Willard Gayheart and Friends, “At Home in the Blue Ridge”

For Penguin Eggs

A few years ago, when Dori Freeman released her debut, self-titled album, it seemed that she had sprung, fully formed, from the head of Zeus. Well, this album, on which she participates, fills in the blanks. Willard Gayheart is her grandfather. As the titled of the album suggests, they’re at home, just hanging and picking. As you do. Or at least as so many do in that part of the world, the area around Galax, Virginia. One of the songs here hints at the larger community, “My Henderson Guitar,” as in Wayne Henderson, the famed luthier who lives just down the road in Rugby. Henderson famously and delightfully only makes guitars for people that he knows and who he thinks could make good use of one. More often than not, they’re people that spend time in his shop because they live (or once lived) nearby. People like Doc Watson, Uwe Kruger, Josh Goforth, David Holt, and lots of young people who you’ve never heard of, at least not yet, including Zeb Snyder.

The point being that Freeman actually came out of one of the most important musical communities in North America, give or take a bit. In that part of the world people gather in the barber shops (see ‘Pickin’ & Trimmin’” on YouTube, a profile of the Barbershop in Drexel, North Carolina) or the diners (sadly the Cook Shack in Union Grove North Carolina is closed now, but lives on on YouTube) and play in ways that can take your breath way, principally because there’s so much joy and ease.

For many, it’s hard to believe that places like that exist, but they do. Gaylord, for his part, arrived from Kentucky in 1962, and was a delighted as anyone. “When I came to Galax, I couldn’t believe it,” he says, “every family had a musician of some sort. Music was in the air around here. It was mostly old-time and bluegrass, mostly traditional music but others too.” This album offers a wonderful glimpse of the feel, the music, and the culture. It was recorded in Gayheart’s art framing shop, which apparently was open for business at the time—customers came in while they were playing, and Gayheart would get up to serve them.

The material is typical, with lots of warm winks and nods, a realistic optimism, and an appreciation of the simpler things. If you’re looking for cynicism, you won’t find it here, thankfully. The playing is as delightful and effortless as the sentiments. It’s Gayheart’s first recording, and it’s a gift in every way. As he sings, “you can have your fancy dining/you can have your mansions fair/you can travel to the Rockies just to breath the mountain air/but of all these modern luxuries/the one I love by far/is playing mountain music on my Henderson guitar.” Exactly.

Caroline Herring, “Verse by Verse”

For Penguin Eggs

Throughout her career Caroline Herring has regularly looked to literary sources for her writing. Her companion discs of 2010, “Silver Apples of the Moon” and “Golden Apples of the Sun,” gain their titles from a Yeats poem, “The Song of Wandering Aengus.” In 2011 she released an album of songs retelling a children’s story, “The Little House” by Virginia Lee Burton. Other instances are less obvious, such as Eudora Welty, who hovers at the margins of her 2012 release, “Camilla.”

In “Verse by Verse” the source is the Bible, which admittedly is a different project entirely than quoting Yeats. The danger is that the result could feel flat, and veer into preaching or proselytizing. It’s confirmation of Herring’s skill and intellect that the result does neither, even in the pieces that draw from the New Testament, such as “That My Soul May Sing Praise to You” or “Arise My Lord.”

Unlike her earlier work, the use of the source material is more direct and substantial—all of the words are quoted faithfully—and the result is more dire. “I started out trying to write an album in response to the Trump moment,” Herring says, “something in the great tradition of protest and political songs of the American folk tradition.”

Indeed, she’s succeeded in ways that perhaps even she didn’t foresee. She allows the images to come forward, often through repetition of key phrases, as in “Guide Our Feet into the Way of Peace.” It feels like a spoiler to say that the songs—there are 22, all taken from specific texts of the Bible, which are noted with the song titles—build a sense that that our problems aren’t at all new, nor is the moment entirely Trump’s.

“Verse by Verse” is a mediation on justice, desire, doubt, and hope. In other hands, the core concept could easily become trite, but Herring is too good a writer to let that happen here. The songs have a depth that you maybe wouldn’t expect, and the result isn’t a sermon. Herring has called the album an “offering to these times,” and it’s a poignant and brilliant one.

Che Apalache’s, “Rearrange My Heart”

For Penguin Eggs

Joe Troop was born and raised in North Carolina, where he learned bluegrass; he later moved to Argentina, where he taught it. With three of his students he formed Che Apalache: Pau Barjau (banjo), Franco Martino (guitar) and Martin Bobrik (mandolin). They play bluegrass spectacularly, and clearly know the traditions backward and forward and back again. They demonstrate that in tracks like “Over in Glory” and “Rock of Ages” on this their second release. The Latin influences are here, too, as on “Maria” and “24 de marzo.” Everything else is masterful amalgam of the two and then some, as in a song sung in Mandarin, “The Coming of Spring.”  

 They bring all those heritages, cultures, and perspectives to bear, here, in an album that is best listened to as an album: from start to finish, again, and again, and again. The material is notable for so many things, though two tracks assert themselves as much for how they’re crafted as for what they have to say. “The Wall” is about that wall: Trump is never mentioned here, though his presence is felt. The band toured the US southern border and performed this song in the shadow of it. “The Dreamer” is about DACA, as the title suggests, but it’s about more than that, too, namely the experience we all share—whether you’re from Yadkin County or the Yucatan—of the journey toward belonging. There they sing what could be a manifesto for the band: “Now you and I can sing a song / And we can build a congregation / But only when we take a stand / Will we change our broken nation.”

In Che Apalache’s hands, bluegrass is a very big room with lots of people, thoughts, and struggles within it. It’s also full of fellowship, gorgeous harmonies and crackerjack solos, all carefully, expertly produced by Bela Fleck. Impressively, they’ve created something here and in their live performances that is greater than its exceptionally long list of parts. Rearrange My Heart isn’t just important in a musical sense, though it is that. It’s also important in another sense, which is why it deserves our attention.

Checking in with the Foghorn Stringband

For Penguin Eggs

The Foghorn Stringband was founded more than 15 years ago, and their origin story is as charming and unexpected as the music that they play. Sammy Lind is from Minnesota, and Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms are from Washington state, one from the farmland in the east, the other from the coast. They started playing Appalachian folk music—old-time music—together in Portland, Oregon, though when the original bass player left to start a food truck, they took on Nadine Landry, a native of Quebec. They had met her in Juno, Alaska, at a festival, though she was living in Whitehorse at that time. “She had the same group of friends, and we’d run into her once a year.”

That’s the short version, anyway, but it says a lot about the state of old-time music in the world today. It’s a bit rangy, and it’s about getting together with friends, sharing time within the values that the music presents—inclusion, participation, and joy. Says Lind, it’s a chance “to experience a different way of life.”

 “We’ve always loved how those tunes made us feel,” he says. “It’s a lost way of writing, singing, and conveying feelings. I’ve always loved a simpler lifestyle, and I think there’s something just so powerful and timeless about the music, and that non-commercial element.” I reached Lind by phone at his home in rural Quebec, calling just as he was coming in from checking the water supply. Our conversation began with the sound of him kicking snow off his boots. “Our water is gravity fed. I’ve got to check it every once in a while.” He adds, “it’s OK for the moment” as if to put my mind at ease. In weather like they had this February, it apparently can be a bit touch and go.

The band, truly, has a very non-commercial approach, one that is common to the culture of the music. For more than 12 years they played every Sunday at an English pub in Portland, not so much to perform as to add a sound and a warmth to the room. There was a dedication to the gig that existed out of all proportion to any remuneration, which was largely limited to the experience itself. Nevertheless, they would even book their flights home from tours to arrive in time to play that Sunday slot. “The pub is called the Moon and Sixpence, so we’d call it the moon landing.”

The motivation was to participate in something larger, an experience that is a hallmark of social music, here and around the world. Lind recalls during a trip to Ireland some years ago “sitting around a table and seeing these guys playing music, the young people looking at their elders as if thinking ‘I’m going to be like that someday.’” It’s a motivation that Lind had even before he knew there was an outlet for it, or a kind of music associated with it, or a table to sit around. “It gave me a nice perspective on life, and to do something that delivers a positive message.”

The band’s latest release, “Rock Island Grange,” is a window onto that world. If you come at this not knowing anything about what you’re looking at, you’ll miss much of what it really is and what it represents. On one level, it’s old time music, played beautifully, with all the character and ease you’d want to hear. On another, it’s a patchwork, a whole made up of parts that can only be put together by this band, in this time. There are some old-time standards, two Carter Family tunes, and a Child ballad. You’d expect that, but there’s a Cajun tune, too, as well as an original.

The tunes are like stones polished by all the hands that have touched them. “They go through a filter of everything you’ve ever experienced in your life,” says Lind, “the music you’ve heard, the people you’ve met. Where you grew up. It just comes through this filter.” Nadine is 12th generation on the Gaspé Coast, and has spent time in Louisiana and Whitehorse. Add to that the time spent on the road, moving between all of those tables that she and the others have sat around, often late into the night. If you listen closely, as indeed you absolutely should, you’ll hear all of it. “You can’t help but think of the generations before you,” says Lind, “but also where you learned a tune, or who you learned it from.”

