an ice floe. They are excited when they get there, assuming that rescue parties are nearby. But they aren’t. The truth settles in when a few members of the crew travel north to Cape Sabine in search of supplies and find there written documents telling of the fate of the two previous supply ships. It’s now a year after the Proteus was crushed, and it’s the first news they have from the outside world since they first arrived in the far north. What they don’t realize is that no further rescue attempts have been made or planned. They would assume that someone is coming, that they haven’t been forgotten. But they have been forgotten. Or, if not forgotten, then abandoned. That winter, members of the crew begin to die of starvation. Out of hunger and desperation, they begin cannibalizing each other. The success of the first year of the expedition was, entirely understandably, upstaged by the punishing reality of the second and the third.

greely_timeline_8408In time, loved ones raised an alarum, as well as funds, and a competent rescue effort is launched. For most of the team, however, it’s too late. Only six people would survive the expedition. They are greeted with a hero’s welcome, though public perception changes abruptly once the more details of their three-year ordeal become common knowledge. Twelve days after the survivors arrived in St. John’s, the New York Times reported, if not the full details, then certainly enough of them:

“When their food gave out the unfortunate members of the colony, shivering and starving in their little tent on the bleak shore of Smith’s Sound, were led by the horrible necessity to become cannibals. The complete history of their experience in that terrible Winter must be told, and the facts hitherto concealed will make the record of the Greely colony — already full of horrors — the most dreadful and repulsive chapter in the long annals of arctic exploration.”

Nevertheless, in time Greely goes on to other work. President Grover Cleveland appointed him Chief Signal Officer, and in that role he planned and administered the creation of thousands of miles of telegraph wire. Later appointed a General, he administered aid in the aftermath of the Great San Francisco Earthquake. He represented the United States Army at the coronation of King George V. He was awarded the presidential medal of honour during the same ceremony as Charles Lindberg. Life isn’t just another arctic expedition, after all. It’s an attempt at a new science of the world.

Learning to lead

Quebec’s Camp Nominingue leadership program offers transformative and important experiences for youth

by Glen Herbert

 

“It’s something big for me,” says Olivier Girard when speaking about last summer, the one he spent as a Leader in Training (LIT) at Camp Nominingue. “I’ve never had a month like that in my life.” Certainly, he hasn’t, and he admits with palpable disappointment that he likely never will again. His LIT summer was one spent not entirely as a camper, and not entirely as a counsellor, but somewhere in between.

The overt intention of the LIT program is to train campers for future counsellor roles. This includes safety training, and completing bronze cross certification, as well as how to be an effective leader, guiding campers through their days at camp. Less overtly, though equally if not more importantly, the training summer was designed to be a time to grow, mature, and accept a growing array of responsibility.

“We want them to grow as individuals,” says Nominingue director Grant McKenna. “We want them to grow in confidence and skill; we want them to take some calculated  risks, to go a bit beyond where maybe they think their limits are.”

He notes that the leadership program gives them a lot of latitude to explore both the world and their changing place within it. “They have a lot of opportunity to express their opinions, to express their feelings, to deal with leadership theory, apply that theory, and to be tested by challenges that they haven’t undertaken in the past.” Says Olivier, “We were trained to be counsellors, to better yourself, to search your inner self, to find your qualities, to find your weaknesses.” For him, the distinction between the program and the values that inform it are necessarily blurred.

Often it’s a longer period at camp than they’ve ever had before. For Olivier, it was the first time he’d spent a full month in camp. While they’re involved in it, participants see themselves as members of a unique class, with a unique set of demands placed on them. “The feedback comes very quickly,” says Laurent Gilbert who was an LIT at Nominingue in 2000, the year that the program was launched.

“They wanted to make us responsible,” he says with a chuckle, though quickly becoming introspective. “Going on a canoe trip [as an LIT] you were the one making decisions, leading, and orienteering … it gives you a chance to be more mature. I think it’s an experience that you cannot miss.”

“ … for the first time the counsellors aren’t with them …”

Certainly, you’d be hard pressed to find an analogous experience in any other setting. The experiences associated with being an LIT are often the most lasting, largely because they are the most meaningful. McKenna says that, thinking back on the experience, past LITs “talk about the canoe trip, when they were out there and, for the first time, the counsellors aren’t with them. They talk of being a counsellor for two days, and about working with kids.”

While they also have a solo camping experience during their LIT summer—spending a night on their own—those challenges are more personal, more individual. Their work with others is distinctly different. Being given responsibility at a young age sends a range of important messages. Chief among them is what the responsibility implies: that you are ready for this, that you can be trusted, and that you have the skills and the ability to take on more. It feels like growing up, and in many ways, it is. The understanding that others have observed your skills and abilities is one of the things that make being an LIT so important.

Charting the benefits of challenge

While it’s not the oldest camp in the country, Nominingue shares a tradition and a set of values with some that are. In the early part of the last century, rather than relying on a militaristic model, per the one we associate most with Baden-Powell and scouting, camps in Canada adopted a conspicuously alternative organizational structure, one built specifically around opportunities to build social, physical, and interpersonal skills. It was less about work, and more about growth; less about obedience and rank, and more about building empathetic forms of leadership and, by inference, inclusion.

Fun is part of it, as is integration and personal challenge. Some of the challenges are physical, others social, and canoe tripping was seen as an essential vehicle for both. Tripping can be strenuous, weather doesn’t always cooperate; intermittent discomfort is part of the experience.

It also presents a wealth of opportunities for young people to assume greater responsibility, and to become true mentors, leading empathetically; working to gain the trust of others rather than demanding trust from them; allowing young people to feel the weight of responsibility in a hands-on, real world way. Success isn’t exclusively personal, but also social. It’s less about “I did it!” and more about “we did it!” and a profound appreciation of the power a group can have when personal talents are employed toward achieving a common goal.

“My counsellors were good … they connected with me”

Camp Nominingue is an all-boys camp, one based on a clear understanding of the value of positive male mentorship in the lives of boys, particularly in our current cultural context. Tripping remains a core aspect of the program, as does a dedication to small-group participation. The camp builds its own canoes, which imparts, among other things, the values of workmanship and craft. Trips go out typically with two counsellors and just four or five campers. “You go out on a canoe trip, you’re dealing with just a few kids and those kids get really close,” says Gilbert.

In camp and on trip, the LIT summer, more than any other, is one filled with small acts of service—mentoring, helping, coaching—and an awakening to a new role. Participants come to see themselves as members of an institution, gaining a reverence for what the institution represents. They learn to see themselves not as creditors to whom something is owed, but debtors who owe something.

That’s clearly true for Olivier. “You can be a good leader and a bad leader,” he says, something he learned by example. “My counsellors were good … they connected with me. We were really close at the end.” For him, leadership is, principally, about supporting others, “to bring you up when you are down. And always being there for you. And teach you how to do things for yourself, not just do things for you.”

Olivier will be junior counsellor this coming summer, and a full counsellor the next. If past examples are any indication, he’ll gain a lasting and profound relationship with the camp, comporting himself proudly as a member of the community that Nominingue represents. When he notes that “it’s something big,” he’s likely not yet cognizant of how important and lasting his experience truly was. Again, if past examples serve, he’ll grow to see it as a month that will affect the rest of his life.

Camping differently

While not all children love all camps, there’s a camp for every child to love.

by Glen Herbert

 

Despite increasing enrollments at technology camps—in some cases reaching into the thousands—there are those who will question the place of technology within camp programming. As founder of Brick Works, a tech camp based in Waterloo, Ontario, that’s a concern David Goodfellow hears more than most, perhaps particularly given the recent addition of Fortnite and Minecraft sessions. The games are used to teach game design. Still there’s the inevitable snort: “Kids are going to summer camp to play video games?!’”

To some extent, it’s a valid question. We tend to think of the tangibles—activities, events, facilities—as the cornerstone of the camp experience. Further, we tend to think of a specific range of activity as representative of what camps are: canoeingarts and craftsswimming, archery. Camps that fall outside of those parameters can, to some, look not much like camp at all. Brick Works is one of them. The programs there began with Lego and Lego robotics and have grown considerably from there, including coding programs for kids, and digital game design. Not a s’more in sight.

A shared community

Camps like Brick Works momentarily confound our sense of what camps are, though they can also clarify and affirm what it is that camps do best, and what they do better than other learning environments. In all camps, traditional or innovative, activities/events/facilities don’t exist for themselves, or even necessarily to promote the skill sets they seems to represent. No one, for example, is looking forward to a career in making friendship bracelets. Even the sports, at least outside of specialty camps, aren’t conducted with the elite athlete in mind. Instead, as camp directors will tell you, the programming is a tool used to get to the hearts and minds of the kids, to help them to grow together, develop, and gain confidence in who they are and what they can do. From public speaking programs to sailing the high seas on a tall ship, it’s not the activity so much as what is done with it, and what it is employed to accomplish.

That’s true at Brick Works as well. When someone questions video games as a program area, Goodfellow notes, “it’s just that they don’t understand how they’re being used.” Skill development is a goal, certainly, though confidence and social learning are as well, something that is intentional and embedded within the program design. The Brick Works programs were created to give young people—those with a distinct set of interests and aptitudes—a place where they can share their passions and knowledge, where they will feel a unique sense of belonging. Once they acclimate and get used to the idea, “they really feel like they’ve found their home, they’ve found their peers when they come to us.”


Brick Works, Waterloo, Ontario

A specific set of priorities

That, in and of itself, can be a transformative experience, and that’s precisely where the work of Brick Works begins: per Goodfellow, “to let them know that, yes, this is a place where you can celebrate who you are.” Launched in Waterloo with a few hundred campers in 2012, this coming summer Brick Works will draw more than 6000 participants to 13 locations across southern Ontario. That kind of growth is uncommon in the world of kids’ programming, and is a testament to the approach and quality of the sessions on offer. Each location is managed by certified instructors with professional teaching experience in STEM-related subjects. These aren’t people who come to tech casually, but who themselves are invested in delivering substantive programming that will build sound, transferable skills.

From day one, that’s the kind of environment that Goodfellow wanted to be able to offer, one that was genuine, in which the tech elements would be approached in dedicated, thoughtful ways. Kids wouldn’t build Lego sets in the morning and then swim in the afternoon, but instead have time to engage substantively with codinggame development, and robotics; they’d be mentored by those who are equally dedicated, and who are keen to encourage a deeper experience and understanding of the topic areas. “Our camps are about getting kids to be content creators and not just content consumers,” he says. “It’s all about getting the kids to be in control of their digital environment.”

That sense of empowerment is further enhanced through working alongside like-minded, equally talented peers. “They are talking to their neighbour saying ‘I want to build a porthole’ or ‘I need to make torches for exploring in this cave, how do I do that?’ And their neighbour will explain it to them. … They are chatting with each other, and they also are ones who are conveying their knowledge.”

A place to grow

Those kinds of social benefits may not be what draws families initially, though they are what they are most prone to comment on afterward. Says Goodfellow, “they’re getting that reassurance that something they’re doing has value and that they can influence their peers. It increases their status, and you see their confidence grow throughout the week.” In light of that, parents regularly identify Brick Works as a valued alternative. “They tell us that our camp is the first camp where their kid is super excited to get to camp, because the activities that we’re doing are in the wheelhouse of that child.”

It’s fun, yes, but it’s more than that. It’s fun that can be taken seriously. Which, of course, is what any camp should be about. They aren’t resorts, but unique environments designed to achieve a specific end: growth. Which is why you’re likely to hear Goodfellow speaking in the same terms that directors of more traditional camps do. “We want the kids to leave with a greater self-confidence, more grit.” And they do. Because, video games or otherwise, it’s camp. That’s what camp is.

 

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Reimagining girls’ education

The Linden School’s ongoing impact on how we think about how girls learn.

By Glen Herbert

All private schools defy the stereotypes that the general population might have about private education, though the Linden School is a particularly stark example of that. Founded by Diane Goudie and Eleanor Moore in 1993, the school was intended as a needed and necessary alternative to what was happening in public schools and private institutions at the time. Further, it was created to demonstrate what we could be doing better, to create a space in which to think creatively, openly, and collaboratively about best practices for educating girls.

Today, 25 years later, Linden is living up to that promise and then some. In 2007 Goudie and Moore received honorary doctorate of law degrees from York University in 2007 in recognition of their leadership in the field of education. This year they have been honoured as recipients of the 2019 Women of Distinction Award by YWCA Toronto. Now in their 39th year, the YWCA awards are given to women who exemplify the resolve, passion and intelligence necessary to transform the lives of women and girls.


Diane Goudie and Eleanor Moore at the 2019 YWCA Women of Distinction Award Announcement Reception, March 7, 2019.

 

The capacity to dream

The Women of Distinction Award citation notes the founders’ vision of creating an “independent, girls school centred on feminist pedagogy” though Goudie and Moore admit they’ve had a wavering relationship with the word “feminist” as it applied to work of the school. “We alternately avoided and endorsed the word,” said Goudie in a recent interview. “It was and still is a lightning rod” though “there is no doubt in my mind that Linden exists because of feminism.”

It wasn’t intended as activist training, which is the spin that detractors might have been inclined to put on it. Rather, they wanted Linden to be a great school in the way that any school is great. Per educators Kelly-Gallagher Mackay and Nancy Steinhauser, a school is a great school when it “bolster’s students’ capacities to dream and their confidence that they can enact change no matter their starting circumstances.” One of those circumstances, in the case of female students, was silence. “When we founded Linden,” says Goudie, “girls told us that they had felt silenced in their schools.” That’s where a feminist pedagogy begins. “In our curriculum and structures, we teach our students to ask: Who speaks? Who is heard? Who is missing? And who decides who has the voice at any given time and in any place?”

The approach begins from there, keenly aware of the needs and dispositions that girls bring with them into the classroom. “Those who advocate for conventional math practices, for example,” says Moore, “ignore the experience of all of those young people (especially girls) who dropped math because it made little sense and had little relevance for them.”

A feminist pedagogy seeks to restore a sense of relevance and involvement.  “As feminist pedagogical practice was not one that was taught in faculties of education, we needed to work together with the faculty to develop these practices.” The process was one of close collaboration with faculty and students, a collaboration that has continued for a quarter century. While Goudie notes that at times it meant for a bumpy ride, that reflects a desire to set a bumpy course, to dig in wherever digging in was required, and to take nothing for granted.

The confidence to change

The result is, frankly, a great school, one that is formed around that capacity to dream, that confidence to enact change, and a desire to impart all of that to the students. Understandably, other schools have taken note. They are reluctant to talk much about it—“I do see their ads and recognize our words,” says Goudie—though the impact of their work is being felt, and best practices replicated, well beyond the walls of Linden.

The Women of Distinction Award recognizes that leadership in the world of education, both through the work of the school proper as well as through events such as the Teaching for Justice Conference, held in Toronto each fall. The conference is an opportunity for educators and activists to share ideas and resources with a focus on inquiry, activism, and student empowerment, and to apply that to teaching strategies and practice. That event is indicative of the overall project of the school, namely to consistently review and consider best practices, to share knowledge and expertise, and to “navigate the grey” per the work of JoAnn Deak. “We are in an age of great change,” says Goudie, “and children must be educated to risk, to experience uncertainty, and to trust that their experience will enable them to pick themselves up and continue successfully. As educators, we know that children need time to dream, to experiment, and to create.” Says Moore, “our girls must be prepared not only to be change-makers but also to be able to respond to changes efficiently” within the context of a changing world.

