History, fireworks, and sound

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


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:




In the middle of the bell fountain, per tower:




For announcements and background sound on the sundial:

4 x K&F CA 1001

Supporting the program:

K&F CA1215 – SP




“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. 

The right sound for the right space

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

for Kling and Freitag

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

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

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

The challenge

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

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

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

The result

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

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

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

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

For Athletix and Beauchamp Fitness

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

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

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

Working together

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

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

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

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

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.


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.

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.


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.



In the spotlight:

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  • Learning to lead

    Leadership programs, as the one at Quebec’s Camp Nominingue, can offer some of most transformative and important experiences in a young person’s life. [Read more]

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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.

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.

3 key steps to an allergy-free summer

(For Ourkids.net)

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

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

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

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

#1: Know what you’re dealing with

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

#2: Be prepared

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

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

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

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

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

The cognitive benefits of Mandarin/English dual-language instruction

(For Ourkids.net)

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

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

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

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

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

5 key brain benefits of dual-language immersion programs

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

  1. Attention

  2. Empathy

  3. Reading comprehension

  4. School performance and engagement

  5. Diversity and integration

The Dalton approach to Mandarin/English instruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Students praise Lakefield College School for Outdoor Ed program

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

for Ourkids.net

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

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

“ … we do it all right here … ”

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

First-hand learning

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

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

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

Life lessons

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

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

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

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


Making moonshine with Roger Lee “Buck” Nance

 by Glen Herbert

“Listen,” says Nance. “It sounds like rain on a roof.” And it really does. Large vats line the room, each filled with a roiling mixture of grain and yeast. The gas being released as bubbles is responsible for the sound and the smell, which is somewhere between beer and bread and turpentine.

On the right is Buck Nance standing next to one of the tanks that he made by hand. A professional welder, he made everything within the distillery by hand–tanks, pipes, coils–with the exception of the furnace directly behind him.

It’s an attractive facility, miles away conceptually and physically from the clandestine stills that come to mind whenever we think of moonshine. The Copper Barrel Distillery is a boutique on par with the micro-wineries of the Napa Valley. The building, once home to a furniture manufacturer, has been restored to bring out its character as well as its heritage. The idea behind the distillery itself is  built on those concepts as well: character and heritage.

After striking up a conversation which Roger Lee “Buck” Nance in the showroom, he pulled us aside, asking in a hushed tone if we’d like to see the machinery. While the operation is entirely legal, operating under a complex mesh of regulations and licenses, for most of his life, Nance has lived somewhere outside of the law, or at least on the fringes of it. He knew Junior Johnson and had a hand in some of the white liquor (he doesn’t call it moonshine in conversation, rather white liquor or corn liquor or just shine) that Johnson transported came from Nance’s stills or those he tended while he was learning the craft.

And while we might be attracted to the outlaw side of the tradition, for Nance, it’s about the craft. He’s part of a folk tradition, one that by necessity was passed orally, secretively, from one moonshiner to the next, and which continues to focus his attention. He’s proud of that tradition, and guards it even now. Standing next to the fermenters, it’s that pride that shows, not just in the recipe, but in the process, and his place as a recipient of the knowledge needed to drive it forward and, perhaps, pass it along.

Certainly, it’s moonshine, and the traditions that surround it that have largely defined Nance’s life. The first thing he’s known for is a bust in 2009, one which netted 929 gallons of white liquor for the authorities—the product of two months of investigation—and linked Nance’s name to the largest moonshine bust in North Carolina history.

Unknown-2When he wasn’t off in the hills, Nance was a welder, and his knowledge of metal is probably on par with his knowledge of moonshine. Most of the stainless he uses is 301, some of it 302, whatever that means. The last tank in the process before bottling has two large copper coils within it, and Nance tells us to get up on the ladder in order to take a look. They don’t look anything like what you have in mind when you think of a still. They’re clean, perfect, set within a clear vat of stainless steel.

Near the spout that the finished product is drawn from is a small glass jar with a length of copper wire twisted around its neck to create a handle. Nance uses the jar—its one he’s had for decades apparently—to gauge proof. “They came with their equipment, you know, and took some samples,” Nance says of the regulators tasked with granting a license to the outfit. He talks with a broad accent, like he’s got a mouth full of marbles. “I told them that it was 142, and I was right. And that’s a true story. He told me that if they ever need to calibrate the equipment, they’ll come to me.” He demurs, knowing that it sounds a bit like a fish story. “But that’s the truth. I can tell by the bubbles. How big they are, how fast they move.” And he can.

“Feel that heat? That’s how we heat the room. There’s no heating or air conditioning in here. We brought these in here [two large plastic containers filled with the waste product of fermentation] to keep it warm when it gets cold like it did last night.” The waste material is given to local farmers to feed to stock, as it’s a rich source of protein and nutrients. A local rancher feeds it to his beef cattle, says Nance, and some of that beef finds its way back as a thank you.

It’s easy to think first of the lawlessness of moonshine, and for anyone living beyond the regions in which it has been made for generations, that’s not just the first thing, but the only thing, they are likely to know about it. But there’s a story here, and it’s not about drunkenness, or violence, or fast cars. Perhaps it has been a fine line, at least since the 1920s and the enactment of Prohibition, but it’s what’s on the other side of that line that appeals to Nance. For him, white liquor is a symbol of autonomy. It’s a link to the past, with the recipes and practices honed through trial and error, passed along by word of mouth. And, as odd as this might seem to people who haven’t experienced it directly, it’s about community. The basket outside the door, the barter of this for that. Through those things—and certainly there are many in the region who have jars that they’ve received that they’ve never opened—it’s perhaps less about the product than it is an awareness of place, and people, and a connection to the past as well as those who are with us, here, now.