The culture of old-time is one that floats a fair bit below the radar. Like the Chrysalids, it’s a society that exists in the world as a shared experience and a shared language between people who, for whatever reason, are drawn to it. “People have become lifelong friends,” says Lind, despite only seeing each other at intervals, through the festivals and the camps and the workshops. “We just had two 18-year-olds who came out to study with us for a week.” They spend the week living together, making music, checking the water supply. It’s all part of it, Lind notes: being together, with and without the instruments in hand, “just gives it more … it puts it more in the context that it came out of it, rather than looking at a DVD trying to get something out of it.”

“We joke that sometimes we set up tours because we miss people,” he says, though, in fact, that is indeed a driver. The day after I spoke with him they set out for a tour of Alaska that begins, improbably, in Moncton. From their they head to Winnipeg, then rent a car to drive to Saskatoon. And so it goes. The life of the band reflects their origin story, moving though a big world full of kindred spirits. You can visit that world, too. Among other destinations, they’ll be at Nimble Fingers, a premiere Old-Time festival held each summer in Sorrento, BC.

Bringing character forward

for Our Kids Media

While it’s easy to recognize character—we know it when we see it—it’s famously more difficult to define. Harder still is to describe how character arises. In his recent book, The Second Mountain, David Brooks struggles with the concept, something that he’s been doing since he wrote, The Road to Character in 2015. There he described character only in terms of the individual: “I still believed that character is something you build mostly on your own,” he wrote recently. You find your faults and then, “mustering all your willpower, you make yourself strong in the weakest places. … you do your exercises and you build up your honesty, courage, integrity, and grit.” 

Now, he supports a different view, namely, that character “is not something you build sitting in a room thinking about the difference between right and wrong and about your own willpower.” Rather than a product of austerity or determination, he sees character as a consequence of the relationships we have with others. “If you want to inculcate character in someone else,” he writes, “teach them how to form commitments … commitments are the school of moral formation. … You surrender to a community or cause, make promises to other people, build a thick jungle of loving attachments, lose yourself in the daily act of serving others as they lose themselves in the daily acts of serving you.”

Camp is as camp does

If you had to define “camp”—something no doubt as difficult as defining character—you could certainly do worse. Community, attachments, serving others as they serve you. Johnny Wideman, executive director of Willowgrove Day Camp, recently commented to me that the benefit of camp is “finding yourself surrounded by this new kind of ethos. It kind of gives a general reset to your values, to what you feel is important.” He describes that experience as foundational, a window into a new way of seeing the world and ultimately a better way of knowing ourselves and our communities. “I think it’s the most effective way of community building. … To actually connect with other people, empathetically and compassionately. And to do that outdoors, to build an appreciation and future caring and protecting the environment. I think that’s basically all of the building blocks we need to make our communities and the world better.”

“To look beyond themselves,” said John Jorgenson when I spoke with him at the recent OCA conference. “That’s really the point of growth that camp offers, is that transition stage where you really go from a me-centered experience to a we-centered experience: being able to read others, being able to understand the emotional needs of others, that emotional and social intelligence are the things that camp can give at a very critical time in most kids’ lives.” 

Spreading the word

When families see camp as simply a vacation option, they’re selling the experience painfully short and risk missing the opportunities it offers for growth and development. We’d like to ensure that they don’t, which is why we’ve been looking at ways of communicating that message, bringing it forward on the platforms, and making it an important element of camp profiles. Character development is going to be the anchoring topic in the editorial section of the upcoming guide and will become a 14-page hub that we build out online. It will also become an important piece of the camp profiles, online and in print, something that we’ll be rolling out in the coming months.

As Brooks has ultimately come to know, character isn’t a lesson to be learned, rather it’s a way of living. Acquiring values and building character are the things that distinguish camp experiences from any other in a young person’s life. Whether it’s an overnight camp deep in the bush or a coding camp in the heart of a city, camp is about providing space—both physical and mental—to explore how we relate to the world, who we are; it’s where we admire the values that we see expressed in the action of others, and then learn to express them in our own; it’s where we find the kind of life we’d like to lead, and discover communities that share our aspirations. Which, perhaps, is what character is all about. 

Glarea, set to open this fall, is the school to watch

A new initiative in Surrey, BC, is recasting how we think of school. It’s safe to say that you haven’t seen anything like it.

For Our Kids Media

“The school, pretty much at this time last year, was just an idea,” says Nadia Irshād, an administrator who has been with Glarea since it launched nearly five years ago. The idea was to offer students a uniquely immersive academic experience, one that would contribute to their understanding of themselves as learners and build the postures and behaviors for their success.

With construction all but completed on phase one, the school is positioned to realize the concept, in turn becoming a distinct and inherently visible institution within the Canadian education market. The rinks are perhaps the most obvious feature from the street: housed in the home of Excellent Ice, a focal point of the community for more than three decades, the school looks like a sports facility, which it was and, in many respects, will remain. The ice rinks—there are three full-size sheets—will be a key feature of the life of the school, from daily recreational skating to competitive hockey. But the space brings a symbolic history as well, one synonymous with resilience, cooperation, and achievement. That, too, will remain, as hinted by the name: Glarea is the Latin word for “grit.”

Living

“It looks different than any other school I’ve been to,” agrees Principal Dr. NataŠa Sirotić, which is part of the charm of the concept. All schools, to some extent, defy the various stereotypes that the general population might have about private education, though Glarea is a particularly stark example of that. There are no ivy-covered walls, the hallways are wider, the entrance more fluid and casually inviting. Activity is foregrounded by the design and orientation of the instructional spaces: students step out of a classroom and onto the ice rink; on the way to math class, they’ll pass martial arts and dance studios.

Those things provide evidence of the ethos of the school. It’s about engagement, living, and learning within an environment that, says Irshād, maximizes students’ experiences, whether it be through arts, tech immersion, or sports. It’s intentionally designed to bring ideas, activities, and people closer together—there is even a residency program that brings area professionals into the school as mentors—allowing opportunities for students to follow existing interests just as easily as they find new ones. The term “elevated learning” is meant to underscore the sense of the school, says Irshād, as a place where “their passion and their purpose becomes easier to identify.”

Learning

The academic delivery continues the theme. Instructional spaces are larger than you’d find in a more typical academic setting, and also perhaps the first truly VR learning spaces in the country. When sessions begin in the fall, giant screens will allow students to conference in, interacting in real time with the students in the classroom. Teachers will be on mic, with an array of teaching tools close at hand, from traditional to technological. This in part because of the distancing protocols that we can expect to be in place for the remainder of this calendar year—Sirotić rightly notes that, while we hope there won’t be a second or third wave of the COVID pandemic, it’s nevertheless a good idea to be prepared to meet it if it does—but also in an awareness of the benefits that some aspects of remote learning can bring.

“There is an emphasis on multi-disciplinary synthesis,” says Sirotić, and cross-disciplinary instruction. Yes, the core competencies come first, and she is clear that the provincial curriculum provides the basis for all instruction, as of course it should. But she’s equally clear that those competencies are a point of departure, the baseline not the goal. Once mastered, they will be brought to bear on real-world tasks and problems, challenging students to apply skills, knowledge, personal interests, and investigative behaviours in collaborative and creative ways.

” … this is how success is built … “

“What it really comes down to is a child’s ability to approach every problem,” says Irshād, from isolating first principles, to gaining multiple perspectives, to acting on what they’ve learned. “Failure is a strong term, but falling short, or not completing a particular problem—or not finding a solution the first time—that’s not a bad thing. That’s a part of the process … this is how success is built.”   

Administrators are clearly excited with what they are going to be able to offer, as well they should be. “This is going to give them a way to know their own strengths,” says Sirotić. “They will know how to ask the questions that matter, and work to find the solutions … the skill set will be there, but more importantly, the mindset will be there, one of lifelong learning, of being curious, of being empowered to know that there is no problem that we cannot solve.”

They’re also aware that, given the unique positioning of the school within the mosaic of academic offerings in the region, the school needs to be seen in person, first hand. Sirotić is right when she says that Glarea is unlike any other school. From the classrooms to the curriculum, it comprises an answer to a deceptively simple question: What do students need most? While it can be difficult to know what their professional lives might look like, it’s nevertheless clear that students will be required to work collaboratively; to engage effectively within both virtual and in-person settings; to think creatively, and to communicate their ideas effectively to others through a range of media; and to live active, healthy lives. They’ll also need, as we all do, to find joy in their lives, and to become aware of the pleasures, as physicist Richard Feynman once quipped, of simply finding things out about their world, their communities, and themselves. Glarea is positioned to become an important model in how to deliver all of those things and more in creative, active, uniquely engaging ways.

While group tours aren’t safe in the current context, private tours are available now. They’re also highly recommended. For more information or to book a tour, click here.

Series: Choosing a School

A summer without camp

For Our Kids Media

“This is obviously a difficult day for all of us who love camps,” wrote the Ontario Camps Association in a note to its members on May 19. The government of Ontario announced in a press conference that overnight camps will not be allowed to operate for the duration of the 2020 season, with further decisions yet to be made about day camps. For all, this will be the first summer without camp in session since they were founded. For most, that’s decades. For some, it’s literally approaching a century or more. 