In that is the story of the school itself, namely an environment designed to navigate the grey, to risk uncertainty, and to grow and dream. While Goudie and Moore no longer direct the daily life of the school, both serve on the Board of Trustees as members of the board’s finance, archives, human resources and governance committees. They also mentored the current leadership to continue to fulfill the work that they set forth those decades ago, the result of which is abundantly evident. Linden’s Curriculum Leader Beth Alexander is a recipient of the 2017 Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence. And on it goes. The school is small, perhaps, but its impact on education, both in Toronto and beyond, will rightly continue to grow.  Just as the founders intended, it provides an example of a school for girls that will make a difference in the students’ lives and, in turn, help them in realizing their aspirations, utilizing their talents, and changing the world.

Off to school

by Glen Herbert

Screen Shot 2019-02-04 at 1.23.32 PMLauriel Stowe wants to be a volcanologist. “We had a geography class,” she says, recalling some years ago, “and [the teacher] was talking about plate tectonics, and I really found the topic interesting.” She did some of her own research and, among other things, learned that there is only one working volcanologist in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “I was thinking about what would happen if this person was to get old and can’t do the work anymore? And I thought that’s what I’d like to do.”

The volcanologist monitors La Soufrière, an active volcano that is also the highest point on St. Vincent. It dominates much of the skyline. The history of its eruptions is as good an example of the value of volcanology as you could hope to find: in 1902 it erupted killing 1680 people. When it erupted in 1979 there were no casualties, thanks entirely to the advanced warning offered by those tasked with monitoring it.

Lauriel’s desire to learn about her world, to ask questions, and to think locally with a mind to ongoing service is why she was such a good candidate for the scholarship program. In addition to ferry costs, the scholarships provide school uniforms, shoes and books, lunches, and ground transportation on the mainland. Little things, perhaps, though they make a world of difference in the lives of the students. The scholarships remove the barriers between them and their academic aspirations. While there are two secondary schools on Bequia, there are more course options and more academic resources in schools on St. Vincent. For some students those options—including physics, chemistry, and better-equipped biology labs—are essential to successful applications to post-secondary programs.

Such is the case for Lauriel, who attends St. Joseph Convent, known as one of the best schools in the country. “It’s a good school,” she says. Each day she meets the ferry in Port Elizabeth. The hour-long passage takes her past schools of dolphin, terns, and, at certain times of year, schools of flying fish. “This one time we saw a whale, and it was really up close,” she says. I ask if we’ll see flying fish. “We’d have to be really lucky. I don’t know if it’s because of climate change, but we rarely see them anymore.” (We were lucky that day, actually, seeing schools of fish taking flight in the wake around the boat to flee the birds diving from above.) As the boat lists, I ask if this is a rough day. “It’s not that rough because you can still walk around pretty easily.” When it’s rough, you can’t.

St. Joseph is in Kingstown, the nation’s capital. As such, Lauriel’s journey each day takes her seemingly the entire length and breadth of the country. While Bequia can feel at a remove, once in Kingstown she walks past all of the key institutions in the nation, including parliament, the prime minister’s office, the national banks, the supreme court, even a sizeable prison, its perimeter girded with concertina wire. The city has a population more than three times that of Bequia and is home to the largest customs port in the country, its main commercial centre. There’s a lot of bustle, and the colonial history is evident, too, in historic stone buildings blackening beneath a patina of lichen. (Also nearby is the botanical garden. Founded in the 18th century, it includes a breadfruit tree that is a direct descendant of the one William Bligh planted there in 1793.)

She typically doesn’t get back to Bequia until 7pm, so it makes for a long day. Still, Lauriel knows that it’s the right thing for her, and is thankful for the opportunity. Recipients of the scholarships give back by providing academic support to students of the Learning Center. As such, the scholarships have a significant and lasting effect on the development of educational opportunities on the island through improving delivery of the curriculum, encouraging mentorship, and promoting the value of academic achievement. Lauriel, nearly 50 other students, and the culture as a whole all benefit from the program. “It helps everyone to bring out themselves,” she says of the school she attends and, by inference, the scholarship that helps get her there. “It’s important.” She’s right. It is.

 

Night owls by nature

Some schools, such as Toronto Prep School, are adapting their schedules to their students’ sleep cycles. The question is, why aren’t they all? 

by Glen Herbert

 

“The optimal time for teenagers to learn is late in the morning through to late afternoon,” says Fouli Tsimikalis, vice principal of Toronto Prep School (TPS), a school she co-founded with Steve Tsimikalis in 2009. “An ideal school schedule for teens is a class timetable that starts at about 10:00 a.m. and continues until after 4:00 p.m.” More than three decades of research backs up that assertion. So, when they developed the program, that’s exactly what they did: since day one—TPS is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year—the school has opened its doors at 7:30 each morning, with teachers available for extra help between 9 and 10, and classes beginning at 10. The instructional day ends at 4, with discretionary clubs and sports until 6 or so. 

“It made sense for us,” she says, something based in her experience of having taught for more that 20 years. Likewise, Steve is in his 35th year of teaching, while also serving as principal of TPS. “After teaching thousands of kids, literally, and reading hundreds of psychological assessments, educational assessments, we decided to put a program together that we felt could reach a lot of children who were not reaching their potentials.” Principally, that was kids who were coming from different academic backgrounds, and who were looking for a safe, nurturing school, one that could be more effective in supporting them. As such, they built the TPS program around what they had grown increasingly to see as core best practices: a late start, a semestered system, small classes, and a high teacher-to-student ratio.

The late start, particularly, continues to demonstrate its worth. “Period one isn’t frenzied in the morning,” says Tsimikalis. “The students come in and they are awake, they are much more responsive, clearer, and they are more ready to work.” The feedback from parents, too, has been consistently positive, often in ways that weren’t expected. “They say that their kids are more engaged when they come home from school. They talk about what they did at school. At the dinner table they’ll talk about what they did in their classes, which some parents say is something they never got before.”  

A reasoned response to a growing problem

In many ways, those kinds of anecdotal benefits are the tip of a very large iceberg. A growing body of research shows that, when it comes to learning and sleep, there’s a lot at stake. A study published in 2014 by researchers at the University of Minnesota was based on 9000 students across three US states. It found that teens who get less than eight hours of sleep had higher rates of depression, and a greater reliance on substances, principally caffeine. Grades went down relative to sleep, and truancy went up. Further, “the number of car crashes for teen drivers from 16 to 18 years of age was significantly reduced by 70% when a school shifted start times.”

Because of those kinds of findings, the American Academy of Pediatrics called insufficient sleep in adolescents “an important public health issue that significantly affects the health and safety, as well as the academic success” of middle- and high-school students. “We are in an epidemic of sleep deprivation,” says Indra Narang, director of sleep medicine at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. “In 20 years time, we’re going to see a whole generation of adults who are functioning sub-optimally.” That includes a spike in diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle, including obesity and diabetes.

The science behind early birds and night owls

“What happens is [that their] circadian rhythms … get shifted by about one or two hours when puberty starts,” says Genevieve Gariepy, lead researcher on a teen sleep study at McGill University that was published in 2016. “Adolescents tend to just fall asleep later and wake up later. Adolescents will typically fall asleep around 11 or midnight and wake up around eight hours later.”

Gariepy’s research is a direct descendent of work that began in 1976 when James Horne and Olov Östberg developed a tool—the morningness–eveningness questionnaire (MEQ)—in order to gain a better sense of what circadian rhythms are. In the years since, the MEQ has been used extensively, and we’ve learned a lot from it as well as the secondary research that it inspired. Among other things, we’ve learned that older people tend to skew more to morningness—they get up early, and go to bed early—and it’s not just personal preference. Rather, it’s a reflection of what’s going on in their bodies, right down to the cellular level.

Similarly, teens skew to eveningness, and it isn’t because they are sluggish or indolent, but because there is more to our circadian rhythms than most of us are aware. First, they aren’t localised in our brains, but instead dispersed throughout  bodies. Our cells themselves have their own oscillations throughout the 24-hour cycle, regulating temperature, metabolic function, hormone levels, and mental acuity. The mechanisms associated with puberty shift teens’ natural sleep cycles back, and all the various processes of their bodies fall in line with that delay, including spikes in body temperature and the ebb and flow of metabolism and alertness across the course of the day.

” … what we don’t want to do is miss the opportunity”

The instructional schedules that schools tend to keep—something akin to bankers’ hours—aren’t aligned with the predominant teen chronotype, but rather run precisely counter to it. Yet, despite the success of schools like TPS, as well as others in the US, most schools in Canada have been slow to adjust. Some boards have initiated pilot projects, notes Tsimikalis, though the public system is unwieldy and slow to change. Most private schools, too, have opted to stay with more traditional schedules, either out of inertia or for the convenience of teachers and parents. But that of course comes with a cost. Says Narang, “what we don’t want to do is miss the opportunity to intervene now,” rather than later when the damage to academic success, lifestyle, and overall health has already been done.

Some, however, are taking note. Beginning in the 2018-19 school year, Ridley College moved morning chapel to the afternoon and pushed classes back to open up time in the mornings for physical activity. TPS, though, has distinguished itself as an earlier adopterperhaps the first in Canadaof more radical, decisive and ultimately more effective change. In doing so they’re providing a model that others will soon follow, or certainly should.

Do all students need tutors?

Cutting edge academic programs, such as Focus Learning, suggest that, yes, they do.

by Glen Herbert for Our Kids

 

When we think of after-school academic programs, thoughts first turn to remediation: extra classes to help struggling students raise course marks. For some, that’s certainly the impetus, though ‘tutorial,’ more properly understood, refers to a style of instruction rather than any specific area of academic need. It’s characterised by lessons and approaches more suited to personal learning styles, from struggling learners, to those who are bored and require a challenge, to everyone in between.

Further, educators increasingly believe that students learn better—which is to say that they become more conversant and have a more dynamic facility with the content—in small group and one-on-one settings than they do in traditional classroom environments. There are some good reasons for that. Tutorial environments are quieter, more intensive, and more focussed on active engagement. They also tend to be more geared to specific curiosities, and with more room to build instruction around students’ personal interests and particular points of view.

Still, it’s more than that. Done well, tutorial environments recast the entire project of learning, centering it around the teacher-student relationship rather than marks or content. It’s something that can make all the difference in how children learn the material, as well as—and arguably more importantly—how they begin to understand themselves as learners. “Educators should be effective coaches and role models,” writes Shelly Zheng, director of Focus Learning, an academic centre in the GTA. As such, she’s making an important distinction, one that she took to heart when building the program: teachers work best as partners in learning relationship, not arbiters. “Our goal is to guide [students] on their journey to become accomplished and independent individuals, and to gain the skills needed for continuing practice,” a goal that she feels the Focus Learning model is particularly adept at accomplishing.

A better way to learn

Zheng founded Focus Learning in 2010 with a group of passionate educators who shared her perspective on teaching and mentorship. “Most kids see school and learning as a burden,” says Zheng, as “a chore that they have to do before being allowed to play with their iPads.” To some extent, traditional classrooms reinforce that approach, with progress and projects given to entire groups of students, rather than tailored to specific learners’ needs. She believes that by sparking curiosity, and building from where they are—rather than wherever their peers might be—teachers can better and more meaningfully engage them as active, motivated learners.

Since it began, Focus Learning has grown to comprise a series of afterschool, weekend, and camp programs, offered out of three locations: North York, Don Mills, and Markham. There are courses based in STEM concepts, including robotics and programming, but Zheng was sure to build out the full range of curricular areas. Some, such as BizKids, are unlike any you’ll find anywhere else. In that program, offered principally through summer day camp sessions, kids learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, including elementary financial and marketing concepts.

“I treat it like more a workshop than a classroom,” says Michael Wisniowski, who teaches the writing and public speaking courses. “Rather than focussing on getting the better grade, I want to focus on getting students to create work that they’re proud of.” His students, notably, aren’t those that are struggling, but rather those who have a authentic interest in writing or speaking, and who are looking for an outlet to practice and grow those skills.

Lessons with fun as a focus

From coding to communication, each session is crafted to offer a chance for students to engage their core talents and interests in an environment that supports and prizes them. “It’s an enriched program in the sense of how food is enriched,” says teacher Lisa Hines of the Focus Learning approach, “where you get all of your nutrients.” Hines teaches computer programming and robotics. “All of our teachers are highly qualified or industry experts,” though they also share a sense of best practices, including the benefits of bringing a playfulness into the teaching relationship. She notes that they also tend to be earlier adopters of cutting edge programs, and work with a greater array of tools than instructors in the public system. “We’ve been teaching math using a curriculum that, as far as we know, we’re the only school using it in Canada.” It was developed in the US by the Art of Problem Solving (AoPS), and called The Beast Academy. Used widely in the US, particularly with students preparing for national academic competitions, it’s just now starting to turn heads this side of the border, and Focus Learning is leading the charge.

It’s that kind of flexibility and energy that distinguishes the Focus Learning program. Says Hines, “we start by having high expectations, but also that ability to really experiment and play” with the concepts. And it works. It’s school, but not. It’s different, and that difference isn’t lost on the students. They engage in sound programs, tied idelibly to the provincial curriculum outcomes, that build basic facility as well as higher-order literacies. They even do it for weeks at a time during the summer, a time when kids, perhaps understandably, would otherwise be averse to anything smelling even slightly of school. That’s because the approach posits them as equals, in an environment of equals. It’s not about marks, but rather the child’s personal relationship with learning. Which, ultimately, is the most important lesson of all.

 

A Brief History of Boarding Schools

The British Tradition

British boarding schools have historically provided the model for boarding schools in Canada. Prime among the antecedents is the King’s School in Canterbury, England. It was founded in the year 597 and, until the dissolution of the monasteries act nearly a century later, it remained a cloistered religious institution. At King’s, students were kept apart from society at large, were instructed by clergy, and were expected to devote themselves to religious contemplation. Certainly, there wasn’t time for much else—there were 14 chapel services each day in addition to mass and daily prayers for the dead.

King’s was a grammar school in the literal meaning of the term. The main focus of study was Latin grammar, the language of the church. While there were a few other subjects on offer, all were intended solely to prepare students for religious work, not creative thinking or academic engagement. There was music for religious services, astronomy and mathematics to set and interpret the church calendar, and law to prepare students for administrative roles in the church.

Similarly, when Eton was founded in the 15th century by Henry VI, it was a charity school intended to provide free education to seventy boys. As Sir Henry Lyte wrote in his history of the school published in 1877, Eton reflected a renewed interest in the dissemination of knowledge, and that “a movement in popular education had set in.” He writes that the foundation of the school “is also important as marking a turning-point in the struggle between the regular and the secular clergy. During the middle ages the monasteries had been the principle seats of education in England, but their inefficiency had become notorious.” Lyte didn’t see it, perhaps, but it wasn’t so much a question of quality than it was a changing view toward the goal of education. The monasteries produced religious leaders, though the founders of Eton wanted instead to supply the universities with “scholars from a great grammar-school.” Ones that, in turn, would advance to positions of leadership within business and the military rather than the church.

That said, life at the school, by today’s standards, can seem strikingly monastic. Students were roused at 5 a.m., chanted prayers while they dressed, and were at their lessons by 6 a.m. They had two meals every day except Friday, when they weren’t fed at all. Lessons ended at 8 p.m. when all students went to bed.

When William Shakespeare attended King’s New School in Stratford, the school was open to all boys. There was no tuition. The only requirement for admission was the ability to read and write. “Pupils sat on hard wooden benches from six in the morning to five or six in the evening,” writes Bill Bryson, “with only two short pauses for refreshment, six days a week. … For much of the year they can hardly have seen daylight.” The school was, for the time, one of the best in the country. There Shakespeare learned Latin grammar and rhetoric (“one of the principle texts of the day,” writes Bryson, “taught pupils 150 different was of saying ‘Thank you for your letter’ in Latin”) and little else. “Whatever mathematics, history, or geography Shakespeare knew, he almost certainly didn’t learn it at grammar school.”