What families are facing

There’s a broad range of opinion and, certainly, we’ll hear all of it in the coming days. It’s important to remember that, well, it’s complicated, with more factors than most of us are aware. That doesn’t diminish the disappointment. Many parents were seeing it as a welcome and long-awaited respite from what has been an extremely difficult time. For campers and staff, it would have been a chance to be normal again, or at least something like it. For all, the thought of a summer without camp is hard to bear. 

What camps know, however, is that opening safely, in a way that could offer a quality camper experience, was at best far more easily said than done. “The irony is that camps are the antithesis of social distancing,” said Mark Diamond, vice-president of the Ontario Camps Association and co-director and co-owner of Camp Manitou, as reported in The Star. “You feel such guilt in pulling away a summer that is so necessary, and then you go, ‘but this could be my own kid, would I really send them to camp?’”

Overnight camps—which the initial notice from the Ford government was principally about—operate for the most part in rural areas. If they all were to operate at capacity, in Ontario alone it would mean in excess of 400,000 campers arriving in successive waves to communities with very little health-care infrastructure, and which could be overwhelmed in an instant. Add to that the staff, the food deliveries, the parents dropping off and picking up, the maintenance staff. Consider the bussing companies, tasked with getting campers safely up and back in busses that weren’t built with distancing in mind. It’s a lot of people moving around in vulnerable ways within a particularly vulnerable part of our world. 

What camps are facing

For overnight camps in Ontario at least, the difficult decision has been made for them, and they won’t be operating. Which means that they face the biggest challenge of all: fiscal survival. Margins are thin with little cash reserve. Operating costs are huge, and the time to offset them is the summer. Moreover, many of the costs are met prior to the summer even starting. Not only are camps going to lose revenue, they have already conceivably spent the fees that they received from registrations in anticipation of the 2020 season. Once the shock of a summer without camp settles in, parent’s thoughts will understandably turn to refunds. The fact is, however, that much of the money is no longer there. Finding a way to provide refunds, for some camps, will mean literally the end of camp, not just this year, but forever. For some, sadly, that’s an outcome that has already been realised. 

What you can do

Camp is important for what it is, and for what it means in our lives. It’s not like a cruise or a trip to Disney World, where you go once (or, ok, maybe twice). Camp is, truly, for life. It’s a relationship between people, and across generations, who share the values, the traditions, and the priorities that each camp embodies. A summer without it will be hard, but a life without it, we’d venture, would be much, much harder. 

That’s why it’s important to consider how we all respond. First, camps need our support—staff have given their time and talents to preparing for a summer that, ultimately, won’t happen. Second, they need our understanding, this by considering our options when it comes to reimbursement. Instead of a refund, it could mean accepting  a credit toward future programs. Better yet, it could mean offering 2020 fees as a donation to help support the life and longevity of the camp itself, helping ensure that, come 2021, there’s a camp to go back to.   

Not all families have that kind of flexibility, and camps will understand that, too. But this is a moment like the one that ends the holiday movie It’s a Wonderful Life. There’s a run on the bank, and while George Bailey is understanding, the community is, too. Because they know it’s not about a moment, but life, and in the end they save the little ol’ savings and loan. For us, now, for real, it’s time to think in those terms. Because the alternative, frankly, is unthinkable. 

155 years of Trinity College School

A notable birthday for a notable Canadian institution

for Our Kids Media

“I had an accident with gunpowder,” wrote Peter Perry in his diary. He was a student in the very first cohort at TCS, and was maybe a bit of a handful. In time his diary entries became more detailed, if equally enigmatic. “Thursday, [April] 12th. Rainy all day. Dinner: veal and roly-poly. Did not take any pudding. Mr. Badgley’s table did not take any because it was so bad.”

From day one—founded in 1865, TCS is celebrating its 155th birthday this year—the life of the school was lively, and not at all the kind of environment that we might assume was common to Victorian era boarding schools. As with Perry’s diary, it’s easy to be charmed by the accounts that exist from that time. Instructors included the “handsome Mr. Litchfield,” and Mr. Sefton, “a very jolly Englishman who knew all about church music.” Sergeant-Major Goodwin was “a thorough old soldier who boasted on having attained his 18th birthday on the very day that he fought at Waterloo, was adored by all the boys. … when he was not teaching [he] always had a bunch of boys round him who listened with delight to his many stories of military life.” Goodwin established the school’s cadet corps, and drilled students in the use of cavalry swords “which were worn with a great deal of ceremony going to and from the drill ground.”

TCS began in 1865 in a rectory in Weston, Ontario, and was created to offer an Anglican education to boys in the area. It was called the Weston School, and was founded by Rev. William Arthur Johnson, a man who was, in every conceivable way, a product of his time. He was born in Bombay, India, where his father was posted as Quartermaster-General to the British forces stationed there. When his father retired that post in 1819, the family moved to a parsonage near Bromley in Kent, England. William was granted an education appropriate to his class within a very class-conscious age: he was groomed to take a place in the administration of the commonwealth, just as his father before him.

But, it wasn’t to be. Instead, William came to Canada seeking adventure, married Laura Jukes, and moved into a log cabin that he built for her with his own hands. He farmed a bit, took part in the rebellion, and otherwise sketched and painted watercolours. He also studied plants and insects, which was something of a fad at the time, though Johnson indulged his passion more than most: his collection of nearly 1600 microscope slides was later donated to the Academy of Medicine in Toronto, where it remains today.

At 30 he decided to join the clergy, and the service he offered his congregation lead to a decision to start a school. In the first term there were nine students and a faculty of four. His three sons were the first students on the register, and he took in the sons of friends as well. The register has been kept to this day, and all students are placed on it when they enter the school. Albert, Johnson’s eldest son, is #1. Sir William Osler is #27. Frank Darling, who would one day become the architect of the school buildings (as well as the architect of U of T’s Convocation Hall, Victoria College, and the Bank of Montreal building which now houses the Hockey Hall of Fame) is #17. Peter Jennings, the ABC news anchor, is #4150. Businessman and philanthropist Edgar Bronfman Sr. (#3786) attended at the same time as the philosopher Charles Taylor (#3985). Reginald Fessenden, inventor of the radio, is #847.

To underwrite growth, Johnson applied for a partnership with the corporation of Trinity College, now part of the University of Toronto, and with it the name was changed to Trinity College School. Johnson set the tone for the school, one that is felt to this day. He emphasized outdoor education, taking boys on field trips, sharing with them his enthusiasm for natural science along the way. His approach was that of growing knowledge through engagement. “[Johnson’s] concept of education did not lie in the greatest number of facts that could be drilled into his boys,” wrote A. H. Humble, an early historian of the school, “but in ideas and pursuits that would stimulate and excite the unfolding mind.”

The school came into prominence under the leadership of Charles Bethune, who reluctantly accepted the role of headmaster in 1870. Reluctance is perhaps too kind a word—he was fairly irascible, didn’t love the thought of a life in administration or even education, and the school was dangerously in debt. “When Dr. Bethune became head master,” wrote the editor of The Record in 1899, “there was only a wooden building on the present site, and the school work was conducted in rooms in the town.” The first task was to literally build the school and grow the enrolment. And he did. By the second year Bethune had increased the student body by half, and by 1872 they were moving into the first building created specifically to house the school.

There was a renegade, frontier spirit in Bethune’s leadership, and one that he also brought to the school’s programs. At most private schools at the time, chapel sermons were no different than what you would hear in a typical church. At TCS, they “went far beyond the limits of time for ordinary sermons [yet] held the boys in rapt attention.” In one, the Archdeacon Vincent of Moosonee spoke about life in the north, and afterward “there were few, if any, who … did not think to be a missionary in Moosonee would be one of the happiest things possible.” (One student, R. J. Renison, actually became one.)

Bethune ultimately stayed on in the role for 29 years, something that even he seemed to marvel at. It was a period during which—as a result of his leadership—the school was incorporated and grew in size, stature, and reputation. Soon, students arrived from Iowa, Montreal, and even the west coast, despite the fact that the Canadian Pacific Railway had yet to be completed. Students loved him. He was seen as kind and fair, something he imparted to the character of the school he developed. One of the most moving and repeated moments in the school’s history is when Bethune arrived at the 50th anniversary celebration in 1915 and was given a spontaneous, lasting ovation.

The school today

“My uncle is that gentleman up there,” says Steph Feddery pointing to one of the portraits that look down from the walls of the dining hall. “My family would come down and spend holidays here. I lived in the Lodge for about six months at one point, and my aunt was the archivist at the time, so I picked her brain a lot. It is fascinating, when you look around and see the history and the names.”

The history provides a sense of tradition and place, one that the administration rightly seeks to maintain. “When we created the strategic plan,” says Stuart Grainger, “we asked ‘What is going to be the key to Trinity College School?’ And no matter what is going on in the world, we have to stand for integrity, compassion, kindness. And those values are referenced from 100 years ago. The history is in a series of personalities that sat in the same place that you are sitting in now. So that appreciation, respect, value-oriented leadership, value-oriented living, still remains as fundamental to living a purposeful life.”

Feddery has had a front-row seat for a considerable amount of its recent development, despite still being young. She enrolled in 1991, entering the school with the first cohort of girls—TCS was a boys’ school for the first 125 years of its life. “My brother had already been here for a year, and it was very overwhelming because there was a lot of animosity toward us. … a lot of the seniors were bothered when the girls arrived. Of course, some welcomed us with open arms,” she says, chuckling as she does.

“Things changed, and things were supposed to change anyway, but bringing in the girls exacerbated that. … But I had a great time, and made awesome friends that I’m still friends with today. It’s an experience. I was living away from home. I had focused tasks that I had to accomplish here: routines, schedules. And because there was a small group of girls—there were 60 of us in the first year—we were all in the same boat, experiencing the same things.”

The inclusion of girls within the student body paved the way for more women on faculty, of which Feddery is an example. She’s also the master of Wright House. “Having female role models in the science and math classrooms has really helped,” she says. “When I was here there weren’t very many female teachers. There were a few, but I didn’t happen to have them.” Unlike when she began, the school now has a history of coed education, with photos and paintings of girls and women up there on the walls with the men, something that Feddery feels is important. She’s up there too, in a photo from her days on the volleyball team. “My students used to mock me incessantly. ‘Miss Feddery I see you on the wall!’ … But just for them to see that you’re an alum, I think it’s very powerful … I think for girls to see girls in science and girls in math is quite powerful.”

It is. Since the beginning, the focus has been both on a strong academic program as well as developing character, interpersonal skills, and a dedication to service. When headmaster Grainger says that, as educators, “you just want to have an impact on a kid’s life,” it’s clear that he truly means it. The dedication to diversity within the student population, including financial diversity, is evidence of that, and something that the school manages particularly well. He, and other program leaders have an energy that they have brought to bear on the life of the school, including a dedication to addressing students’ lifestyles, and an attention to balance as much as achievement. They, as well as a very modern facility, keep the traditions and values in view.

For more, see the Our Kids Feature Review of Trinity College School

Look for the helpers

By Glen Herbert, for The Grenadines Initiative

In the wake of 9/11, Fred Rogers took to the airwaves to talk to children about when something catastrophic happens. Speaking as much to the adults watching as to the kids, he said “always look for the helpers. Because if you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.”

You, me, people all around the world are experiencing another inexplicable time. And while the shock has been slower to set in—it seemed like a cold at first, or just another seasonal flu bug—it came and is still coming. We’re not getting past this quite yet. Not this week or the next, or even the one after that. Its economic effect will be lasting and persistent.

I was lucky to get to Bequia this March, this before we really knew what was happening all around us. While there, I met with some helpers. I met with teachers from across the island to hear their thoughts on how we can support what they’re doing with their students. They’d like to grow digital literacies, so we talked about what was needed there. (I’m happy to say that we now have chromebooks at the Lower Bay School, Paget Farm Government, Bequia Anglican Primary, Bequia SDA Primary, Bequia Community High School, and the Learning Center.) They talked, too, about what it means to teach; how, while it’s about ABCs and times tables, it’s also about encouraging aspirations and growing curiosities. I wish you could have heard them, and its sad that we don’t get a chance to see what teachers really do each day. Whether they’re standing at the board, or working one-on-one to read through a difficult passage, or marking a test, they’re making an expression of care. They’re helping.

On the Saturday morning when I was down I met with the junior sailors and talked to the coaches while the kids set off into the harbour to race around the buoys. They’re doing great things, better than you likely are able to imagine. In talking about the program, Rose Kaye said to me, “there’s no point if you’re not changing lives.” And they are. The JSAB, with academic support from the Learning Center, has realized a total of seven Competent Crew and five Day Skippers in the short time since it was inaugurated. For the participants, this realizes a sense of accomplishment—which itself shouldn’t be underestimated—as well as access to a range of employment opportunities. (The program was recently featured in Caribbean Compass magazine.)

Once home I was in touch with Gabby Ollivierre. She’s fine, of course, and as adaptable and resilient as ever. She’s completing her two-year degree online and, prior to the COVID shutdown, had been interning at a prominent restaurant in Calgary. But I was saddened when I received an email this week from the president’s office at SAIT—that’s the college Gabby’s been attending—saying that the graduation ceremony is cancelled. It’s just an event, of course, but it was also a point Gabby’s life. She’s come a long way, and that was going to be her celebration. There would have been a lot of people there with her, in mind at least, though some were also looking forward to making the trip in person. 

It’s not catastrophic. She’s doing well, the sailors are doing well, the teachers are missing the kids, but they’re doing OK too. But we all need something. We need stuff, and food. Right now I’d like grilled fish on a green salad with a side of Hairoun from Mac’s. On my last night before coming back to Canada in a rush, that’s what I ordered. “Why do you always order the same thing?” the server asked, laughing. We talked about where I’m from, the virus, the sense of uncertainty with whatever might happen next. Indeed, the best thing she gave me that night was just that: connection. We all need that, too. 

Truly, it doesn’t take much. Just a smile, a nod, a little joke. Thankfully we don’t need to stand within six feet of each other in order to make an expression of care. We can send a text, make a call, Zoom, wave at each other on Facebook. This is also true: the communities of Bequia will feel this pandemic in ways that the rest of the world won’t, and some will feel it harder and longer than many can imagine. But there will be helpers. At the end of that address in 2001, Fred Rogers said, “Thank you for whatever you do, wherever you are, to bring joy and light and hope and faith and pardon and love to your neighbour and to yourself.” Whatever it is, it’s worth it. Today, tomorrow, next month. We can do this.

Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton

An old recording, heard for the first time

for Penguin Eggs

While there have been other recordings that document Doc Watson’s early years as a performing musician, they tend to shine a light more directly on him as a performer.

This recording, Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton, distinguishes itself in some key ways. It’s earlier, for one—it’s Watson’s first trip north—drawing from two concerts in Greenwich Village in October 1962. It’s also notably natural; they aren’t working up an act but rather just playing the songs they knew, just as they would play them at home in the front room.

There aren’t any lost gems, though the arrangements offer a unique view of how Watson was developing the material. Some tunes, as with the arrangement of “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” aren’t yet fully formed. It’s short, paced a bit slower than we know, but it’s there.

Watson plays banjo for about half of the tunes, including a beautiful duet on “Willie Moore” with Carlton on fiddle. It’s a standout for its precision as well as for what Bill Monroe called the “ancient tones.” The drone of the fiddle, and the story of the murder, make it like listening through a keyhole to 19th century rural Appalachia.

“Blue Ridge Mountain Blues” demonstrates the contrast between arranging for banjo and fiddle and arranging for guitar and fiddle. It’s an example of what Watson would become known for, with all the bass runs, fills, and inversions that really give life to a song. Same, too, with “Billy in the Lowground.” A notable absence are the fast lead lines that, in time, would influence entire. generations of guitarists.

Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton is a rare window into a important moment in Watson’s development. He’s young, relaxed, playing for a joyful audience of strangers who love what he has to give. We’re lucky to be able to hear it.

What is it like to be Jamell Ollivierre?

for The Grenadines Initiative

What is it like to be Jamell Ollivierre? I can’t answer that question, of course—certainly we can’t really know what it’s like to be anyone other than who we are—though the outlines are there. I met with him one morning at the patio of Keegan’s in Lower Bay, just off the beach, the waves rolling in and out in the background. He’s soft spoken, but certainly not meek. You can see he’s thinking big thoughts, if not necessarily feeling the need to say all of them out loud.

Jamell is a child of the island, to be sure, though ironically not comfortable on the sea that surrounds it. While many students take the ferry every day to attend high school on St. Vincent, he opted to stay with an uncle through the week. Otherwise, sea sickness would have put an end to an education.

That’s not a barrier to higher learning that most of the world can associate with— sea sickness—though it was the first of many that are unique to young people in the region. In can be a difficult path in all kinds of ways. “I wasn’t like the other kids,” he says trailing off as he does. It’s less a statement of fact than an admission of his predicament—a nod to the arc of his life, of who he is and who he has been, growing up in Lower Bay. “It was humbling,” he says, if able to admit the joys as well. As we walk through Lower Bay he points out where he played soccer with cousins and neighbourhood kids in a stand of trees just in from the rocky part of the beach.

It was idyllic in a way, though even from when he was very young, Jamell knew he wanted something more. He wanted to learn about science, healing, and systems. He wanted to become a doctor. “Some of my classmates, when I told them, a lot of them used to laugh,” he says. He gets it. There has never been a primary-care doctor from Bequia, just as there has never been an astronaut from Tibet. It’s not impossible. It just hasn’t happened and, in its way, can seem a bit distant. “Just the thought and the idea of becoming a doctor seems silly to most people,” he says. “But it wasn’t to me.”

What’s it like to be Jamell Ollivierre? That comment— “but it wasn’t to me” —is a good hint. He saw a breadth of possibility that others maybe didn’t. He saw things in himself that others couldn’t visualize in themselves. He wasn’t like the other kids.

Jamell attended Bequia Anglican Primary, then St. Vincent Grammar School, then college and now university. He attributes much of what he’s accomplished to the support of his family and his mother in particular. She pushed him into positions of leadership, even if that’s not the word she would use. “My mom, she encouraged me to hang out with teenage guys that play football. To hang out with them, encourage them, help them with their homework, ‘so they can see you as an influence.’” He is an athlete, and has competed regionally. He also has long been a volunteer with the Red Cross, recently as part of the executive committee. One of the tasks he organizes is flood monitoring in a village on St. Vincent. After heavy rains, he goes door to door, taking stock. Did the water come into your house? Is there any erosion? Are your foundations intact? He writes up what he finds and reports back to the Red Cross. Those reports help inform the level and type of response. 