However daunting the experience may have been, the early boarding schools met the needs for which they were created, namely to educate boys into positions of religious leadership within a society that was organized, socially and politically, around religious life.

boarding-hub-side-1

Illustration from A History of Eton College 1440-1875, by Sir Henry Churchill Maxwell Lyte. When the history was published in 1877, Eton had been operating as a boarding school for more than four centuries.

 

As society changed, so did the schools. At the time of the Reformation schools were removed from the authority of the church, marking an abrupt change in how education was conducted, and what it was intended to do. The Reformation coincided with (if not directly caused by) a decline in feudalism and a rise in nationalism, common law, and printed books.

Grammar schools soon reflected all of that, adopting new curricula and adjusting admissions in order to produce the human resources needed in post-Reformation England, one increasingly organized around the demands of a market economy. The result was the development in the sixteenth century of an educational curriculum based in humanism and a formulation of the liberal arts as we think of them today. The goal of education was to prepare free people for active roles in civic life. Debate, criminal law, logic and rhetoric were taught intensively for the first time. Math and geometry, once taught for the purposes of calendar making, were now taught also for the purposes of engineering and the maintenance of civic works. That kind of curriculum—liberal arts education grounded in classical languages and literature—persisted throughout Europe and North America well into the 20th century. While there has been a recent proliferation of alternative curricula, the foundation of education of North America still reflects those innovations undertaken in the 16th century. Often unwittingly, many of the alternative approaches do as well.

 

boarding-hub-2Eton, founded in the 15th century by Henry VI.

 

Imagining a better world

As Britain moved into the age of empire and industry, schools continued to evolve. By the 18th century—in response to Britain’s geographic and economic growth—students were learning modern languages, political leadership, military theory, and commerce. When Thomas Hughes wrote Tom Brown’s School Days in the 1830s, he used Rugby School as the setting, a school that his readers would have seen as strikingly modern. As he admitted at the time, Hughes created the characters of Tom and Dr. Arnold to illustrate how to live a good life and, by analogy, how to build a great nation. All the classic elements of the boarding school novel were there: students mentoring each other, a strong and empathetic teacher, sports and, inevitably, bullying and corporal punishment. With the help of friends and the advice of Dr. Arnold, Tom defeats the bully and becomes a mentor himself. He doesn’t cheat on homework, he plays cricket, and life goes on.

What would have struck early readers aren’t the things that strike us today. Corporal punishment, for example, would have seemed familiar, and not at all specific to boarding school. What also would have struck them were the educational reforms that Dr. Arnold brought to the school. What would have struck them were the educational reforms that Dr. Arnold brought to the school. Rugby wasn’t the King’s School, but something entirely different. Rugby was an example of a modern school addressing the needs of students in a modern world. Boys were encouraged to follow their desires, to think and act as individuals, and to choose their own path into religious, secular, or military life. That was big. Students, remarkably, were presented with options, choice, and an unprecedented range of individual autonomy.

Of course, there was also a dark side. While Hughes worked to show what boarding school could be, Dickens, as in Nicholas Nickleby, intended to show what it really was, exposing the faults that he found there. While writing the novel Dickens toured boarding schools, an experience that informed the fictional Dotheboys Hall, the boarding school for unwanted children that Nicholas attends. As cruel and abusive as the schoolmaster there may be, it seems that Dickens didn’t have to do much when creating the character—Mr. Squeers, even down to the wording of his business card, is a faithful portrait of William Shaw, a schoolmaster that Dickens had met. Not long after that meeting, Shaw was sued for blinding one of his students through physical abuse, malnourishment and neglect. Notes from the court case describe Shaw’s school, and the similarity between it and Dotheboys is striking.

The backbone of empire

Both Hughes and Dickens were writing at a time of intense change, both in England and the world. Indeed, it was change, specifically, that they were writing about. There was a significant rise in literacy, literature, and scientific inquiry. Schools were becoming more secular. There was a growing sense of how an individual might participate within society, and a greater awareness of the power of independent thinking.

During 1800s boarding schools cemented an association with the British ruling class, trading the religious focus for a military one. Sons of officers and administrators of the Empire attended boarding school while their parents fulfilled political and military postings overseas. The focus of education was diplomacy for the upper classes, and military life for those of lesser stature. Rudyard Kipling was an example of the former. He attended United Services College while his parents were stationed in India, an experience he wrote about in the novel Stalky & Co. Like Kipling himself, Stalky was educated to become part of the imperial machine. And he does. At the end of the book, fresh from that education, he is shown leading troops in India.

In life, as in fiction, boarding schools were part of the backbone of the empire, educating its military officers, senior clerics, lawyers, and administrators. They used the means that were popular for the time. Ben MacIntyre writes that Durnford School “epitomized the strange British faith in bad food, plenty of Latin and beatings from an early age.” At the school “there was no fresh fruit, no toilets with doors, no restraint on bullying, and no possibility of escape. Today such an institution would be illegal; in 1925 it was considered ‘character-forming.’”

School practices reflected a popular belief in social Darwinism—survival of the fittest—and that academic, moral, and physical strength were gained through challenge and adversity. Strict discipline, discomfort, even bullying was considered a necessary experience in the progress of moral and physical development. Royals experienced these things, too, not just students who came from poor families or who attended sub-standard schools. Thankfully, over the course of the 20th century, all of that would change.

Boarding in Canada

“What people teach their young is often what they think is most important. And so what people teach their children … in school gives us a very good sense of what the values of society are. What is it that you would like your children to learn? What is it that you’d like the next generation to learn?”

—Margaret MacMillan

The oldest boarding school in Canada, King’s Collegiate School (now King’s-Edgehill School), in Windsor, Ontario, was founded by United Empire Loyalists in 1788. It was given royal assent by King George III the following year, the first instance that honour was bestowed outside Britain. Beginning with just 12 boys in a private home near Windsor, Nova Scotia, the school quickly set an educational standard for the region and, later, the country. It continues to hold a place in the national consciousness today. Because of the age and importance of the buildings, King’s College is a National Historic Site, a designation it has held since 1923.

King’s was created at moment of heightened political anxiety in the wake of the American Revolution. While there were schools in New York and New England, there were none in the British colonies that remained after American independence. The initial goal of the school was to prevent young men from traveling abroad to receive an education, men that would be needed to stay to administer and defend the colonies. While the school remained small, its alumni took prominent roles in military, legal, religious, and political life (including two fathers of Confederation).

King’s set the tone for other boarding schools that would be created in the British Empire outside of the UK. They were established so that the children of British ex-patriots could receive an authentically British education, as well as to retain and augment the human resources required to maintain the colonies. Schools throughout the commonwealth were organized in the same manner as their British counterparts—there were houses and headmasters, forms and terms—and reflected the values of Victorian England. The educational environment was much as we might imagine: high brow, strict, and reflective of all the class distinctions of the age. Leadership was an important topic, in part because it was of prime interest to many of the political leaders who sent their children to board. Further, the benefits were unequivocal—merely having gone to boarding school, regardless of any academic achievement there, was often considered a reasonable prerequisite to positions of leadership in business and political life.

Many of the best-known Canadian schools were founded in the late 19th century: Pickering College, 1842; Bishop Strachan School, 1867; Stanstead College, 1872; Ashbury College, 1891; St. Andrew’s College, 1899. Life there, at least in the early days, was spartan and challenging in ways that no boarding school is today. At Upper Canada College, Frederick Hutt, a student in the 1830s, wrote to his brother, “I hope you will send plenty of nuts and cakes as I can hardly subsist on what we get.”

Ted Rogers, founder of Rogers Communication, went to board when he was seven. Having had a nanny at home, he recalled that “I went from having somebody brushing my teeth for me to being caned if my teeth weren’t clean enough. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it was a bit of a shock.” He later described the school as his “a surrogate father” in the absence of his own father, who had passed away prior to his enrolment.

There was a strong association with the military, something that was still very prominent when Rogers arrived. The Cadet Corps of Upper Canada College was begun in 1869, and through its 127-year history it remained an integral part of school life. Students took part in regular drills and exercises, including those with active rounds. Boys were expected be prepared for deployment at any time, as occasionally they were. During the Fenian Raids of 1866 UCC students were mobilized to guard military buildings and the port in Toronto.

The cadet program was an expression of the spirit of volunteerism and the Victorian militia movement, and it maintained an ongoing association with the national military. Between 1875 and 1937 UCC produced six commanding officers of The Queen’s Own Rifles. During WWI, 1,089 volunteered for military service, and 176 gave their lives. In 1919, membership in the corps became compulsory for all students. None of this was unique to a particular to UCC school, with boarding schools and many public schools following suit. Many cadet corps remained active into the 1960s and 70s.

In time, however, the cadet programs began to feel less relevant, more relics of an earlier time. Which indeed they were, especially when real rifles were replaced with wooden ones, or when real training evolved into a kind of pantomime of military training, and when the relationship with the military became less explicit. At UCC the corps was formally retired in 1987, one of last of its kind in Canada. (Two schools, St. Andrews College and Bishop’s College School have active cadet corps, though for the most part the programs have evolved, becoming more akin to outdoor education programs than military.)

 

Gabby’s story

For the Grenadines Initiative

Gabby Ollivierre’s first real experience of snow came with a freak storm that hit Calgary on October 2. It was notable by anyone’s standards–the storm made national news in Canada–though especially for someone from the islands who had yet to get a proper pair of boots. When I met her at the campus of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) two days prior, she was wearing flip flips. Why? “I just didn’t feel like wearing shoes,” she said. Fair enough.

Gabby grew up on the island, just as island kids do. It’s home, and when she completes her two-year degree in Calgary, she’ll go back, taking with her everything she’s learned. For the most part, that will be what she’s learned about cooking. This year–thanks to a foundation in partnership with the Grenadines Initiative–she enrolled in a professional cooking program, one that, in many ways, is one of a kind. I met with Richard Horbachewski, director of development for the college, in the Highwood, a full-service restaurant staffed entirely by students of program. “You’re sitting in a classroom,” he said. It’s one of four spaces–two on campus and two downtown–that many people visit without ever knowing that they’re in a teaching facility. The downtown culinary arts campus is housed within Calgary’s signature shopping mall, The Core, where students prepare and sell pastries, lunches, and prepared meals. And added last year, at the corner of 7th and 4th, is the Tastemarket, an urban eatery for downtown foodies which doubles as an innovative learning environment for budding entrepreneurs. All the spaces–the main and satellite facilities–are alike in that they don’t divide cooking from the business of cooking: nothing is made that isn’t intended for presentation and sale within one of these professional spaces.

It’s a unique environment, and one that Gabby is quickly integrating into. Though she’s only been in the program for a few weeks, when she walks me through the kitchens she interacts amiably with students and teachers, all wearing chefs hats and crisp white jackets. There’s a lovely collegiality, to be sure, but the program is all business. Gabby shows me her marks so far, all of which are delivered to her via an app on her phone. She’s been marked on everything from food prep, to making a hollandaise sauce, to knife skills. “I don’t like that one,” she says skipping past a mark for a pop quiz. The rest, though, are all As.

She’s proud, and she should be. Considered the best in Canada, the Professional Cooking program at SAIT is delivered by chefs who provide expert, hands-on training. In the next two years Gabby will train and interact with dozens of leading culinary professionals and hundreds of like-minded peers. It’s an amazing experience for anyone passionate about the culinary arts. “I don’t mean to brag, but, really, we are in the top 40 programs in the world,” says Horbachewski, “that said, we’re planning to be in the top 10 within the next decade.” Given the program development, and the creation of the new spaces, and the development of the faculty, they’re clearly very firmly on that path.

For Gabby, it’s a step along the way, taking something she loves, cooking, into a professional role through which she’ll share that love. In time, all going well, she’ll be working in a kitchen of her own one day, on Bequia. She’ll be serving great food, of course, but as the chefs she’s learning from tell her, it’s about more than that. It’s about sharing an experience. So, she’ll share her experiences, too. They’ll include those of moving to Canada for a time, working with others from around the world, and learning from some of the best. In there, too, will be the experience of a snowstorm, the one in early October not long after she arrived, the one that convinced her to get out, sooner rather than later, to buy some boots.

 

 

David Benedict’s “The Golden Angle”

There is no piece of music, and for that matter no musician, that exists alone. Music, by its very nature, is call and response, each person adding their voice to an ongoing conversation. Some people can see a bit further down the road, or skip a couple rhetorical steps, and those are the people we think of as geniuses: Mozart, Miles Davis. Those people.

In the world of acoustic Americana, or folk, or stringband, or whatever it is that we’re calling it at the moment, we don’t really care for the Giant Steps, but prefer to rejoice in the reasoned increments. And that’s what makes this new release, The Golden Angle, from David Benedict so enjoyable. There are some ancient tones in here—a la Bill Monroe and whoever’s call Monroe was responding to—though there are some fresher tones, too. (Is it just me, or is there a whiff of Hendrix’s “Little Wing” in Bendict’s “Leaf by Niggle”?)

Benedict and his peeps—he records and tours with Mile Twelve, though his peeps include lots of other people, too—are keen to join the bigger conversation, responding to the people that have inspired them to speak. Some of them, actually, are on this album: David Grier, Matt Flinner, Missy Raines, Stuart Duncan. Those guys, in turn, have spent careers responding to the people that went before them: Clarence White, Roland White, Monroe, Doc Watson, Tony Rice, John Coltrane, and on it goes. (And Jimi Hendrix, too. Flinner and Grier, along with Todd Phillips included a version of “Little Wing” on their 1999 release, Looking Back. Hmmm … )

Benedict, delightfully, has joined that conversation, and you can hear it all within his work. He brings not just the chops, but also the mind, the perspective, and the joy that comes from participating in something larger than ourselves. He’s learned at the feet of the masters, to be sure, most pointedly as as student of Matt Flinner (who also produced this release) yet brings so much of himself to the project, in turn working masterfully in the service of helping to add—just as all those guys and gals did before—another ring to the big stately tree of, well, folk or Americana or stringband or whatever we’re calling it these days. The album is a delight. It’s nice to check in with Grier, in particular, who hasn’t released anything of his own for a while (though his 2002 I’ve Got the House to Myself is as glorious today as was when it was released). The ensemble work is sterling, as are the arrangements and the production. It’s a very reasoned, studied, yet absolutely joyful noise.

Balsam Range, “Mountain Overture”

It’s easy to wonder about the attraction bluegrass bands have to working with orchestras, but it’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be dying anytime soon. Cherryholmes, Daily and Vincent, Michael Cleveland—the cynic might feel that it’s a desire to grant respectability, and what better way to do it than to sit in front of a bunch of musicians in formal wear.

Balsam Range is, to my mind, one of the very best bands working today, and now they’ve done it, too. “Mountain Overture,” is a collaboration with the Atlanta Pops Orchestra and includes some of their best material, including “Last Train to Kitty Hawk,” “Eldorado Blue,” and “I Hear the Mountains.” That material, in the original recordings, had a brilliant mix of caution and drive; it served to relate stories of various kinds of isolation, a perennial trope of bluegrass. Balsam Range doesn’t have the high lonesome voices of some of the originators of the form, but they do have the sentiment, that of being out there, on your own, left to puzzle over the vagaries of love, and work, and the fickleness of fortune.

Classical music, of course, doesn’t share the same perspective, and the tension between sensibilities exists throughout this recording. The drive is held back by the arcing strings, the agility reduced by weighty arrangements. Sometimes the punctuation that the orchestra adds is unfortunate, as the horns just after the line “Last train to Kitty Hawk,” undercutting the sentiment, cheapening it, rather than supporting it.

The thoughts—as in that case, the things that we lose within an encroaching modernity—are reduced to footnotes. Which is too bad, because these are great thoughts, related within some fantastically written songs. I’m not exactly sure who this album is for—a grump will say that working with an orchestra is more for the band than the audience—but, in any case, the better recordings are the originals.