It’s not the kind of work that garners much thanks or even notice, but he has a lot to give, and he regularly gives it. “I must admit I’m a sore loser,” he admits when pressed. “I like sticking to what I want, I like digging into it. That’s what influences me to continue.” He’s currently in his second year of medical school at the American University of St. Vincent. That in itself is an achievement, though he knows better than anyone that it’s one point in a much longer journey, the completion of which remains anything but certain.

“A majority of the students live close to the school, but I live far from the school. So getting to school is troublesome.” He gets up early each morning, goes to sleep late each night. The days are long, but he feels everything is worth every effort he’s able to give. It’s interesting, for one, and pathology, in particular, has peaked his interest. “It helps to understand how different diseases can affect the system,” he says. “How to look and how to understand how the body is effected by pathogens … it helps you to understand how fragile the human body is.” (In reference to the ratio of time spent to lessons learns, he says, “it’s very high yield.”)     

Yes, he’s not like other kids, even if that’s perhaps true in varying degrees for all of us. “I know what I have to do. I know what I need to do to make my dreams become reality. So that’s what I’m doing.” In contrast, he admits “a lot of people on the island who are my age, they limit themselves. A lot of them get into drugs, smoke, drink … they limit their sight or their insights. And I didn’t want to limit myself.”

There are two more years of medical school, then specializations, rotations, exams, and fundraising to support it all. He’d like to do at least some of his training out of country, so there will be visa applications, travel and living expenses as well. “To be honest,” he says, “the St. Vincent hospital [Milton Cato Memorial] is not well equipped. It’s become very limited in what they can teach.” He’s well aware of the complexities of studying abroad will bring. “I need to think three steps ahead.” He’s able to do that, in part, thanks to the support of two significant donors.

I ask him how he’d like to people to think of him. Most people would demur at that kind of question, and for a moment it seems that he will as well. But then he decides not to. “When people look at me, I’d like them to think that this guy came from this small island, so many obstacles before him, and he overcame every single one of them to achieve what he could achieve, and come back and help to pull others up with him. That’s what I really hope to achieve.”

He’d like to become a doctor from Bequia, practicing on Bequia, in part because of what it will say to other young people who are like him. To date, as Jamell notes, Bequia imports doctors. He will become the first primary-care physician from Bequia who practices on Bequia—someone from the island, who has lived the island experience, and who provides care for islanders. Once there’s a first, the door will have been opened for the second and the third, in part because of the message that kind of achievement sends: that it’s ok to think bigger thoughts, and to hold larger aspirations.


The challenges remain many, and while no one can become a doctor for him, we can make the road a little less rocky and help to ease some of the obstacles Jamell faces. We can do that, first, by simply letting him know that we want to see him succeed. As Kadeem Hazell once told me said about his journey to becoming a pilot, “You do better when people believe you can do better.” Certainly, he’s a prime example of that principle. Any thoughts you have for Jamell, please respond to this email and we’ll be sure to pass them along. Tuition, supplies, too, need to be paid for, and if you can help there, you can do that through our donation page, indicating that you’d like to direct your gift to supporting Jamell’s education.

History, fireworks, and sound

Year after year, International Fireworks Competition marries light, sound, and competition, captivating an international audience.

For KLING & FREITAG

Since 1991, the International Fireworks Competition in Hanover, Germany, has been one of the most distinctive festivals in the region. For five nights each summer, teams of world-class pyrotechnicians arrive from around the globe to mount displays against a rich musical background, hosted on the grounds of an important cultural and historical site. One of the most distinguished Baroque gardens of Europe, the history of Herrenhausen spans centuries, having first been established with a commission by Sophia of Hanover in 1683.

The challenge

“The recorded music is of primary importance,” says Randell Greenlee, jury spokesman for the festival, particularly to the competitors themselves. “The evaluation includes the quality of the synchronization of the pyrotechnic effects with the selected pieces of music.” Competitors need it to support their work, reliably and efficiently. They’ve travelled far, invested much, and in the world of fireworks, it’s one and done. There are no second chances. 

Sound, of course, is also of primary importance to the audience experience. It needs to remain crisp and clear, and at a volume that will augment a pyrotechnic display—with all its pops, and fizzes, and bangs—rather than getting lost within it.

The site presents its own challenges. The setting is outdoors, relative to weather, wind conditions, and dampened acoustics. The audience space is both wide and deep, spread over a much larger performance area than you’d find at a more typical a concert or theatre event. And, as an important historical and cultural site, development needs to be sympathetic to the grounds.

The result

The previous system had served the festival well for more nearly three decades, but it was aging. It was time for something new. It would reflect the advances in technology since the festival was begun, and better reflect the needs of an audience that has grown in size year over year.

The concept was developed in collaboration between K&F engineers and venue staff and consultants. Martin Karnatz (Sing Showtechnik), Marc König (project manager sound engineering) and Christian Tepfer (freelance technician) worked in cooperation with Christoph Wöhler, senior consultant with Kling & Freitag. The result is a 4-point sound system on one line, with towers placed at intervals throughout the performance space:

Per tower:

3 x K&F SEQUENZA 10 N

3 x K&F SEQUENZA 10 W

2 x K&F NOMOS XLT

In the middle of the bell fountain, per tower:

1 x K&F NOMOS XLT

3 x K&F SEQUENZA 5

1 x K&F SEQUENZA 5 B

For announcements and background sound on the sundial:

4 x K&F CA 1001

Supporting the program:

K&F CA1215 – SP

K&F GRAVIS 12

K&F NOMOS LS II

Testimonials

“This year, the use of the KLING & FREITAG system showed a significant improvement in the sound and this improvement was heard over the entire 100 m width of the visitor area. It’s a considerable sound reinforcement task. Creating a system to be used outdoors, in a large baroque garden, to broadcast the musical accompaniment of large fireworks displays—it’s extremely demanding. The KLING & FREITAG system far exceeded my expectations.”

Randell Greenlee, Jury Spokesman, 29th Hanover International Fireworks Competition

Event manager and lecturer at the German Event Academy

Head of Department, Business and International Affairs at VPLT

“The entire team of Sing Showtechnik likes the balanced Sound from KLING & FREITAG, the good workmanship and above all that good ‘family’ service. With KLING & FREITAG you feel like a partner, not a number.”

Martin Karnatz, Event Technician (IHK)

Live your passion!

Today, retirement communities are all about opportunity

for Comfort Life

“I think my first instructor was confused the first time I went for a lesson,” says Katie Drysdale, who began guitar lessons nearly two years ago. “He called my name and I responded. Maybe he thought the name ‘Katie’ was a young person’s name. Mind you, he looked about 12 years old.” Katie was 87. 

To a casual observer, her attendance in that guitar class might have seemed like a whim, or something to while away a few hours. Rather, it was an expression of Katie’s lifelong passion. As she says, “music is my life.” She sang as a child, including spots on CBC Radio, and once with a group of singers in an audience with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. She took violin and piano lessons, both begun before she was 10, and later turned pages for Luciano Pavarotti at a performance at Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre. At 37 she took up the organ. She then taught others both vocals and piano, something which continues to this day. Now, the guitar is a natural extension of those previous experiences, inspired by a granddaughter who was learning flamenco guitar. 

When Katie talks about music being her life, she’s not talking about her professional life, but her inner life. Music is the thing that, more consistently than anything else, has brought joy, challenge, and a meaningful connection with others for more than seven decades. It’s been a common thread running throughout her life, and literally one of the reasons she’s lived so well for so long. “The social world is very unpredictable [whereas] your art is very predictable,” says Seymour Bernstein. “So as you develop your emotional, intellectual and physical worlds through your art, … [you can] direct that [sense of control] into your everyday life.” 

While she might not think of it in exactly those terms, that’s what music is for Katie, just as it has been for Bernstein, now 92. He had an international and very celebrated career as a touring musician, though he gave it up to follow his real passion: teaching. In 2015 he was the subject of an award-winning documentary, Seymour: An Introduction. There he says, “if you accept that your true self is what your talent is, your real identity lies within that talent that you have a passion for.” Eating, sleeping, dressing and other everyday things aren’t what define who we are. 

What does? Passion. Talent. We need an outlet for this interior world as desperately as we need oxygen and clean water. To our own detriment, we live in a culture that, sadly, isn’t oriented around passion. David Brooks writes with a tone of regret that “we live in a society that encourages us to think about how to have a great career but leaves many of us inarticulate about how to cultivate the inner life. The competition to succeed and win admiration is so fierce that it becomes all-consuming … you spend a lot of time cultivating professional skills, but you don’t have a clear idea of the sources of meaning in life.”

Facing your “Now what?” moment

For many, that’s a big problem. Post-retirement is often when that disparity between profession and life becomes most obvious.  For many it can be a jarring “Now what?” moment. Katie however, while she perhaps doesn’t say it outright, has never had that moment. She’s always had a reason to get up in the morning, and often it’s been based in the curiosity that she has for music. She didn’t take up the guitar to cultivate success, and to some extent that’s likely been true since she was a young child singing for the pleasure of it: It has never been her career, but rather her life. 