Balsam Range is a great band, with great writing, and beautiful arrangements, all most evident when it’s just them, alone against the world. If you are new to Balsam Range, start with the albums “Mountain Voodoo” and “Last Train to Kitty Hawk.” They’re fantastic and truly deserve your attention. “Mountain Overture” is meh.

 

 

 

Chris Coole, “The Road to the River”

In the world of magic there are the big stage illusions—cutting a person in half, making an elephant disappear—and there is table magic—cards, coins, cups and balls. The two are both thought of equally as magic, but they are of such different orders as to be different undertakings entirely. But to the connoisseur, the close work takes the day—it’s smaller, more intimate, requires a greater facility, and is often more meaningful.

This latest release from Chris Coole is an example of the table magic of the musical world: seemingly limited resources are manipulated to reveal an impossible range of emotion. It requires close attention, and it rewards that attention. Not everything here is new. Most of the material has been released prior, with a number of tracks recorded for this project in particular. The reason is because it’s a fundraiser for the Elk River Alliance, which is great of course. But even if you know these tunes, the project nevertheless feels new. The various pieces speak to each other, and sit comfortably within a new frame.

Coole is an avid fly-fisher, and it seems some of the other musicians that are featured here are too, including Arnie Naiman and, if new to it, fiddler John Showman. The project is a testament to his passion for fishing. Coole brings the full range of experience to the material, from the contemplation of “Rainbow on the Moormons”—the bowed bass there is a study in doing a lot with little—to the humour of “Hell to Pay,” a children’s tune for the child in all of us. Throughout, it’s a window onto worlds that we don’t see every day—clawhammer banjo and fly fishing—though it will make you wish you could.

Kadeen’s story

For the David and Christine Anderson Family Foundation

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 12.56.41 PM“On Bequia, if you tell someone that you are going to be a pilot, they don’t believe,” says Kadeen Hazell. “They think it’s just talk.” He feels that’s true for most people on the island: they don’t have a sense of real possibility.

Kadeen, from early days, clearly wasn’t most people. Growing up in Paget Farm, a small community on a dot of an island in the Caribbean, he dreamed of being a pilot, something he was open about. And, yes, he was met with dismissive chuckles. But he meant it. He was always a strong student. “I don’t mean to brag,” he said recently, “but I’m good at math and physics. I always did well, the best in my class.” He excelled in academics, perhaps knowing that they were his ticket to a career in aviation. And so, for the last seven years of his academic career—including secondary and some post-secondary studies—he travelled to St. Vincent via ferry every school day, an hour there, and an hour back.

In that, and in much else, he demonstrated his personal determination, though he’s also quick to place credit where credit is due. “You do better when people believe you can do better,” he says. His father is a carpenter on Bequia, and he, perhaps more than anyone, was careful not to dismiss his son’s ambitions, but rather to quietly recognize and encourage them.

It’s telling that those are the things he mentions when he talks about where he is today: belief in yourself, recognition of your talents, and acknowledgement of support. When Kadeen came to the attention of the Anderson Family Foundation, he had all of the key pieces in place: a strong academic record, a clear apprehension of the challenges ahead, and a plan for success. Today, through the Foundation, he’s attending flight school at Canadore College in North Bay, Ontario. There, he’s living, working, and learning with peers of a like mind and interest every day. He’s also learning about the culture of aviation through people who have lived it—the school has regular visitors from industry to meet and speak with students, including regular visits from Chris Hadfield. Kadeen will learn about the job, but also the values and the pride that are an essential part of it.

When I visited him just prior to the start of classes I took him shopping for some essentials. Picking up some groceries he said, “I think the biggest challenge will be cooking.” When I said that, actually, handling an aircraft might be a challenge of a somewhat different order, he said, “But I want to do that. I don’t want to cook.” Point taken.

While some on Bequia might still not believe it, Kadeen is learning to fly. As such—and this is something he’s absolutely aware of—his experience serves as an important model to others, both in Paget Farm and beyond. He knows that the biggest obstacle to achieving anything (perhaps cooking included) is thinking that you can’t. More than anything, he wants to show that, actually, you can. That he can. Kadeen’s program takes two years to complete. In 2020, he’ll be a pilot.

Clay Parker and Jodi James, “The Lonesomest Sound that Can Sound” 

I’m not sure why I love this recording so much. We like to talk in superlatives whenever given a chance, and it’s not the best of anything, or the most skilled, or the most telling. It’s just, well, lovely. The voices are beautiful, the thoughts quietly moving. The playing doesn’t jump out at you, but rather sits back. Like a kid busking in the farmers market, it catches you as you walk past, turning your head with the thought, “hey, that’s pretty good.” It’s more than pretty good, actually. This is one of those albums that sparks a desire to participate within it, to grab a guitar or a mandolin and play along. It’s all new material, but so much of it sounds familiar, perhaps because they are participating in something, too. There are responses here to Woody Guthrie, Doc Watson, Willie Watson. The titles suggest connections to the canon, and I think that’s intentional: the gallows tree, Cumberland, the willow garden, the killing floor—the songs are like stepping stones added to an existing path. The arrangements are gorgeous, played with a skilled touch and handled with respect and wisdom. The lap steel in “Far Away” sneaks in like an afterthought, adding a welcome poignancy. The lyrics tell a lot, but don’t give anything away. Why is Katie’s sky full of blues? Well, that’s a good question, and one that you can get a bit lost in. And maybe that’s why I love this album so much. It doesn’t perform in front of you, asking for applause. Instead it sits next to you, like a friend who seems to know exactly what you’re about to say before you say it. They aren’t trying to make you feel better about things, rather just to let you know that you’re not alone. Which is why I don’t like the title. It’s actually about a shared experience, not an isolated one, full of voices, memories, and people just like you and me.

3 key steps to an allergy-free summer

(For Ourkids.net)

As we move into summer, we also move deeper into allergy season. Because both day and overnight camps can include a lot of time communing with the outdoors, parents can expect their children to exhibit a range of reactions. Children suffering from allergies tend to experience higher levels of irritability and sadness than those without allergies. For many, such as Jennifer Mukherjee, a camp mom in Burlington, Ontario, a healthy and enjoyable camp session begins at home.

“I’m definitely well versed in Benadryl,” says Mukherjee. “I always use it proactively … Narayan has asthma, so I’m especially cautious when I send him anyplace outdoorsy.” Narayan goes to Camp Kahuna, just north of Burlington. “I send him to camp with Benadryl because he tends to have bad reactions when he’s exposed to anything.”

It usually begins with tree pollen, typically in April or so and lasting through June. Then, it’s the grass pollen that begins circulating, which lasts roughly from May through July. Ragweed, finally, begins in mid-August and takes us through Labour Day. And of course, there’s the bugs, and the bites, and the poison ivy. For kids that are acutely affected, it can make for a long summer.

“I send him to camp with Benadryl because he tends to have bad reactions when he’s exposed to anything. So, I always use it proactively.”

#1: Know what you’re dealing with

A person who is allergic has an antibody that is programmed to recognize a specific protein. When activated, it stimulates the production of histamine. In some, the production of histamine is exaggerated and causes the various symptoms we associate with allergies: swelling, sneezing, redness, itch. “If [histamine] is released in the skin,” says Dr. Jason Ohayon, a clinical immunologist on staff at McMaster University “we get a hive; if it’s released in the nose, we start to sneeze and get hay fever; if it’s released in the eye, we get a conjunctivitis and we get a red eye.”

#2: Be prepared

“It’ll interfere with sleep, and sports,” says Dr. Susan Waserman, a professor of medicine at McMaster University’s division of clinical immunology and allergy. “The message is ‘be prepared.’” That includes sending kids away with whatever they will need to address any reactions. “The medications do need to follow the child,” says Waserman. “You want them to enjoy the summer. A lot of parents think the summer is a drug holiday, and that there’s no need for medications, but that’s not the case.”

Certainly, it’s hard to know exactly what kids will encounter at camp, and even if they attend the same session each summer, exposure can vary due to weather patterns. Still, it’s nice to know that the most common reactions, by far, are also the most benign: hay fever and mosquito bites. Not everyone reacts, though the vast majority do, particularly in the case of mosquitos.

#3: Plan for a fun-filled, itch and sniffle-free summer

To cover it all, Mukherjee leaves Benadryl™ liquid with the counsellor (“He likes the bubble gum flavour.”) which is typical at camps when using any oral medication. Topical therapies used externally, such as Benadryl’s Itch Stick™, can be applied by the child, and camps typically don’t require that they be handled only by staff.

The sooner we get on top of reactions, the better. For both the big and small, it’s best to be armed with the right tools and knowledge to turn the situation around, and to get kids back at what they should be doing: having fun outdoors, from the beginning of the tail end of spring until they’re back to school in the fall.

The cognitive benefits of Mandarin/English dual-language instruction

(For Ourkids.net)

“When you learn a second language,” says Donna Booth, “it lets you know that there’s more than one way to do things.” As principal at Toronto’s Dalton School, an English/Mandarin dual-immersion school in Toronto, Booth sees the benefits of that in her work every day.

Less obvious—though becoming more so—is how learning languages can affect not just what we think, but, quite literally, how we think. This, too, is something that Booth sees in her work, and is one of the reasons she co-founded the school in 2012.

It’s sort of like piano… We put our children into piano to exercise their brain, to open up new pathways.

Increasingly, it’s the cognitive benefits of language acquisition that are the draw to intensive language programs, including the development of attention and the relaxation of academic inhibition, as well as sensory benefits, such as the encoding of sound cues. Still, even that may be just the tip of the iceberg. A study conducted at Northwestern University in Illinois found, in the elementary grades, “both the majority-language and minority-language two-way immersion (TWI) students exhibited reading and math advantages over their non-TWI peers.” Unexpectedly, those benefits were found to be greater for students in the minority language group, rather than those in the majority, somewhat dispelling the notion that learning in a second language is detrimental to academic achievement.

“It’s sort of like piano,” says Booth of language learning. “Do we put our kids in piano because we expect them to be a concert pianist? No. We put them in piano to exercise the brain, to open up new pathways within the brain.” Booth feels that conceptual flexibility—the opening up of those pathways—is something that her students will take with them wherever they go in addition to the languages themselves.

5 key brain benefits of dual-language immersion programs

“In the last 20 years or so, there’s been a virtual explosion of research on bilingualism,” says Judith Kroll, a professor at the University of California. Research has found the benefits include enhanced:

  1. Attention

  2. Empathy

  3. Reading comprehension

  4. School performance and engagement

  5. Diversity and integration

The Dalton approach to Mandarin/English instruction

“Bilingualism,” says Gigi Luk, associate professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, “is an experience that shapes our brain for a lifetime.” The program at the Dalton School is based on Booth’s experience working and teaching in China, where her classrooms were a mix of international and domestic students, and in which the core curriculum was taught using both instructional languages equally. The surprise for her was that it wasn’t the chaos that we might assume. Rather, students functioned in both languages with remarkable ease. Conversations with students would switch between them as they moved between topics or thoughts fluidly and unselfconsciously.

Certainly, that’s a common experience in schools around the world—students in Finland, for example, learn many languages, and shift between them even from a very young age—though less common in this country. We might assume that the culture of the school—the language spoken in the hallways and the cafeteria—would gravitate to one language, but that’s not what happens. Students move between languages as they move naturally between thoughts, ideas, and concepts, and are largely unaware of the transitions. If you ask, “Why did you switch from English to Mandarin just then?” they respond, “Did I?”


Students at the Dalton School, a bilingual Mandarin/English private school in Toronto, Ontario

“We’re not teaching Mandarin as a subject,” says Booth. “We’re teaching school in Mandarin.” As such, cognitive and social development proceed naturally along with language development—language isn’t a course of study, but instead a tool learners use to understand the world around them.

Due to its character-symbol relationship and its varying tonality, Mandarin requires the use of more areas of the brain than French or Spanish. Young children easily absorb the difficult tones and nuances of the Mandarin language.

Fluency is just one goal among many, and Mandarin lends itself particularly well to all of them. Due to its character-symbol relationship and its varying tonality, Mandarin requires the use of more areas of the brain than English, French or Spanish. That level of challenge and stimulation, says Booth, is in fact one of the reasons that it was chosen for The Dalton School program.

“At the beginning of the year it’s a very quiet classroom,” she says. “But as the year goes on it becomes much, much louder.” Chuckling, she adds that “when you hear them arguing with one and another in Mandarin, you know you’ve been successful.”

Sending your child to a bilingual Mandarin/English school makes a world of sense. Your child will not only be learning the fastest growing language on the planet, they will be learning the fasted growing second language in the West. Click here to learn more about Dalton School, Toronto’s only Mandarin/English dual-language school.

Brunch with the Lonesome Ace Stringband

(For Penguin Eggs magazine)

Chris Coole often comments during shows that the Lonesome Ace Stringband—a trio that includes John Showman (fiddle) and Max Heineman (bass)—formed out of a brunch gig. There’s some tongue-in-cheek in that, though there’s some truth in there as well. The three did actually start playing formally together for a brunch gig at the Dakota Tavern in Toronto, something that continues, many weeks, to this day.

That said, that’s only part of a much larger origin story. They’re all part of a Toronto music scene that’s been thriving for decades, starting in the early ’90s. Coole says that “it was almost like a club, though not an exclusive one. We had that Silver Dollar gig”—a perpetual bluegrass night at the club also famous for being in the movie Adventures in Babysitting—“that went for almost 20 years. It had a rotating cast and everyone knew if you played that gig you’d see your buddies there. So there was a real social aspect, and it grew out from there.”

The extent of that growth is hinted at in the liner notes to the latest Lonesome Ace album, When The Sun Comes Up. There are the usual Toronto suspects—Andrew Collins, Arnie Naiman, Chris Quinn—along with people from farther afield, such as banjo player Craig Korth. The relationships have taken years, and thousands of road miles, to accrue.

“Craig and Julie run the Nimble Fingers camp that many of us teach at out in B.C.,” says Coole. “Through that camp we got hooked into the sort of Alberta/B.C. scene, and then teaching in Saskatchewan at the Northern Lights camps…it all spreads and it all becomes a part of a larger community. It’s extremely important. And that’s a real community, it’s not an online community. And I think that is so important now.”

It is important, though he admits that it can be hard to adequately express why. One reason might be that a rising tide floats all ships, something that was borne out at Merlefest this past April. The festival, long associated with Doc Watson until his death in 2012, sits at the heart of Appalachian musical culture, both literally and figuratively. The Canadian community was strikingly well-represented there—acts included Andrew Collins, Hannah Naiman, Arnie Naiman, and Sarah Jane Scouten, among others. The way the schedule laid out, attendees could easily have spent most of the Friday seeing and hearing nothing but Canadians.

Travelling to that festival is to travel into the heart of old-time music, which Coole admits can be a bit daunting. Many in Toronto, including a majority who happily and regularly attend those bluegrass brunches, weren’t raised on this music, and don’t have the kind of musical vocabulary that those in rural North Carolina might, and do.

“That last tour we did was really exciting,” Coole says of that latest trip south, “because we were playing for audiences that were packed with people who play this type of music. And I was nervous to see how they would like our music. And I was really pleased that a couple of them came up after, and really liked what we were doing. That was very gratifying, and I’d be lying to you if I said it hadn’t been on my mind.”

The members of Lonesome Ace know the old-time canon up, down, and sideways. One of the things that has remained throughout is a desire not to solo or play licks in a true bluegrass sense, but rather—and this is something that has long been at the very heart of old-time playing—to bring the ensemble forward.

Much of the freshness in their sound comes from the quality of musicians themselves, all of whom are A-listers. Were this a product of the pop world, we’d talk about Lonesome Ace as a power group. All three are really as good as it gets, and not just for Toronto but for anywhere, something which in itself draws audiences. Because all three are impressive vocalists, there is also a variety to the material that other trios wouldn’t be able to create.

“We’re happy to try different things, and it’s all going to come out in our own style,” says Coole, something that is also endemic to the instrumentation. Namely, there’s no guitar, something that many may not notice right away, but is nevertheless remarkable.

To compensate, Coole has adapted his banjo style to fill in the spaces that would normally be the purview of the guitarist, while also leaving a lot of air in the mix. “I just found such freedom playing without the guitar…we could play some fairly dense music, yet it didn’t become a muck. And that developed our style.”

The band works with an express intention to avoid sounding clever, just letting the writing come naturally, and serving the narrative, while also bringing the format, and their unique voice, front and centre.

The structure of some songs, such as “O’Grady Road,” depart almost subliminally from the three-chord format, adding a kind of freshness that, while not announcing itself, is nevertheless there. While there are lots of old-time sounds on this album, only two of the 14 tracks are traditional. Some sound older than they are, as with the brilliant “Pretty Boy Floyd”; a majority, including that one, were written for this project.

The audiences at Merlefest were attracted not just for what Lonesome Ace was doing—the faithfulness and facility with the old-time repertoire—but also all those things that they were adding to it. “Fresh” and “old-time” are not concepts that, perhaps, we’d readily associate, though that’s what Lonesome Ace is really bringing to the table, over brunch and beyond.

Why do parents consider private school?

The answer is best expressed in a single word: Choice

 

“The common school ideal is the source of one of the oldest educational debates …  The movement in favour of greater educational choice is the source of one of the most recent”

—Rob Reich[1]

Education in public schools remains the dominant form of education in Canada, though given the findings of a recent study, that’s changing. “The data indicates,” writes Deani van Pelt, “parents are increasingly looking to independent schools for more choice in how their children are educated.”

Van Pelt is director of the Fraser Institute’s Barbara Mitchell Centre for Improvement in Education. She is also co-author of A Diverse Landscape: Independent Schools in Canada, published by the institute this past June. The study is the first of its kind in Canada, and provides what is by far the most comprehensive portrait of independent schooling in this country to date.

And there are some surprises. What first catches a reader’s attention is the number of students that attend independent school, totaling 6.8 percent of the national K to 12 student population. There’s a higher percentage in some provinces — BC’s numbers are double that of the national average — though in all enrollment continues to rise. “A greater number of parents,” writes Van Pelt, “[are] choosing to have their children educated outside of the public school system.”[3]

Graphic courtesy the Fraser Institute. Used with permission.

So, there are a lot of students going to private school. But there’s another surprise too: those that do aren’t necessarily who we think they are. “Rigid typecasting of independent schools is more myth than reality,” the authors report. “In Canada, the lingering stereotypes are not reflective of the landscape” namely that private schools are all the same and, together, serve a very narrow portion of the student population:

“…  the parents of over 368,000 students—one of every fifteen students in Canada—are sending their children to one of the 1,935 independent, non-government schools in the country, and the picture is clear. They are choosing schools that differ in many ways from one another, the vast majority of which do not conform to the prevailing caricature that private schools in Canada are exclusive enclaves serving only the wealthy urban elite.”

Still, the stereotypes persist, something that Van Pelt and others believe isn’t merely unfortunate, but potentially detrimental. “The widespread misperceptions of independent schools,” she writes, “impede honest debate about why thousands of families make the additional financial sacrifice to send their children to these schools.” Especially in light of her recent findings, Van Pelt says it’s time for Canadians to “understand and recognize the tremendous value and choice provided by independent schools to the education system.”

Learning in the Canadian context

The public school system in Canada is vast. It is comprised of a network of provincial and regional boards that are free to adapt curriculum, allocate funding, and set degree requirements. Aside from a core curriculum, the public system offers additional programs based on need, interest, and what resources will allow: Catholic,[4] First Nations, Francophone curricula and French immersion. Some boards offer specialty programs, including gifted, special needs, athletics, and performing arts.

Nevertheless, those specialized programs are typically seen as simply addenda to the core public program, rather than essential parts of it. Likewise, when challenges are made to specialty schools and private schooling, they centre on the belief that a strong core program should take precedence, and that resources are best focused there rather than being diverted to serve a minority of students at the periphery.

“Everyone needs to be invested in our public schools in order for them to get better,”[5] writes Allison Benedikt in an op-ed piece for Slate magazine. She adds that some parents choose private school “for religious reasons, or because their kids have behavioral or learning issues, or simply because the public school in their district is not so hot. None of these are compelling reasons.”

It’s a typical criticism, regularly raised, in support of the common schooling model. The belief is that the public system is strong enough and adaptable enough to meet the needs of all students and all families.

Choice is important

Which all sounds good, of course, though the reality is that learning or behavioural issues, religious reasons, and quality are, in fact, compelling reasons. Among other things. “The idea of choice is attractive,” write Lynn Bosetti and Dianne Gereluk in their book Understanding School Choice in Canada, published this year by University of Toronto Press. “Its promise of equality, freedom, and democracy … reflects the modern desire for autonomy, control, and self-expression.”[6] And, when given a choice, parents historically take it, and they do so for compelling reasons: we’re changing, as a country, and therefore our needs are changing, too.

While common schooling has indeed worked very well for many, the reality is that choice has always been a considerable factor within it. It’s also nothing new. Roman Catholic schools have been a feature of public education in Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan since each province entered confederation.

Ontario offers less financial incentive for alternative education than most of the other provinces, yet, even there, a large portion of students are enrolled in alternative programs. The most recent ministry data available was gathered in 2012/13. During that school year 26.5 percent of Ontario students were in enrolled in Roman Catholic English schools, 3.3 percent in Roman Catholic Francophone schools, 1.2 percent in Francophone schools, and 6 percent in independent or home schools. Taken together only 63.1 per cent of students were enrolled in English public schools, [7] yet, even of those, 170 000 students were enrolled in public French immersion programs. Derek Allison writes that:

Alternative schools within the boards also provide a less well-known form of school choice in Ontario including specialist arts and sports schools, single-gender schools, schools featuring more progressive or traditional approaches to the curriculum, and other themes and foci. Taken together, it might not be a stretch to claim that almost one-half of Ontario students attend schools of choice.”[8]

Parts of a whole

Rather than limiting that choice, many believe the quality of education were able to offer depends on increasing it. Dalton McGuinty Sr. (father of the past premier of Ontario) served on the Ottawa Board of Education for more than a decade and was a vocal initiator of provincial secondary school curriculum reform. He was also a very visible proponent of the combined benefits of both the common and private model:

“With students and teachers of diverse convictions, the public school must attempt a so-called neutrality on the great issues of life. It must operate with limited horizons. The independent-alternative school is able to assume a clearly defined philosophy of life and a specific orientation in accord with the values of its students and their parents. The public school must serve the interests of those who would keep that dimension out. The independent-alternative school can serve those who would keep it in.”[10]

It’s an understanding that remains with us, and which is at the heart of Bosetti and Gereluk’s book all these decades later:

“… the historical record suggests public schools have demonstrated little respect for diversity of thinking among different political, religious, and ethical stances. … School choice has the potential to make provisions … for students whose identity and self-understanding depend on the vitality of their own cultural, religious, ethnic, racial, or gender context. In contrast, the common school model can present potentially constraining elements and limit their prospects.”[11]

It’s not about either/or, but the compatibility of both. All agree that the public education system, as McGuinty rightly suggested, provides a strong and necessary foundation for education in this country. It ensures that quality education is available and within the reach of all Canadians. It sets the tone for Canada’s educational system, public and private, and serves as a regulatory body for private and independent institutions. Most importantly, public schooling reflects the core educational values that Canadians share, namely to provide students an opportunity to realize their potential in becoming skilled, knowledgeable, and caring citizens. The strength of Canadian private schools owes a lot to the strength of the public system.

Where we do ourselves a disservice, McGuinty suggested, is a failure to recognize that there are limits to what a public system can do, coupled with a lingering reluctance to acknowledge private schools’ value in augmenting and enlivening the national educational mosaic.

The system we have, the system we need

When he first developed the national system of education, Edgerton Ryerson intended it to mediate cultural differences and promote consistent social ideals within the nascent, post-colonial population. As chief superintendent for education in Upper Canada, he promoted free, secular, universal education. That ideal was then formalized in law with the Free School Act of 1864 and the Common Schools Act of 1871.

Ryerson believed that public education would provide a means of addressing a range of social problems—principally the high rates of crime and poverty—and ease the transition from an agricultural economy to one based in industrial capitalism. By adopting a secular curriculum, he hoped it would settle the social, class, and religious divisions that plagued the colonies. And he kept a tight leash. While the Lord’s Prayer was allowed when opening the school day, teachers were prohibited from teaching religion or displaying religious symbols, including clothing.[12] That was just as contentionus then as it would be today, if perhaps for different reasons.

Of the things that Ryerson didn’t intend, however, are many of the goals that we hold for education today: to promote creative thinking, to provide opportunities to pursue personal interests and skills, and to allow students to express their own thoughts and ideas. Ryerson wasn’t intending to provide a system to promote academic achievement, but rather to assimilate difference within the Canadian population. The residential schools, as misguided as they were, were born of similar impulses, and their effect rightly remains a source of profound national regret.

The population of the country isn’t what it was in Ryerson’s day, and the things we require of education aren’t the same, either. We desire an educational system that reflects the mosaic of Canadian cultural life, one that supports different learners, different traditions, and different goals. It’s a desire that is born of a sense of who we are and what we’d like for our children.

“Increasing levels of urbanization and immigration, and a shift to a knowledge-based economy requiring more highly skilled workers have intensified pressure on schools to reform the common schooling model. Pressure to reform this system of education has also come from marginalized and minority groups, who have contested the dominant ideologies implicit in and perpetuated by the common school movement. … these groups have sought accommodations for their culture, identity, values, and beliefs. In a similar vein, parents seeking more voice in the socialization and education of their children have looked for schools more in line with their family values, child-rearing practices, and aspirations for their children. These social, political, and economic factors have created the impetus for ministries of education and school boards throughout Canada to consider alternative schooling arrangements.”[13]

Parents, today, look to education to provide their child with an opportunity, in the words of Deryn Lavell, head of school at Bishop Strachan in Toronto, “to understand who she is, her place in the world, to become an independent young woman, to have a chance to learn leadership skills, [and] to find a voice in a multiplicity of voices.” Increasingly, they’re turning to private and independent schools in order to find it.


[1] Rob Reich “How and Why to Support Common Schooling and Educational Choice at the Same Time” Journal of Philosophy of Education. 41 (4):709-725 (2007).

[4] Roman Catholic separate schools have been a feature of the educational landscapes in Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan since they became part of the Canadian confederation. Other provinces, such as Manitoba and British Columbia, have historically resisted the establishment of Catholic schools within their public education systems.

[6] Bosetti and Gereluk. Understanding School Choice in Canada. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2016.  p. 3

[10] McGuinty, D. J. ((December 27, 1984). The relevance of independent alternative schools in society today. (Series RG 18-195, Box 4, File #395, Barcode B268930). Records of the Commission on Private Schools in Ontario, Archives of Ontario, Toronto, ON. p. 7

[11] Bosetti and Gereluk. Understanding School Choice in Canada. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2016.  P. 24

[12] Bushnell, Ian (1992). The captive court: a study of the Supreme Court of Canada. Montreal; Ithaca: McGill – Queen’s University Press

[13] Bosetti and Gereluk. Understanding School Choice in Canada. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2016.  p. 4

The Grascals, “Before Breakfast”

(For HVbluegrass.org)

Some songs, like Tom T. Hall’s “I Love,” unintentionally demonstrate that there’s a fine line between sincerity and satire. Some people maybe find the song to be a simple presentation of a complex idea. Others, Bob Dylan among them, think of it derisively as the “little baby duck” song: 

I love little baby ducks, old pickup trucks

Slow-movin’ trains

And rain

It was a hit on the country charts presumably because listeners related to the sentiment. Still, it would have been just as popular if presented on Saturday Night Live, only for very different reasons. (Think Steve Martin’s “King Tut,” which actually was a hit a few years after “I Love” charted.)

download-1This latest from the Grascals, Before Breakfast, finds the band right there, straddling the same line between profundity and parody. Bluegrass bands certainly don’t shirk from a cliché—who can get enough of a Lester Flatt G-run?—but if there are limits, some of them are here. The songs chart all the heart ache, lost loves, and loneliness that bluegrass is famous for, with nary a wink. The narrator of “Demons” finds his nemesis lurking in a bottle, high-heel shoes, rolling papers, and blues songs. The narrator of “I’ve Been Redeemed” has committed a wealth of sin which sadly goes unnamed. We’re left wondering what it was that he did. Must have been pretty bad. Though, unlike the narrator of “Lonesome,” it hasn’t landed him in prison, at least not yet anyway.

There’s a bit of insomnia to go around. The narrator of “There is You” lies awake at night thinking of the woman who clearly has had enough of his funks. The narrator of “Beer Tree” is awake at 2am wondering why beer doesn’t grow on trees. It’s clearly intended as a moment of levity, but it doesn’t work as well as it could. Given the alcoholism elsewhere in this album, the thought feels a bit unsavoury.

Ultimately, all of this risks giggles in places, and for reasons, that perhaps weren’t intended. The ending of “Pathway of Teardrops” loads one clichéd ending on top of another, becoming quite a brilliant parody at the end of a song that really isn’t intended to be one.

To be fair, the players here are expert, and musically there’s a lot to love. The only thing that doesn’t quite work with “Lynchburg Chicken Run” is the title. It’s the only instrumental, which too bad. It’s a great one, and would that there was at least one more.

Elsewhere, the lyrical content—all the bottles and broken hearts and church pews—doesn’t quite reach the mark, which perhaps is to tell a story, or bring a new idea to the table. Instead, it’s is as if the band wanted to write some bluegrass songs, so that’s what they did. I think Grascals fans will like this one, but it’s not the album that’s likely to grow their audience much. Which is too bad, because they are so adept at their instruments. They just need better material.

The Wailin Jennys, “Fifteen”

The+Wailin'+Jennys+-+'Fifteen'+-+cover+(300dpi)_preview.jpgThe Wailin Jennys is one of those groups that causes lots of people to fall all over themselves with praise. And they’re absolutely right to. Truly, you can’t say enough good things about them. It starts here: “One Voice.” Their latest release will cause lots of praise too, just as it should. When I heard that they were doing a collection of cover songs, I’ll admit to feeling a bit disappointed. Sometimes covers are the things that people do when they are feeling a bit at sea. Not so with Fifteen. The songs here don’t all announce themselves as covers, which is part of the project. They’ve really brought their considerable powers of arrangement to these, and have chosen the tunes so well, that the project doesn’t feel like the presentation of other people’s work, but rather their work. That they do “Boulder to Birmingham” is itself a master stroke, and is masterfully done. “Loves Me Like a Rock” is a bit of a highwire act. It’s like they’re taking it on for the challenge it presents. “Think we can’t bring something new to this chestnut?” Think again. It brings shivers. The whole album does. I’m tempted to fall all over myself with praise, but better is just for you to listen to the work. You simply must. Crikey, these women are a national treasure, and this album just confirms it.

Andy Hall and Roosevelt Collier, “Let the Steel Play”

downloadRemember Josh Graves? How about Tut Taylor? Or Paul Franklin? For anyone other than guitar geeks the names conjure something like memories, if not quite formed enough to warrant the term. They are all steel guitar players, meaning they played guitars with a piece of steel. Slide players. Which means that they were side players, playing second to their more popular band mates: Earl Scruggs, John Hartford, and every country singer you’ve ever heard. Jerry Douglas is the only slide player that really gained a spotlight of his own, though the style of playing traces a long line through popular music and international geography—it comes from Hawaiian styles, though the Dobro was created by Slovakians: the Dopyera brothers, John and Emil.