And that’s what passion is really about: your needs and desires more than theirs. Yes, giving can be good, but it doesn’t need to be about teaching others, or performing, or bringing something new to the world. Retirement should be a time to be a little bit selfish and to think about what we get out of the things we do. Drudgery isn’t what gets anyone out of bed in the morning, it’s curiosity and the opportunity for joy. It doesn’t have to be about anyone else’s interest but your own, to do the things that you’ve perhaps long wanted to do. 

Discover your ikigai 

True, there are things that you can’t do, a fact at any age. We can’t drive at 12, and we can’t expect to play childish games all day at 30. But what Bernstein is saying is that we can do more than we think, at any age, and in ways we never imagined. We just need to take a chance. “The most important thing,” he says, “is to inspire an emotional response for all aspects of life.” And he’s not talking about inspiring others, but inspiring yourself. 

That’s what Tim Tamashiro did recently, very visibly and dramatically. He had a successful career as a radio broadcaster with the CBC. But, in 2017, at age 51, he quit. “I feel like it’s time to start all over again with my creativity,” he wrote in an online message to fans. “I’ll be honest, It’s thrilling and scary at the same time. But you know what else is even scarier? Being my age and living out the rest of my days without anything new and meaningful to get out of bed for.” In a popular TEDx talk, he says he needed time to “focus on my work.” He then draws a key distinction saying “a job is what you do as a  regular form of employment… work is something you do to achieve a result … like a purpose … this last year my work focused on anything I could do that was exciting, that was interesting to me.” That included travel—he went through the northwest passage on an icebreaker, and to Oregon to see a full eclipse of the sun; he went to the Dominican Republic to help build houses; he made a podcast and wrote a play. 

He went to Okinawa to visit his grandparents’ birthplace, an island that’s also given the world the Japanese concept of ‘ikigai.’ The term is often translated as “reason for being,” and refers to all of the things that give value to our lives. It’s based in a sense of playfulness and creativity, and perhaps a bit of risk as well. Kobayashi Tsukasa writes that “people can feel real ikigai only when, on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed toward self-realization.” It’s about how we feel, rather than how we make others feel. Yes, building houses in the Dominican Republic can sound like a selfless act, and certainly there’s much good that can come of it, though Tamashiro did it, first and foremost, because it was something he wanted to try. He did it for the same reason he travelled to see the solar eclipse: because he never had, and, simply, he wanted to. 

Opening up opportunity

In Japan, ikigai has been a key component of Active 80 Health Plan, a program funded and run by the National Ministry of Health and Welfare, this because purpose is seen to be as important to life and longevity as food and water. Not only is that kind of federal support unheard of in Canada—we like to fund medication more than lifestyle—it’s not a new thing, having been in place in Japan since the late 1990s. That’s because it’s been shown, clinically, to achieve what we all want: a better, longer, more active life. 

While the federal government isn’t funding ikigai programs in this country, at least not yet, retirement homes strongly support them. That’s what we see in Tapestry at Wesbrook Village, where Katie has renewed her passion for music. Increasingly, communities are created and run not as care facilities—places were people go to receive long-term health care—but as places of opportunity, where people go in order to find the support and freedom they need to live out their personal goals, their ikigai. For some, that’s nursing support, for others, it’s someone to cut the lawn and cook the dinners so they can go off and do more important, more fulfilling things. 

For Yul Kwon, a resident at Tapestry at Wesbrook Village Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood, the more fulfilling thing was running, and in particular winning the Boston Marathon. He began running in his 60s, though really started putting his energy behind the larger goals after he retired. To train, he gets up at 6 each morning and does 100 push ups and sit ups. That’s just to get warmed up, and to strengthen his back. Often, he runs a 9km circuit, now known as Kwon’s loop, with his daughter, who is also an avid runner. They train in the Pacific Spirit Park, adjacent to Tapestry Westbrook. The park is set within the University of British Columbia endowment lands, including the entire UBC campus and numerous recreational activities from bird watching, to ocean views, to hiking and biking. 

The training paid off. Into his 80s he placed in the Vancouver marathon numerous times. Then, in 2016 he placed first in the over-80 category at the Boston Marathon with a time of 4 hours and 31 minutes. He says, “as I ran across the finish line, I wasn’t sure if I had won. I ran over to the family meeting area where my son and daughter were waiting for me with their families. My son exclaimed ‘DAD! You won!’. This was the best feeling. It’s been a lifelong goal to win in Boston.” But it’s not the end. He’s still running, because that’s his ikigai. There are more marathons in his future, though it’s about the running, about living that life, not specifically the races or the wins. 

Bill Klos’s ikigai was teaching. Now a resident at Sifton Westhill, in Kitchener-Waterloo, he was a high school teacher there for 33 years. For Bill, teaching was work, in the way that Tamashiro defines it—he did it as much for himself as for anyone else. Once he reached retirement age, though, he had no more outlet for his passion. “I developed some health problems,” he confesses, “I wasn’t taking good care of myself.” After moving into the Westhill, though, he found a way to revive his zeal for teaching: he developed an iPad course. “I teach two ladies every Thursday. They’re in their late nineties, and they’re just learning the iPad and they’re doing really well. And I still go into teacher mode, ” he says. “I still love to challenge people to learn, and yes, teaching still kicks in.  You want to help them get to someplace.” His love of teaching has found new means of expression.

For many other people, ikigai has been relegated to a pastime while they pursued careers that paid the bills. Virginia and Bob have been married for 69 years, and spent their working lives in practical pursuits. Gardening was a simple joy that sustained them in spare hours, but at Mulberry PARC in Burnaby, you might say it’s blossomed into something more.  “We always had huge garden. Bob grew the vegetables and I grew the flowers,” says Virginia, but now it’s “the love of our life.” That passion has led to recognition; they’ve been awarded best overall garden by a local Garden Society. The recognition is not important to them as the daily joy they get out of daily pursuing something that was always only an avocation. 

Ikigai is simply distinct for everyone. Janet Tsujimoto is a resident at Tapestry at Village Gate West in Toronto has a similar story. Her paintings hang on the wall of her suite, and knitting projects sit next to a favourite chair. Around the room are dolls she has designed. Much of this is a product of the time and the facilities within the community. “When I moved to Tapestry, I decided to join the art class,” she says. “I had not done much painting before I moved here.” Her art has now found other homes, too, and been featured in Tapestry publications. 

Reconsider life’s possibilities

When considering retirement living, it’s often the physical aspects of aging that come to the fore. However, when we speak to people in retirement communities, it’s the lifestyle opportunities that many speak of first and frequently. Yes, getting care may be an important impetus for many, if not now then in foresight. While care can sustain us, it’s not what makes us live. There are far more exciting things to think about, such as taking a cooking class, discussing politics, or watching a movie with friends. More important than mobility is having a sense of autonomy over when to seek out a conversation, and when to take advantage of solitude on our own terms, to read a book or paint a portrait.

Indeed, that should be the basis of deciding where to live at any age—through the lens of possibility. It serves everyone to consider any transition in that light. Retirement living can provide a lifestyle based in the shared experience of a single peer group. It can provide a heightened sense of autonomy—it’s not about bussing and cars, it’s about recapturing agency. Finding a residence shouldn’t be about finding a place to stay, but finding a place to live, a place to continue living a life with meaning. That’s what Bill sees as the foremost benefit of life at the Westhill, even if it wasn’t one he imagined when he first moved in. This is true for him as it is for Janet, Katie, Virginia and Bob. Their move into retirement communities gave them—as it has very many others—an opportunity to live out their ikigai

Ikigai isn’t entirely different from more familiar concepts like vocation, calling or passion. However, there’s insight to be gained when thinking about familiar ideas in a new language. In other pages, we explore moaishygge and lykke. We want to cast new light on familiar notions  all of us are in danger of taking for granted. 

Words shape our experience, and adding to our vocabulary always gives us new frames of reference. It’s similar to the effect a move or a change in scenery can have on you. You refresh your perspective. This is exactly what happens in retirement communities across the country, for people who have opened their minds and made a move. Familiar routines become new and consequently people find a renewed love of life, not only our inner life as seen above, but our health and our social life. It all adds up to a renewed joy in life for those who’ve explored the possibilities. 

Building a better school

Elie Newman’s Transformation Project at The Bishop Strachan School

by Glen Herbert

“It's wonderfully constructed,” says Sugata Mitra. “It's just that we don't need it anymore.” Mitra is a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, best known for his "Hole in the Wall" experiment, which he discussed in a wildly popular TED talk. He was addressing an idea that comes up from time to time, that education is broken and needs fixing. What critics respond to are the outcomes, and lowering math scores is usually high on the list.

Mitra’s point is that it isn’t broken, but rather that we’re using an old model, one that was developed to train students for roles in a specific time and place, yet expecting results in keeping with modernity. What we think of as a traditional form of instruction—desks in rows, chalk and talk—was designed to meet the requirements of what he describes as a “global computer made up of people” that grew out of the age of Empire. “In order to have that machine running,” he says, “you need lots and lots of people … [and] they must know three things: They must have good handwriting, because the data is handwritten; they must be able to read; and they must be able to do multiplication, division, addition and subtraction in their head.” It would produce what Sean McDougall calls “obedient specialists: adults who could work in factories, assembling components, or as domestic servants, not people who needed to think for themselves.”