Because we only seem to know about slide playing tangentially, rather than straight on, there’s a bit of mystery within it, and that mystery is at heart of this recording by Andy Hall and Roosevelt Collier, two slide players that met a few years ago on a music cruise they were both hired to perform on. Hall is the Dobro player of the Infamous Stringdusters, and while he plays across genres, his entrée was bluegrass. Collier is a blues player. The tracks on their album Let the Steel Play take in all of that territory and then some. Close to the top of the program they ease us in with a beautifully poetic take on “Maiden’s Prayer.” And then they’re off. There are some sharp edges, and left turns along the way, but it’s a wonderful collection of material. You can get a bit precious and find all those threads in here—rock and the blues, country and bluegrass, Hartford to Hendrix—though better is just to let all the echoes wash over you. In any event, it deserves your attention. Slide playing isn’t really a novelty, after all. Those guys were some of the hardest workers in show business.                

Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn, “Echo in the Valley”

download-1One of the delightful moments is this recording is in the 5th track, when both segue into a lovely take on Bela Fleck’s “Big Country.” It’s a tune he’s presented himself a lot, most notably within the “Live from the Quick” release. It’s not as challenging as some of the things he does, which makes it a nice entrée to what he does. Moving between voices, shifting chords here and there. That all takes on an added dimension here, playing with Abigail Washburn. She’s a master of old-time banjo, he the master of everything else, and both add their separate personalities to the piece. Washburn is more poetic, Fleck more rhythmic. She’s more of a feel player, he more studied. That 5th track, a medley, is the only instrumental on the album, and too bad there aren’t a couple more. Between them they can do no wrong, of course, though this is a better release than their last one. That one, their self-titled release, felt a bit rushed in a way, maybe a album for the sake of it. It was interesting for what it was—again, these two have the reputation as being masters, and it’s a reputation that is earned—but this release, Echo in the Valley, feels more polished, maybe, more thoughtful, in a way. In all, it’s a lovely way to while away a bit of time. They are interested in opening a big piece of musical territory, and they do.

Volume Five, “Milestones”

When people who are really into wine talk about wine they don’t tend to speak in generalities, but rather a whole range of specifics. They talk about the hints of this and that, the various notes of such and such. Seeing people talk about these things on TV, it seems it’s not just descriptors. They seem to take enjoyment in all the elements of the wine as much or more as they like a wine as a whole. A wine isn’t a thing itself, but rather a collection of little things, all of which seem to deliver a little hit of appreciation or pleasure.

This new disc from Volume Five, Milestones, is much like that. There are some really great songs—“North Dakota” perhaps particularly—but it’s almost more about the parts than it is the whole. The mandolin chops are so clean, so dry, and so beautifully placed within the mix. The guitar entry to “Tell Me You’re Not Leaving” so perfect, with such a clear tone. In those things, and many more, there is a lot to love here, all of it pointing to the mastery of the musicians and the quality of the production. The content can be bleak, and there’s loads of heartbreak and bare-bones introspection on offer. The narrator in “North Dakota” says that it’s “less than you deserve, but you stay with me anyway.” The song ends with a hope to get the barley in the ground, if only to make it through another year on a farm that’s “twenty miles from either town.” The narrator of “Hayley,” has a history that is a bit murky yet clearly full of regret. There aren’t many moments of joy to go around, but maybe that’s just part and parcel of the genre (well, of course it is) and also one of the things that draw us to it.

Volume Five was named emerging artist of the year at this year’s IBMA. They’ve been at it for ten years, and have grown in that time, both as musically as well as a becoming a more cohesive group. There is a clarity of vision here, too, which buoys the quality of the work; the personality of the band is coming forward, and the members are stating that identity with more ease. For all of that, this album is easily their best to date, so to be named emerging artist after a decade of work isn’t really as wilting as it might seem. Emerging doesn’t mean new, necessarily but gaining a wider audience and a more prominent place. Indeed, Volume Five is really coming into its own, and rightly finding a place in a very busy musical marketplace. It’s certainly nice to see them gaining more attention at the IBMA. They deserve it. This album is definitely worth your attention.

 

Students praise Lakefield College School for Outdoor Ed program

“I thought, ‘this is the place where I could be the best version of myself.’”

for Ourkids.net

One of Betsy Macdonnell’s first glimpses of life at Lakefield College School was a grade 9 outdoor education class, one of the stops on her first tour of the campus. “I remember seeing how supportive they were with each other,” she says of the students, particularly in the case of one who was struggling with a fear of heights on the climbing wall. “Everyone was helping her to get to the top.”

What Macdonnell noticed most was what it said about the student population, and what it said about the values of the school. “I thought, ‘this is the place where I could be the best version of myself.’” She’s currently completing grade 12. Looking back over her years at LCS, she says “it was 100% the right choice.”

“ … we do it all right here … ”

LCS has long been a leader in outdoor education, in large part due to the physical assets of the campus. They include a sizeable lakefront and a vast property with trails, fields, and access to a range of green spaces. “A lot of other schools have what they call outdoor education,” says Peter Andras, Outdoor Education Coordinator and OE instructor for the past 16 years. “They are bussed up to a camp, they spend two or three days, and it’s only done in one instance, or a couple instances, throughout the year. Whereas, at Lakefield, we can integrate it into everything that we do. We have all the canoes, all the climbing stuff. We do it all right here, right on site.”

First-hand learning

That said, the reason they do it—and ultimately why outdoor education has become such a core element of the culture of the school—is because of the skills, behaviours, and values that it imparts. “We’re in the business of educating the whole person,” says Andras. “It’s not just sitting in a classroom and memorizing material. … We value relationships, and we value all of those cross-curricular ties. And everything can be integrated into outdoor ed.”

Certainly, the school does a great job of using outdoor experience—getting beyond the walls of the school—across the full breadth of the curricular offerings. Trips are taken into Algonquin park, for example, for sketching and painting the landscape, just as Tom Thomson did to create some of his most celebrated work. Like Thomson, they travel in by canoe, and stay within the landscape they are describing in their artwork.

“In physics,” says Andras, “they’re learning about estimating distances, or working through architectural problems, or trail maintenance. …. There are so many different things that you can tie together through outdoor education if you have the space to do it, and can get kids out of the classroom to do it.” Geography classes make use of the various ecosystems and landforms within the property; Phys ed classes include time on the high ropes course, and, in winter, Nordic skiing on the campus trails; biology classes make use of the various biomes on site. “It’s common to see us going outside in the trigonometry unit,” says instructor Tim Rollwagen, “with the students all focused on the ratios in triangles, finding the height of buildings and the heights of trees.”

Life lessons

Rollwagen is the Director of Global Learning, something which extends the outdoor focus of the school effectively around the world. “All of our international trips do have an extensive outdoor program,” he says. This year’s trip to Peru includes a wellness and spirituality piece, and research into Incan culture. A trip to Ecuador includes a first-hand experience of the biological diversity within the Galapagos. “Our whole school is rooted in outdoor education,” says Macdonnell, “our entire school program is based around the connection with the land.”

The feel on campus is perhaps akin to summer camp. “When they go to camp it’s almost like a second family,” says Rollwagen. “And the atmosphere at Lakefield, and the freedom that it allows, including the variety of opportunities that it has … it’s much like that. Maybe it’s even just going for a walk in the woods at the end of the day … it allows you to have this feeling of a second home.”

Decidedly, it’s a way of being that is unique to the school. “You see students coming from around the world, all different backgrounds, and suddenly they’re thrown into the middle of the woods in Canada. And its minus 20 degrees and they’re learning to use a compass, and finding their way back,” says Macdonnell, chuckling a bit as she does. She and the faculty truly appreciate how those kinds of experiences can bring students together around a new, and ultimately more positive, set of priorities.

“Kids need to get outside, and to learn to enjoy being outside,” says Andras. “In life, you have to be resilient, and to be able to rely on each other.” Those are the kinds of lessons that the environment at LCS, and the outdoor education program in particular, has been developed to provide.

 

This camp will change your life

Learning confidence, leadership, and life skills at Quebec’s Camp Nominingue

for OurKids.net by Glen Herbert

Not every Rhodes Scholar has been to Camp Nominingue, but at least one has. Colin Robertson got the nod last November. One of the first people he called with the news was the director of Nominingue, Grant McKenna.

That says something, as does the tattoo of the camp crest on Colin’s chest. This is a person who is not only dedicated to what camp can do, but is fully cognizant of what it has done for him. While academically he’s always been strong, he credits the camp with giving him the confidence in his talents and in himself that, ultimately, the Rhodes committee was looking for. “It’s the interpersonal skills,” says Colin. “You can’t not get along with other people at camp. … functioning as a team, understanding your role in an organization … those are the skills that you learn as a camper.”

What camp does

Colin first arrived at Nominingue as an 11-year-old camper and—as camper, LIT, and staff member—he’s been there ever since. “I was very, very shy,” he says of his first year there. “I was very unsure myself—what I enjoyed, what I wanted. It wasn’t like camp changed me over night, but every time I went back, I grew a bit more.” He’s been on staff for the past six summers, and he’ll be there again this year, just before heading off to Oxford in September.

Both Colin and his mother, Susan Fisher, are cautious about the idea that camp made Colin who he is today. It’s not quite that. Rather, they feel that camp helped him bring his skills and his personality forward, granting him the kind of confidence necessary to pursue the Rhodes, and indeed much else. Says Fisher, “What it does is that it brings the best out of you.”

Annie Duchesne’s son Simon is, in a sense, the boy that Colin was a decade ago. Simon first attended Nominingue last summer. He was a good student, but very shy. Getting him to go to camp, Duchesne admits, took a bit of cajoling. Which, actually, was also true for Colin in his first year. Fisher thought he’d be back home in two days. Eleven years later, he’s still going.

In the event, it went well. “He didn’t like it … he loved it,” says Duchesne. “He’s not the same boy now. He changed in 12 days,” the duration of his session last summer. “He’s trying things that he didn’t want to do before. He plays trombone!” she says, clearly very happily amused at the idea. “He came to me and he said ‘I want to play that instrument.’ He didn’t ask me for guitar, he asked me for slide trombone!”

For Duchesne, that’s something she didn’t see before, namely a willingness to follow his muse, with confidence and determination, and to chart his own path. “I think that’s coming from the camp. He tries everything.”

“They are all very grounded”

When asked about the benefits of the camp experience, both Fisher and Duchesne are given to talking about the kind of environment that the boys enter there. “There’s a lot of testosterone,” admits Duchesne, though she feels the nature of the camp environment—based in activity and set apart from urban life, including electronic devices—channels it in productive ways. “They are all very grounded. It’s like a big family. The kids are very courageous,” while also learning the values of teamwork and empathy.

“There are so many opportunities that allow kids to feel good about themselves,” says McKenna about what the camp environment does particularly well. “Gaining confidence and developing independence; skill building, and gaining a sense of achievement—it’s about giving kids a chance to be independent from home in a relatively safe and controlled environment. I think that that has to be what camp does the best.”

It’s also about the relationships. Says Fisher. “how often do you get to make friendships that are that long and that strong?” She admits that she doesn’t love the tattoo, though is happy that, if Colin has to have one, it’s a canoe rather than, say, a skull. She also appreciates what it means. “He just loves the camp. It’s his little place in heaven.” And that little reminder will be with him, there beneath his gowns, when he attends Oxford this fall. How great is that?

Life lessons

For OurKids.net

If there is a rock star in the world of Canadian camping, it’s Jocelyn Palm. She’s directed Glen Bernard Camp since 1977, though her leadership has extended well beyond that and has touched many, many lives along the way. She’s served as president of provincial and national camping associations, and as the first executive director of the National Lifesaving Society, and created the Women’s Health Matters Forum, in association with Women’s College Hospital. In 2013 she was invested into the Order of Canada, cited for “being an inspiration to generations of women.” Recently, as part of the #ThanksToCamp campaign, she credited all of her success to, well, camp. “Camp gave me the confidence to tackle things for myself,” she said, reflecting on when she herself was a young camper. “Camp encouraged me to find the tenacity and the gut instinct that is needed to continuously focus on the bigger picture.”

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Today, we’d call that “grit,” a concept that has been gaining traction particularly through the work of Angela Lee- Duckworth, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies the intangible aspects of success: self-moderation, passion and perseverance, and a healthy approach to disappointment.

Camp Ouareau

“Grit is having stamina,” says Lee-Duckworth. “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” while acknowledging your abilities as well as your weaknesses. Her book, Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance, begins with a discussion of students who drop out of West Point, and that “rising to the occasion had almost nothing to do with talent.” The determinant is less ability than it is a “hang-in-there posture toward challenge.” Grit is what, ultimately, will help kids accept setbacks and weather the difficulties they’ll encounter as they grow into adulthood and beyond.

And with Palm and so many others, it’s also proven to be something that camps are uniquely able to provide. Yes, there is skill development, though typically skills aren’t promoted for themselves alone, and with more important goals in mind. “It’s great that you become, say, a skilled rock climber,” says Steve Archibald, director of Medeba Summer Camp, “but hopefully in the process of learning skills we’re extracting some things that develop our character, our leadership competencies. And they become things that are very transferrable … into our workplace, family, or community of friends. We start to see skills and ways of thinking that are very transferrable.”

Prime among them is a sense of who we are, and how we can develop our strengths and bring them to bear in positive ways. Says Palm, “Nowhere else are you given so much responsibility at a young age, held accountable, given an opportunity to make mistakes and fix them, and be supported through all that.” It can be a transformative experience. Of her own campers, Palm says that “when I ask them ‘What did you learn at camp?’, the thing I most often get is: ‘What I learned about myself.’”

Zodiac Swim and Specialty Camp

Be prepared

“These are really just foundational skills,” says Kate Cassidy, director of Brock Youth University, a program based in St. Catharines, Ontario. “Developing these skills doesn’t start at 18; it starts when they’re much younger.” They are nevertheless what employers will be looking for when the campers have grown, left camp, and begin their careers. “You can really tell in a work environment who has been to camp and who hasn’t,” says Lisa Wilson, long-time director of Camp Oconto. She chuckles as she says that, perhaps out of modest pride for helping girls over her decades as a camp professional, to achieve that difference, that character.

Wilson first attended Camp Oconto at just three months of age. Her parents ran the camp and then, after them, she ran it, and has done now for 36 years. When it comes to camping, much like Palm, she’s a lifer. She loves it, not for the office work of course—there’s lots of that, which is handled out of the Unionville office whenever they aren’t at camp—but for what camp can do in the life of a child. “I get wonderful thank-you notes and emails from different people,” she says, turning to one that she recently got from a parent in the UK. It’s about a camper who arrived many years from there, and it says many of the things that these kinds of letters typically do. How camp was so important to her, and to her family. How important the memories continue to be, despite how little of each year, when you really think about it, she was actually at camp. The letter writer describes how camp encouraged her daughter to grow and develop into the person she is today.

Maya came back from her first year at camp and… there was something so profound about the change that had happened in her… and it was partly about being more independent and more autonomous, but it was also just some sort of self-confidence … ”

–Liz Warwick, parent, Camp Ouareau

“It makes me realize how important it is to be a positive role model,” says Wilson. “That’s what keeps me going. It can be challenging, but the positive impact is huge.” What that thank-you note conspicuously lacks, as many do, is any mention of specific skill development, at least in the way we typically think of it. The take home, at the end of the summer and in the years to come, often isn’t what they did at camp, but who camp helped them to become. “So many things at camp just come through by osmosis,” says Wilson. “We’re not teaching them; they’re learning by doing.” As she speaks, she wonders if the point might be even finer than that: you’re not just learning by doing, you’re also learning by simply being there. “All the wonderful activities are great, but they’re very much a vehicle for learning some of the more important things,” including self-awareness, communication skills, problem solving, and perseverance.

Accept support …

One of the reasons that camp is so successful with young people, Wilson feels, is that there is a more realistic interface between kids and the world around them. “People on social media, they take pictures on sunny days when they’re doing fun things and it gives them unrealistic expectations of what life should be.” At camp, for example, it rains. “In the city, if it’s a rainy day, and gross, and cold, chances are you might just sit inside all day if you can get away with it. Whereas at camp you have to get out. If it’s raining, we still go out. We walk to the dining hall, or to activities, and we dance in the rain. … It may not be an enjoyment thing, it may just be something you need to get through.”

Ways of the Woods Day Camp

Another reason is because any hardships aren’t skirted, but faced head on, together. Oconto is a girls’ camp, though Wilson is careful to contextualize the benefits of a single-gender environment. “There’s girl power, there’s boy power,” she says with what feels like a sigh, “but I think we need to be careful because all youth need support.” There’s a sigh there, too, in acknowledgment that that term, “support,” can be a tricky one. For her, it isn’t synonymous with a personal cheering squad, but rather with a context in which kids can learn to accept both their successes and their failures. “To say to them that nobody is ever going to win is ridiculous,” she says, noting that competition is part of life. But it’s a fine line, of course, in presenting positive forms of competition, healthy attitudes, and appropriate rewards. At Oconto, there are a couple of trophies, though Wilson tries to keep things simpler. Success is most typically acknowledged through a pat on the back, a high-five, or a round of applause in the dining hall. “The warmth they get from that is far bigger than what they get from a trophy.”

There is the brotherhood factor—we see boys really trying to live up to the positive qualities of the older staff and older alumni.”

— Mike Sladden, Camp Pathfinder

… but carry your own pack

A story Wilson likes to tell comes from when she was at a coed tripping camp. “I walked along the portage path and there was a girl waiting there, and I asked her what she was doing. She said she was waiting for her boyfriend, because he would carry her pack.”

For Wilson, that wasn’t on. There was an ensuing conversation, the upshot being that “you don’t need somebody else to carry your pack.” While not a panacea, Wilson feels that one of the benefits of girls’ camps is that they start from that point. “The fact is that at a girls’ camp there wouldn’t be a boy to say ‘well I’m going to let him do my tough work.’”

For many kids, camp is the only place they not only have an opportunity to really be responsible for carrying their own pack, but are required to, and that’s true across the various types of camp offerings. “It’s not a cruise,” says Christy Griffin of Bytown Brigantine. They sail tall ships with fully licensed youth crew on Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Bytown Brigantine

“You’re stepping aboard as a crew member,” says Griffin. “It’s fairly rustic. There are no curling irons and no hair dryers. If you want a shower, it’s usually in the lake.” There are lots of things to do, and everyone does them. At the same time, kids learn about weather patterns, do chart work, even prep food in the galley. “It’s very much a hands-on experience.” It also isn’t for the faint of heart. Griffin recalls that one year there was a girl who was terrified of heights, and resistant to getting up into the rigging. Even so, the boat is its own world, with everyone leading by example, and within a few days, she was up there, too, getting the job done and loving it. They all do, even without their phones (devices are only available to the kids while they are in port).

One session sails from Saint John, New Brunswick to New York City, and takes in the sights and culture along the way. “They will be sailing Long Island Sound, Martha’s Vineyard, and Mystic Seaport. … In Louisburg, it’s crab fest that weekend, and we’ll be participating in a very authentic maritime event.” In port, the kids are the experts, representing the ship, its crew, and interpreting the experience aboard.

Wear good clothes, and do what you need to do

For some—as with the girl who was reluctant to climb into the rigging—the physical challenges of life aboard ship are the most consequential. For others, though, it could be the public speaking, or the need to collaborate with others. It’s a reminder that all kids need to be challenged in order to grow and learn, though they don’t all need to be challenged in the same way.

Marie-Pierre Lacasse is the director of Camp Portneuf in Lac Sept-Îles, Québec. It’s a traditional camp with a twist, in a sense, in that it focuses on supporting kids with behavioural problems. “We had a child that was on the spectrum,” she says. “He was verbal, but has a really hard time interrelating with people. … When his mom showed up at the end of the week, she said that it was the first time he had ever succeeded at something. He had actually stayed his whole week at camp,” this being a child for whom staying a full day at school was a challenge, one that he had rarely met. “That’s the kind of experience that we’re looking for. A life-impacting type of experience, for kids that typically don’t fit in,” says Lacasse. “Who hasn’t been labelled, who hasn’t been set aside? At the end of the week, we want them to have had just a regular experience.”

It doesn’t always present in the same way. Contrasting with life aboard a tall ship, Lacasse says that “if my kids want to follow ants for an hour, great! That’s an awesome activity!” Watching ants is a great activity, in her mind, not because of what kids learn about ants, but the time it gives them to slow down a bit, follow their curiosity, and support the values inherent in the camp experience. “Our campers will become staff,” says Lacasse, “they have to be empowered in their experience if they’re going to transmit the same thing to others.” Certainly, that experience of empowerment, as well as that sense of trust and responsibility, can be transformative. “These are great kids!” says Lacasse, and she lets them see that about themselves. “We want them to be in contact with the world, with each other. When I talk to parents, I talk about how they will develop at camp, not what they’re going to do at camp.”

Yes, you do learn a lot, say, by going to archery—how to use a bow and arrow, and how to be safe. But it’s not just those lessons that you’re at camp for. It’s the life lessons.”

—Nicole Christamtsis, director, Olympia Sports Camp

First eat, then sing

There are lots of rules at camp, of course, because there needs to be. Kids need to wear PFDs, and to stop running when the whistle blows. There are some, too, that you might not expect. “At lunch and dinner we have a rule that after everyone has finished a first course, then you’re allowed to sing,” says Lisa Wilson. “The first course rule is because we’d have kids leaving the dining hall without having eaten, just singing and dancing.”

Camp Glen Bernard

It highlights what a different place, a different sense of priorities, can bring out in kids. True, most parents don’t have to enforce a no singing rule. In the general course of events, sadly, kids aren’t given to spontaneous, full-throated singing. They feel their voices aren’t good enough, or are embarrassed for others to hear. But again, camp is different. At Oconto, the girls break out into chants and songs in the dining hall and everywhere else, too. It’s probably because it’s just one of those things that people do at camp, and always have. And everyone does it, so no one is the odd one out. Given that Oconto is a girls’ camp, there isn’t the sense of being watched by boys. It’s a different set of parameters that the campers, for a week or two, are living within.

It might not seem like much, given that most of the campers’ lives are spent elsewhere. But that’s deceptive. For the girls canoeing at Oconto, the kids watching the ants at Portneuf, or the kids in the rigging of a tall ship, they’re learning about who they are, what they’re capable of, and who they might become. They’re learning about the world, the values that they hold, and the opportunities that are available to them. They’re learning to trust themselves, and to trust others. “If you build up skills that are positive,” says Lacasse, “that’s awesome.” She’s right. It is. And they’re skills that they’ll rely on for the rest of their lives.

image

Welcome to Canada, Welcome to camp

(for Our Kids)

“They made me do the presentation twice,” says Tanya Springer. “[They were] gasping at each and every picture of a lake or sunset. They each had things they were most excited for. Pottery, swimming, sunrise canoe paddles … even sleeping in bunk beds.”

Springer was presenting to two families of new Canadians, the El Sajers and the Zalkhas, who had arrived from Syria the previous January by way of Lebanon. Through an interpreter and a PowerPoint presentation, Springer described a distinctly Canadian tradition: summer camp.

“I talked through the idea of camp,” she says, “from logistical—‘no, you won’t cook your own food’—to conceptual— ‘camp is a place to do things you don’t normally do … and to try activities you’ve never done before.’”

The camp concept can present a learning curve, even for those who don’t arrive at it from a first-hand experience of war. “With families coming from other parts of the world,” says Rudy Williamson, director of Camp Wenonah, “the idea of summer camp is already a foreign concept. Even the word ‘camp’ itself, if you’re coming from refugee camps, can mean something very, very different.”

For most Canadians it’s hard to imagine what these families had been through, though there were moments that hinted at it. After spending a month living in a hotel near Pearson Airport, both families had settled in Malton, Ontario. “Their dad told me that he’s never seen a place so beautiful as Malton,” says Springer. “I asked him what the best part of Malton is so far, and his answer was ‘no bombs!’”

Despite all of that, by the second showing of the PowerPoint slides, the parents were asking after the registration forms and the kids were laughing at the excitement of it all. They were going to camp.

“They were all just so full of energy”

Springer is a producer with the CBC, and she had covered the arrival of refugees in that capacity, including work on a television documentary about that hotel near the airport. “I remember being shocked at the number of children there. They were all just so full of energy—tearing up and down corridors, playing in elevators and stairwells … I remember wishing these kids had some formal programming. And things kind of progressed from there. I asked Jeff if it was possible to set aside some camper spots and he didn’t hesitate.” Jeff Bradshaw is executive director of Camp Wenonah, a camp near Bracebridge where Springer had been a camper and staff. He answered without a beat. “It was a ‘definitely.’”

Springer then turned to friends and neighbours within her Toronto community to help outfit the kids for camp: sleeping bags, duffle bags, incidentals. The needs were somewhat modest—Camp Wenonah was covering the cost of camp itself, so they only needed to cover supplies— and the effort was a very local one. When Springer talks about the supplies, she refers to them as “welcome kits.” And in the minds of those who contributed, “welcome” was truly the operative impulse. It felt less like a movement, and more like a pot luck dinner.

Campers are campers

And then, on August 29, they arrived at Wenonah. “Once you’re here,” says Williamson, “it’s pretty much an even playing field. You’re a kid at camp, and campers are campers.”

And they were. Mid-week, a day-long program was built around a series of Harry Potter-themed activities. One counsellor, playing the role of J K Rowling, was interviewed about her thoughts on camp life. “It was quite lovely,” she says in a clearly faux accent of a meeting with the student counsellors the night before. Other counsellors, dressed as Dementors, hid in the trees during a fast-paced, Potter-themed scavenger hunt.

While it’s just another day at camp, it’s easy to wonder what all of it must seem like to someone who, quite literally, has been dropped into this situation. There’s a lot of noise and activity because, well, it’s camp after all. Still, if anyone has any anxieties, it clearly isn’t the kids. They join in, off in all directions through the trees, around the cabins, skidding on the gravel pathway. One distracts a Dementor while another robs his pail of golf balls, the “eggs” that the campers are tasked to collect. It’s a clever bit of teamwork on their part, and it brings lots of smiles from campers and staff alike. If anything, what’s striking is how unremarkable it all is. The staff know very little about the children’s experience before or even after arriving in Canada, and that’s deliberate. “There’s not much recognition that these kids are any different,” says Williamson, “the staff members, obviously, aren’t making a big deal about it. We want them to be as integrated as possible.”

The campers from Syria do congregate a bit, both in the dining hall and during the activities, which is perhaps a function of their facility in English. An older teen arrived with them, a volunteer who himself is a new Canadian and who has a personal connection to the families of the campers. Still, they don’t cling to him in the way that, frankly, we might were we dropped into a situation that was as foreign to our experience as this must be to theirs.

Why camp?

Wenonah isn’t the only camp that welcomed refugees last summer—Glen Bernard Camp hosted 26 campers from Syria—and they certainly won’t be the last. For Bradshaw and Jocelyn Palm, director at Glen Bernard, offering spaces for these campers is something of a no-brainer. For the camp, it’s an opportunity to provide an example to the campers as well as those outside the camp gates: it demonstrates that we all, to varying degrees, have something to offer. It also underscores the idea that these are people, after all.

Following on, the benefits of camp are the same for those who arrive from overseas as those who arrive from more local communities. It’s not about a week or two. It’s about how we think of ourselves, and how we relate to others.

“It just lets kids be kids,” says Bradshaw.

“I was imagining these kids being uprooted from their homes, their school, their friends, and the connectedness in their lives … camp is a place where they could be connected again. To a very different group of people, for sure, but a place where they can be connected and feel a sense of belonging within a community.”

It’s clear when speaking to him that he really means that in the broadest sense. This isn’t about changing a child’s summer, but about changing a child’s life. “Our approach to camp has always been to encourage people to think about a longer commitment. We’d rather have kids there for a longer term, and we would like to engage these families over the long term. Our hope is that they will come in the years to come. One boy is older, so too old to come as a camper, but we’d like to have him in our leadership program next year. So that’s something we’re working on, and hope we can make it happen.”

“My goal is to integrate those kids into longer sessions, so they can come for a period of two weeks and be comfortable at camp. We’re looking at re-engaging those particular children first, and then broadening out from there.”

He pauses, then adds, almost apologetically, “we think we can do some good stuff with this.”

Indeed, it seems that they already have.

—by Glen Herbert

Mile Twelve’s “Onwards”

 

Sam Bush once said that Bill Monroe was the ultimate feel player. It’s a backhanded compliment in a way, despite Bush’s clear reverence, because what he was saying was that Monroe lacked melodic precision, playing more to rhythm. He was the father of bluegrass, true, but he was no Mike Marshall or Chris Thile. They are precise, play long runs of clear notes, and have timing like a clock. It’s fun to wonder what Monroe might think of them or, even better, bands like Mile Twelve who, well, are precise. Onwards is their second release, though feels a bit like the first, given that it’s the first full length, fully formed album. The players are young, and whippersnappers all. They met at Berklee and the New England Conservatory. It’s fun to wonder what Monroe might think of that as well, with bluegrass taking a place within musical academia alongside classical music and jazz.

But there is a delight in precision—in clear tones, rather than ancient ones—crafted with care and, dare we say it, elegance. I don’t think the band members here would use that word, but I think it’s apt. The joy within the music that these players are making derives less from the drive—though there are flashes of that—than from the beauty of the tonality and the sublime craftsmanship. Which is why, perhaps, the best moments on the album are the instrumental tracks. There are only two—“Wickwire” and “Old Tom”—but I wish there were more. The vocals aren’t yet at the level of the instrumentation, though no doubt that will come in time. Likewise, some of the narrative material jars with what we know of the musicians. The voice in “In the Shade” (“I was so much younger then/I couldn’t comprehend/the means to a brighter end/so I cast it to the side”) is unconvincing, perhaps given the delivery, but also just in the fact that we know that, with a voice sounding so young, the time frame isn’t possible, nor the wisdom supposedly gained.

Like any young band, there is a phase of playing to the influences, and I think there’s some of that here. As you might expect, they clearly have learned at the feet of the third and fourth generation players more than the first and second. “Old Tom” recalls Nickel Creek’s “Ode to a Butterfly, “In the Shade” recalls the Punch Brothers, with the shifts in rhythm and vocal register. There are flashes of earlier influences, and there’s a bit of Del McCoury’s in “The Sunny Side of Town.”

They do it so well, but, perhaps again like any young band, it feels like they haven’t yet found their own voice and are casting about a bit.  The unit is so strong, so studied, so clearly aware of all aspects of the genre. In addition to the instrumental pieces, standouts include “Call My Soul” and “You Don’t Even Know It Yet.” This album is a true debut for the band, and given where they’re starting from, it will be very interesting to see where they go and what they get up to. Certainly, this is a band to keep an eye on.

 

Navigating the gap year

Neuchâtel Junior College

(for OurKids.net) At its simplest, a gap year is a non-academic year between high school graduation and enrollment at university. It’s becoming more common, and more structured, though the vast majority of Canadian parents didn’t take a gap year. Because of that lack of first-person experience, misconceptions abound. The fear is that it’s a year off, with the only goal being to have a good time and experience some newfound freedom at the parents’ expense.