Then and now

That’s not our world of course, though the legacy remains with us, more or less. “In the old days,” says Elie Newman of his own experience in elementary and high school, “there were a bunch of fixed desks with a bunch of pipes coming out of them.” That was the science lab. There was a teacher up at the front, and half of the equipment in the desks you never used. There was a map of the world pinned to the wall, the alphabet written out on ruled lines. "That’s the way we all went to school.”

That we expect it to deliver the kinds of skills that learners need to have today is akin, to borrow a phrase from Elton John, to "trying to drink whiskey from a bottle of wine." We need certain results, namely people who can think for themselves, yet we aren't working with tools that were developed to deliver them. Which begs a few very good questions: If you were to build a school for the needs of today, what would it look like? What would it include? What would you borrow from the past? What would you innovate?

Those are the questions that animate much of Elie Newman's work as principal architect of BNKC in Toronto. The answer, perhaps more than anything else, is embodied in the Transformation Project at The Bishop Strachan School (BSS) completed in 2017. “We’ve worked for BSS over the years,” says Newman. “Two major projects and a couple minor ones. And both times they were looking for similar things.” Often the object was to allow a bit of space. “Their junior school was in very cramped quarters. They were constrained within enclosed walls.” But other things crept in, too, such as developing more flexible uses of spaces, ones that would provide opportunities for more hands-on groups, more differentiated learning, and IT infrastructure. Essentially, “all those kinds of things that go into modern education as opposed to education back in 1926” when the main building on the BSS campus was completed. The Transformation Project would bring that building into a new age. It was the largest project yet, certainly the boldest, and conducted to tackle the big questions head on. Rather than small fixes, it would overhaul the entire concept of what a teaching environment can be.

The result, as you might expect, is one that learners from even half a century ago would have trouble recognizing as a school. All the key spaces are filled with natural light, with glass walls creating a porous interface between them. Where the divisions between programs were once stark—the music room was once on one floor, and the art and science labs on others—all are now intentionally cheek by jowl to allow daily interaction. “You’re not confined to a little box,” says one student, “but can see how your work connects with other things.” A geometry class, for example, can discover the mathematical principle at the heart of snowflake, and then code a 3D printer to build one. There are also ample opportunities for children to make their thinking visible. Catherine Hant, principal of the Junior School at BSS says, “we feel strongly that the learning of children, no matter what the age, [be] transparent to the other kids in the building." There's method there, from simply having a voice, to mutual inspiration. Says Angela Terpstra, head of school at BSS, “hopefully, when younger students walk by they’ll think, ‘that is so cool, how do they do that?’ or ‘I can’t wait till I do that’, asking questions that may spark new interests." By and large, that's exactly what they do. 

“ … a crucible of creativity …”

These are attractive projects—Newman has done similar work at Royal St. Georges and St. Andrews College, the Northmount School. They look good, with lots of space and natural light. And, yes, it’s nice to have nice spaces to work and learn within. But it’s about more than that. It’s about creating new ways to think about ourselves, and to explore our world. More prosaically, it’s about graduating people who have the skills they’ll need to work efficiently in the world as it is today: creativity, collaboration, communication, and innovation.

The design of a school, believes Newman, should encourage what some might think of as messy thinking. “It’s not that you always have to be in group sessions or small sessions. There are different ways of doing it. What you want is that the finishes shouldn’t feel precious. Not every room should look the same. With the flexibility to create different types of groupings. Or have groups of kids leave, and go off and work on a problem where the teachers can see them in a little niche, or collaboration spaces." Key is a sense of belonging. "You make it clear to the people who are using it, look, this is for you to own, this is for you to experiment with.” These aren't spaces where students worry that someone will yell at them for, say, writing on the walls or windows. In fact, more often than not, the materials Newman chooses are literally amenable to even that. These aren’t spaces to be venerated, but to be used.

“We look at it as the bones for a learning style,” says Newman. In many ways its antecedent lies in what Jonas Salk created at MIT, now known as the Salk Institute. Salk called it a “crucible of creativity,” an expression of his belief that “most of the exciting work in science occurs at the boundaries between disciplines.” Salk wanted to create an environment in which scientists could “explore the wider implications of their discoveries for the future of humanity.”

Salk thought big thoughts, to be sure, though he was right, not just for the PhD candidates thinking of changing the future of humanity, but for everyone: we think and learn best at the boundary between disciplines, where thinking is more fluid, and less doctrinaire. Salk knew, too, that we learn as much from those next to us as from those standing at the front of the room.  

A capacity for wonder

“When I go in today what really gives me pleasure is to see those rooms being used, even in ways that I didn’t imagine." The fact that Newman can't imagine the extent of the uses of the rooms is, of course, precisely the point. They aren't programmed, but instead about possibility. They are spaces designed, as with the Salk lab at MIT, to allow outcomes to exceed expectations, and to do so in unexpected, unanticipated ways. 

While the Transformation Project is precisely that—a large-scale transformation—Newman notes that it doesn’t take a complete overhaul to adapt spaces to new ways of learning and interacting. “There are lots of schools that have those old fashioned rooms that have been reconfigured in minor ways, and its done beautifully.” Still, he sees the BSS project as a proof of the concept, and perhaps also as the culmination of much of the work that he’s been doing in the education space: to bring disciplines together, allowing them to intersect naturally by virtue of proximity; to empower the students at the centre of the teaching environment, helping them to develop the skills that they’ll need today, as well as when they enter post-secondary and professional life; to provde spaces that aren't precious, and as such to allow for the augmentation of innate curiosities, to fuel interests and aspirations. As authors Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough have written, “We need to think about creating classroom environments that give children the opportunity for wonder, mystery and discovery; an environment that speaks to young children’s inherent curiosity and innate yearning for exploration is a classroom where children are passionate about learning and love school.” To walk through BSS on a busy day, it's clear that Newman has done exactly that. 

 

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 long journey of Doc Watson

(KDHX)

It’s perhaps easy to underestimate the impact that Doc Watson has had over the course of his career, in part because of the ways we choose to express it. We like superlatives—first, longest, fastest, best. He’s credited as the first to play fiddle tunes on guitar, and certainly he’s been influential in that regard, though it’s likely that, if not Doc, someone else would have shepherded the fiddle repertoire onto flattop. Continue reading The long journey of Doc Watson

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.

Checking in with Alternadad: A conversation with Neal Pollack

In 2007, Neal Pollack wrote a book that would become a touchstone for parents who were determined to raise children—as the marketing copy for the book suggested—without growing up too much themselves. They wanted to be cool, and they wanted their kid to be cool, complete with a solid appreciation of the Ramones.

In the book Pollack gave a voice to some of the thoughts that so much of us have had, but perhaps didn’t think we could say out loud. He talks about taking Elijah to a mall and, while it wasn’t the best experience, at least at the end of it he was an hour closer to bedtime. Saying things like that, he made countless parents feel just that slight bit less alone.

When the book came out Elijah was four. He’s 12 now, teetering on the cusp of the teen years. He’s grown up quite a bit. And his dad? I reached him at his home in Austin, Texas, to find out.

In the book you wrote that “birth is just the beginning of a more complicated story.” Does it continue to be more complicated?

I wouldn’t say it’s more complicated. He’s more complicated. He’s a person now, as opposed to a plant or a toddler. But I wouldn’t say that being a parent is more complicated. In some ways I feel like I am better suited to being a parent of a kid this age because I can remember what it was like to be a tween and to be a teenager and I’m more or less familiar with the challenges that that age brings. Whereas being the parent of a three year old, you don’t have a lot of control over the situation. You have to deal with a lot of other people—with other parents, a lot of other animalistic toddlers. But when your kid is this age, well, there’s fewer characters really, is what it comes down to. It’s more his life and you’re just trying to drive him around to it.

I mean, he doesn’t bite people anymore, as far as I know. He’s still the same person in a lot of ways, he still has the same temperament, but he’s just better able to control himself, express himself, you know, and go to the bathroom by himself, dress himself. He can occasionally feed himself.

Twelve is the age we’re legally allowed to leave him home, so we go out for food, or a party, go get drinks, or whatever. We can do whatever we want, and he’s fine. He can text us if he’s hungry and we’ll tell him, you know, go make yourself some food. [Laughs] It’s really much better. I’m sure I’m going to pay for saying that.

Part of the idea of Alterndad was a desire to continue to be person that you are, even as a parent, and not to become whatever it is expected that a father should be. You mention a bit about your father going to rotary and eating hot dogs. Was part of the Alternadad idea a desire not to be him?

I think it was less about my own parents than it was the parenting culture that I saw springing up around me—the societal expectations of what a dad should be, what a dad should look like, and how a dad should act. It’s that you should become this generic parent-person once you have a kid.

And do you find that there’s a grittiness that comes into things, as you move further into the marriage, further into the experience of being a parent. That it’s not all roses.

I guess what it comes down to is [as parents] that you have these kids, and you have these hopes that somehow everything is going to be different this time. But life just kind of does its thing to you, and kids don’t make everything perfect. At all. At all! It’s the same old dramas playing themselves out over and over again.