Occasionally, those misconceptions may be somewhat apt. In some instances, a gap year is simply a decision made by default: a student doesn’t know what to study at university, or would like to go on a year-long travel party. As such, it’s a “gap” in the truest sense of the term: a break in learning, disrupting the development from high school into post-secondary work.

Not a break from learning, but a continuation of it. 

Parents rightly frown on those motives despite the fact that, even then, the time away from school can prove useful and motivating. If a student truly doesn’t know what he or she would like to study after high school, then taking the time to consider options is far better for all involved than simply enrolling at university as the default. Given the costs of tuition, as well as academic competition, university is not the place to be finding yourself or trying new interests on for size, something that the stats demonstrate. Each year 38% of students drop out of university or change majors, delaying or obviating graduation. That’s a big number. It’s easy to wonder if it would be as high if more students saw a gap year as a viable option. It might delay graduation by a year, though not always. In some cases, it could mean the difference between completing a university degree and, well, not.

That said, the best use of a gap year is one that isn’t just a break, but augments the student’s high school career. Princeton University describes its program as a “bridge year,” this to highlight the continuum of a student’s intellectual and academic path. Some schools in Canada offer bridge programs, though they don’t always deploy the term in the same way; bridging programs at York University, for example, are designed to prepare students for success at university, such as mature students, international students, or those arriving from community college. The University of Alberta uses the term specifically in reference to international students, where their bridging program intends to build the requisite language skills in students for who English is a second language.

The best case

Whatever term we use, the best gap year plan is one that puts parents and university admissions officers’ minds at ease. This would be it: a student applies for university entrance at the end of high school, gains admission, then requests deferral and submitting a plan for how they intend to spend it. The plan is concrete, listing real plans, and participation in accredited programs that reflect the student’s interests and course of study. Then, the university grants the deferral, and all is well. It’s a common model in Europe, where gap programs began in the 1960s, and is increasingly common in the US. Harvard, for example, suggests that students defer their acceptance for a year in order to gain some real-world experience. The Yale University office of carreer strategy notes that “short-term experiences can help students explore career paths and gain experience and credentials.” They also outline some of the things they feel make for a productive use of the time.

All of that is an indication of how central the gap year experience is becoming to student success in North America. While deferring university entrance is less common in Canada than elsewhere, that is changing, too. At many Canadian private schools between 7 and 10% of graduates will defer university acceptances in order to take a gap year.

The next best case

The more common model in Canada at the moment is when a student creates a plan for their gap year, one that is sound, and which allows them to further explore their academic interests. Then they apply to post-secondary programs at the completion of the year.

Not an extended beach vacation, but travel in order to gain a sense of the world and their place within it.

What a university admission officer will want to see is that the time has been used productively, and that students have used it to add value to their application. A well-spent year will be one that has been challenging, allowing students to explore their place in the world, interact authentically with others, and foster academic and social maturity.

Class Afloat – West Island College International

Why it’s important 

Employers look very favourably on university graduates who have taken a gap year that is relevant to their course of study. It demonstrates self-determination and dedication to the content of their studies, and travel can suggest a real-world experience with international communication. “The biggest problem for student’s post-graduation when they’re applying for jobs,” says Lauren Friese, a career consultant, “is that they all look like clones; there’s not a lot to differentiate business grad one from business grad two, or sociology grad one from sociology grad two. Taking the initiative to work with a charity, or travel the world or whatever it is, those things stand out.”

That said, it’s alright to be selfish. Sailing around the world seems like an adventure of a lifetime, and it is. It’s also one of those things that, if you don’t do it now, you likely never will. When Alexandra Moore heard about the Class Afloat program, she decided to seize the day. Just finishing high school, Alexandra had sailed on a tall ship before and thought that West Island’s program would allow her to see the world.

Jane Ritcey, Alexandra’s mother, took a bit of convincing, though now agrees that the expeirence was an important one. “She certainly has a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world,” says Ritcey. “They have seen everything from palaces to poverty.”

While Alexandra had always been independent, according to Ritcey, she’s become even more responsible and team-oriented after her time on the ship, where everybody is expected to pull their weight and watch out for others, both on land and off. During her travels, Alexandra also decided what she wants to do with the next stage of her life.

How to spend a gap year

International volunteer programs

Making money, especially when facing university enrollment, is always a good idea. That said, a gap year spent only making money—taking a local 9 to 5 job doing something unrelated to their future goals, say—isn’t always, or perhaps ever, the best use of the year. It will help with payments, perhaps, but better would be engaging in activities that will help a student gain insight into who they are, what they’d like to persue, and help build their resume toward that end. Volunteering abroad meets all of those goals and then some, often at low cost to the student, which is why it has long been the most popular gap-year activity.

The volunteering options are vast, as are the means of acquiring them. Some organizations recruit international volunteers in Canada, while others are organized once a student arrives in the destination country. ECO Volunteer UP, for example, offers programs in Ecuador, ranging from working with street children in Quito, or travelling to the countryside to work in a farming community. Travel to and from Ecuador isn’t covered, and there is a fee for administration, but otherwise room and board and local transportation are provided.

Domestic volunteer programs

Staying in Canada for a volunteer placement may not sound as exotic as going to Africa or Ecuador, though it can be just as rewarding, if not more so. Because it is within a student’s home country, it can also be more meaningful, and lead more readily to connections within a career path later on.

Cultural immersion programs

There can be quite a bit of grey area between volunteering and cultural immersion programs, so much so that it’s perhaps all grey area. Volunteer Nepal, for example, places volunteers within poverty stricken communities, helping with daily life and the administration of health care. Getting to Nepal is a journey unto itself, and the experience wtihin the community is a great entrée into issues of population health. The program is augmented by living within the community, we well as trekking and rafting trips, among other things, to allow a bit of fun while interacting with like-minded peers from around the world.

Not a tour of museums and cathedrals, but opportunities to engage with others, authentically experiencing the challenges of international communication.

Academic programs

Just as there can be significant grey area between volunteer and culture programs, so too between academic and non-academic programs. The term post-graduate year is primarily used in reference to academic programs, such as that offered at Ridley College in Ontario. Commonly known as the “victory lap,” a post-graduate year is a fifth year of high school courses, intended to take courses and raise marks in order to strengthen a university application. Robert Land Academy offers a similar option, if in a more ordered setting.

Gap years, in contrast, are more typically chosen in order to get away from classroom academics, and to gain experience prior to entering university, though some programs offer a little bit of both. Class Afloat, for example, accepts graduates on board their sailing programs, though all participants also enroll in courses for credit.

Ridley College

Language immersion programs

Fulford Academy in Brockville, Ontario offers international students a gap year program to master their English skills before moving on to a North American boarding school or university. Students work on mastering English through English fundamentals and credit support classes. Fulford Academy also prepares its students for life in Canada with frequent evening and weekend excursions. “It’s not just an ESL curriculum; they focus on the cultural integration, too,” says Anna Galanta, admissions director at Appleby College in Oakville, Ontario. “The Fulford grads are well-prepared when they get here.”

Similarly there are French language programs that, as with the English counterparts, offer full linguistic and cultural immersion. The benefits can be utilitarian, such as preparing for study in a French-language environment, as well as personal, affording insight into the linguistic and cultural diversity of the nation. Some, such as the YMCA International Language School Gap Year Program run out of LaSalle College in Montreal, attracts participants from across Canada around the world, allowing for a strikingly international experience.

Resources and programs:

Canada World Youth

World University Service of Canada

Education First

CUSO International

My Gap Year

Study and Go Abroad

Global Leadership Academy

Thinking Beyond Borders

Projects Abroad

World University Service of Canada 

Gap Work

 

 

Students praise LCS outdoor education program

By Glen Herbert for OurKids.net

One of Betsy Macdonnell’s first glimpses of life at Lakefield College School was a grade 9 outdoor education class, one of the stops on her first tour of the campus. “I remember seeing how supportive they were with each other,” she says of the students, particularly in the case of one who was struggling with a fear of heights on the climbing wall. “Everyone was helping her to get to the top.”

What Macdonnell noticed most was what it said about the student population, and what it said about the values of the school. “I thought, ‘this is the place where I could be the best version of myself.’” She’s currently completing grade 12. Looking back over her years at LCS, she says “it was 100% the right choice.”

“ … we do it all right here … ”

LCS has long been a leader in outdoor education, in large part due to the physical assets of the campus. They include a sizeable lakefront and a vast property with trails, fields, and access to a range of green spaces. “A lot of other schools have what they call outdoor education,” says Peter Andras, Outdoor Education Coordinator and OE instructor for the past 16 years. “They are bussed up to a camp, they spend two or three days, and it’s only done in one instance, or a couple instances, throughout the year. Whereas, at Lakefield, we can integrate it into everything that we do. We have all the canoes, all the climbing stuff. We do it all right here, right on site.”

First-hand learning

That said, the reason they do it—and ultimately why outdoor education has become such a core element of the culture of the school—is because of the skills, behaviours, and values that it imparts. “We’re in the business of educating the whole person,” says Andras. “It’s not just sitting in a classroom and memorizing material. … We value relationships, and we value all of those cross-curricular ties. And everything can be integrated into outdoor ed.”

Certainly, the school does a great job of using outdoor experience—getting beyond the walls of the school—across the full breadth of the curricular offerings. Trips are taken into Algonquin park, for example, for sketching and painting the landscape, just as Tom Thomson did to create some of his most celebrated work. Like Thomson, they travel in by canoe, and stay within the landscape they are describing in their artwork.

“In physics,” says Andras, “they’re learning about estimating distances, or working through architectural problems, or trail maintenance. …. There are so many different things that you can tie together through outdoor education if you have the space to do it, and can get kids out of the classroom to do it.” Geography classes make use of the various ecosystems and landforms within the property; Phys ed classes include time on the high ropes course, and, in winter, Nordic skiing on the campus trails; biology classes make use of the various biomes on site. “It’s common to see us going outside in the trigonometry unit,” says instructor Tim Rollwagen, “with the students all focused on the ratios in triangles, finding the height of buildings and the heights of trees.”

Life lessons

Rollwagen is the Director of Global Learning, something which extends the outdoor focus of the school effectively around the world. “All of our international trips do have an extensive outdoor program,” he says. This year’s trip to Peru includes a wellness and spirituality piece, and research into Incan culture. A trip to Ecuador includes a first-hand experience of the biological diversity within the Galapagos. “Our whole school is rooted in outdoor education,” says Macdonnell, “our entire school program is based around the connection with the land.”

The feel on campus is perhaps akin to summer camp. “When they go to camp it’s almost like a second family,” says Rollwagen. “And the atmosphere at Lakefield, and the freedom that it allows, including the variety of opportunities that it has … it’s much like that. Maybe it’s even just going for a walk in the woods at the end of the day … it allows you to have this feeling of a second home.”

Decidedly, it’s a way of being that is unique to the school. “You see students coming from around the world, all different backgrounds, and suddenly they’re thrown into the middle of the woods in Canada. And its minus 20 degrees and they’re learning to use a compass, and finding their way back,” says Macdonnell, chuckling a bit as she does. She and the faculty truly appreciate how those kinds of experiences can bring students together around a new, and ultimately more positive, set of priorities.

“Kids need to get outside, and to learn to enjoy being outside,” says Andras. “In life, you have to be resilient, and to be able to rely on each other.” Those are the kinds of lessons that the environment at LCS, and the outdoor education program in particular, has been developed to provide.

Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur, “Penny’s Farm”

You’ll be forgiven if you groan a bit when you see the track listing of this new release from Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur, “Penny’s Farm.” Like right there. Did you breathe out a bit, an almost imperceptible sigh, just then when I typed “Penny’s Farm”? Did you have flashbacks of John Cohen talking about how Dylan took “Penny’s Farm” from the Harry Smith anthology and turned it into “Maggie’s Farm”? When you read Geoff Muldaur, did you think of Maria, and her marriage to Geoff? And all those rehashes of the basket houses, and the tour busses, and the black and white clip of Maria, newly single, swaying with Jim Kweskin at the Bitter End, or the Gaslight, or whatever it was.

These are names and songs that have a lot of miles on them, and lots of stories attached to them, too. And, yes, it can take a bit of effort to push play on the mail-order gramophone. But, actually, you really should. Just put all that stuff away, put down the CD cover, and forget all the names and the miles. Try to listen to all of these songs as if for the first time. Because it’s absolutely worth any effort you can give it, though it doesn’t take all that much really. You’ll soon be reminded why you remember all that stuff in the first place. These are just fantastic songs. They’re like children’s stories, and they make children out of all of us. Tell me again about how my good wife will catch more fish than me. And how you played cards in Spain. And how Frankie shot her man. There she is, still wearing the kimono. Yes, it certainly is a little while to be here and a long time to be gone. I know exactly what you mean.

Truly, there’s a lot to love on this release. The guitar work is great, and the arrangements are simple, charming, and superb. They’re joined by Cindy Cashdollar and Suzy Thompson. As my daughter would say: I know, right? Yes, I know.

There are lots of memories, though the repetition is nice too. After all, that’s one of the reasons we like this stuff to begin with. The stories remind us where we are, and where we came from, even if it’s Toronto and we never ever did get around to fishing for catfish in the old fishing hole, truth be told. But it’s the idea, and the familiarity, that we love. And that picture on the cover? With the shack and the chickens? If you squint a bit, and turn a bit to the side, doesn’t it look a lot like home? I think it does. It really does.

Courtney Marie Andrews’ “Honest Life”

This is a brilliant release in all kinds of ways. Musicianship, arrangement, recording. Each one of those is wonderfully on display. It’s there in the details, such as the strings entering on “Only in My Mind,” and then the pizzicato, or the way she sings the word “Barcelona.” There are harmonies added to isolated phrases that make you think, wow, that’s brilliant. So beautiful in themselves, but also so delightful in the level skill that they belie, and the way they help support and propel the narrative.

The writing is the thing that stands out, even given the quality of the setting and the skill. Ask anyone about writing songs and, more often than not, they’ll say something about a hook. But a hook isn’t songwriting, it’s marketing. Selling something. Writing, good writing, tells something. Though it’s even more than that. There’s a pleasure that comes from finding the structures-, in realizing the care and the complexity that went into crafting these pieces. There’s a delight that comes from seeing something that is just so brilliantly constructed. (Have you listened to Lightfoot’s “Great Canadian Railroad Trilogy” recently? It’s as much a marvel as it ever was.)

The first track, “Rookie Dreaming,” sneaks in, and just when you’re doubting it, it delights you. Before we get to the confessional voice—“I was movin’ too fast ” etc.—she’s already broadening the narrative, gesturing to a universal: “I was singing with the choir on the train/I was a traveling man/I did not yet have a name/I was a 1960s movie/I was a one-night love story.” Certainly, that’s the thing about confessional songwriting. It’s not about grabbing a guitar and telling us about your day. It might sound like that. “The wind is in from Africa/last night I couldn’t sleep … “ But it’s not. Andrews clearly knows that.

She often has the diction of Joni Mitchell, the full vowels and clipped Rs and Ts. She adds her own harmonies, as Mitchell did, and adds similar ornaments, uses similar phrasing. Most importantly, of course, is a similar attention to narrative. Like Mitchell, it might sound like she’s telling you about what happened last week, as in “Table for One” when she sings “Table for one/I’ve got no one I’m waiting on/I just pulled into town an hour ago/from the streets of Houston/to this diner in Ohio.” But she’s not, and it’s the idea that comes to mind, not the details. By the end of album, we don’t know her any more than we did at the beginning. Because it’s not about her. It’s about us.

I know that music isn’t a race, but if this album doesn’t win some awards this year, I don’t know what.