There was a popular tumbler that went around with pictures of dads from the seventies. And you look at all these photos of bearded, longhaired dudes, you know, drinking beer, hanging out, smoking weed. Playing with their kids, skateboarding, whatever. And I’m like, “Oh, it’s the same as it is now.” If anything, people were more laid back then, and cooler. Less sort of generic, I guess.

It’s almost like parents then didn’t know what they were supposed to worry about. I remember running free in the neighbourhood at 5, which would raise gasps if we saw that today.

Yeah, and especially around this free-range parenting thing, there is a lot of debate about what we should be letting our kids do and how free we should let them be. But, really, I don’t think all that much has really changed between parents and kids. Same crap, different decade.

In the book you write about ordering the Silver Surfer [a vaporizer to use to consume marijuana] and that when you first got it, you waited until Elijah was asleep before trying it out.

Yes. I still have it actually!

Are you still hiding things like that from him?

No, I don’t hide anything from him. I mean, um, I don’t share. [Laughs] But you have to think about it. When it comes to marijuana, this is a very different time we’re living in than when that book was written. [Now] marijuana is legal in four American states and Washington DC. They had a debate about legalizing marijuana in Elijah’s school because it’s being debated in the Texas house. It’s being seriously debated as something that could happen, and probably will in the next four or five years. So, the reality of marijuana, when it comes to kids, is that you’re going to have to talk about it differently, like you talk about alcohol. Because it’s going to be legal almost everywhere.

So, yeah, he knows I get high. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not something I’m neurotic about, or my wife. She’s not a stoner, but she’s not neurotic about it. And the line you take with him is: if you’re 21, and you live in a place where it’s legal, do it if you want, and don’t get into a car with a stoned driver. You’ve just got to treat it the same as alcohol. You’re a hypocrite, I think, if you have any other take on marijuana. Unless you’re a complete teetotaler across the board, when it comes to alcohol as well, then you can go ahead and say [as a parent to a child] “in our house this does not happen.”

But there’s no reason to hide it. There are levels of appropriateness, but we can’t pretend that drinking and sex and drugs and profanity don’t exist. My take is not to encourage my son to do anything, but I also don’t to present these forbidden fruits.

Do you swear in front of your son?

Yeah. Of course.

Is there any word you wouldn’t say in front of him?

No, not really. Well, he’s 12. It was different when he was six or eight, or something. But we also don’t put a lot of limits on what he watches or consumes, media-wise, so he hears it anyway. I just feel—especially when your kids get to be a certain age—treating him as a person [living] outside of reality doesn’t make any sense. You know? Like, “hello, you’re going to be 13: no cursing, no sex, no alcohol, and no drugs in the world.” And when they go out into the world, all those things are around all the time. [Better is to admit that] yes, they’re there. Use good judgment.

I don’t really worry. What does he do in his free time? He runs on track team and he plays Magic: The Gathering. He’s not out getting high behind the portables.

How do you handle discussions about sex?

It’s an ongoing process. We let him know that if he has any questions, we’re here for him. But I won’t sit him down, and he won’t sit down for a talk. He’s not interested.

The public schools here teach an absurd, abstinence-only thing. But he seems to have a pretty good grasp on it. We just let him know that if he has any questions, ask. And the phrase “wear a condom” has been uttered more than once. You know, it’s “If you’re gonna do it” — well, he’s too young at this point, but in a few years he won’t be – “use birth control and be respectful to your partner. Don’t be a jerk.”

And sexuality online, what’s your approach to that?

It hasn’t really come up yet. He’s playing Minecraft, League of Legends and that kind of thing.

We’ve talked a bit about how to behave online. Don’t be a racist, don’t be flinging around anti-gay slurs. But that’s not his thing. His main activity outside of playing games online is he likes to go Tea Party Instagram sites and leave trolling political comments. He shows me some of them. He’s more liberal than I am, politically.

There’s a moment in the book where you’re watching him and you realize, at that moment, that you knew “he’d never be a stranger to me.” Which is interesting in that it sounds like a reaction to something, perhaps the worry that he might someday become a stranger to you.

Yeah, I think my mother said, when he was born, that he’s going to be a republican engineer. And I’m thinking, “Why? Because I’m a liberal writer?” Is it automatic that your son is going to be the opposite of you? But he’s certainly not a republican, and if he becomes and engineer, then our bridges are in trouble.

He makes me laugh, and he says interesting things, but I can’t say that anything he says and does surprises me.

You say in the book that we all judge other parents, and that never changes. What kinds of things are you judging of other parents?

Mostly how their kids behave in public. Sometimes the judging comes out of envy, say if they have more money than you do. But what I don’t judge other parents about is losing their temper, or dealing with a difficult kid. There are certain things we shouldn’t judge about but, well, we do anyway.

But that changes. When you have a toddler, you’re parenting in public. When you have a teenager, most of those things happen behind closed doors. You’re also not at parties, hanging out with other parents—you’re not in the same proximity, and I like that because, honestly, that was the worst part about having a kid. The parent child classes, and the preschool potlucks, the second grade plays where you all have to say hi to each other—even when we were at schools where we liked the other parents, that shit drove me crazy.

Now you see other parents in passing, like once a month in the halls or something. There just isn’t the same proximity.

You mention in the book that your wife, Regina, felt a certain level of mommy-guilt, which is a very real emotion for many, many women. Does she still feel that guilt?

No. Again, the older the kid gets, the more that crap just kind of fades away. When you first have a kid you’re trying to come to terms with the fact that you’re not young anymore. But at a certain point, at least for me, something just kind of opened up and I thought, Oh, I’m myself again. That “dad” does not define me in any way. I’ve integrated it into my identity.

My wife might have a slightly different opinion about that, but I know that she is not defined by “mom.” She is a mom. She is a great mom. But she doesn’t define herself by motherhood. Absolutely not. Because why should we define ourselves that way. You know, “Hooray, we’ve reproduced just like everyone else.” That shouldn’t have to define us.

So, I worry about my kid, but I don’t worry about the kind of stuff that I used to worry about.

So, all in all, as a dad, are you hitting it out of the park?

I’m doing OK. My son does well in school, except for math. He can have a intelligent conversation with a grownup. He exercises. He eats his vegetables. He’s got pretty good taste in movies and TV and books.

Most importantly, he thinks for himself. And that’s all that I’ve ever really cared about, that he’s his own person: that he thinks for himself and that he has an independent spirit about him. And he’s got that! If nothing else, I gave him that, and I gave him a little bit of irony. Which is important to me. Those are my biggest expectations for him. Everything else is just a lot of variables that I can’t control.

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.

Birds, books and fatherhood: An interview with Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen isn’t perhaps a name that is as familiar to us as some other children’s authors, though her books certainly are. Owl Moon is as powerful as it is unique, the story of a father taking his daughter owling one cold winter night. “It is gentle yet adventurous,” says Yolen, “quiet yet full of sound.” The father in that book is remarkable for being unlike so many of the fathers we find in children’s books. He’s strong, kind, knowledgeable, respected for all the right reasons. He spends time with this daughter, making a bit of magic by introducing her to aspects of the natural world. More recently Yolen wrote My Father Knows the Names of Things, again with a father character who is someone we would like to be ourselves. In her own life, though, fatherhood has been as complicated as it is in anyones. Her father largely ignored her, which perhaps is one of the reasons that she found, in her husband David Stemple, someone who was in nearly all ways the exact opposite: caring, kind, approachable, strong, helpful, supportive. When we read those strong male characters in her books, it’s David that we’re seeing represented there. I reached Yolen her at her home in Massachusetts.

1988_Owl_MoonYou have said that the character of Pa in Owl Moon is based on your husband. I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about your husband and the kind of father he was. Did he really go owling and talk with owls? Jane Yolen: David was born and brought up in the West Virginia mountains and knew woods and woodcraft from a young boy. Birds became a special favorite of his. He moved to NY after college to work for IBM where we met. He taught me everything I know about the woods and then he taught our children. They are all good birders and Heidi — our daughter who is the child in the book — now leads Audubon Christmas owl counts. As a college professor with much discreet time in-between classes and research, David was a hands-on father from the beginning and we had a wonderful 44 year marriage till his (much too early) death at age 69.

Have you ever made a conscious decision to cast the fathers in these books and others in a different way than we see elsewhere? Or is it more that you are drawing on, and reflecting, on your own experience of your father and your husband and the things that you felt they did well? (Or something else entirely … )

JY: My own father was a distant, difficult man, whose outward face was life-of-the-party but who rarely interacted with me except to criticize. He played baseball with my brother (four years younger) but thought I should be mentored only by my mother, and so I was. Luckily she was the smarter, more educated, and more compassionate of the two of them. Unluckily, she died at age 59 of cancer. If you could say one thing to all young fathers, one piece of advice when just starting out, what might it be?

“Value the talents they all have, the work they do. AND TELL THEM THAT.”

JY: Love your babies, toddlers, school age kids, teens (though that is harder) and don’t be afraid to tell them so.Value the talents they all have, the work they do, AND TELL THEM THAT. Be hands on, show them things you like that they might like, take a child to work to see what it is you do when you are away from them. Be involved with your children. And for goodness sakes, read to them.

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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.

 

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.

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. 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 Grenadines Initiative 

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.