A summer without camp

For Our Kids Media

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

What families are facing

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

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

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

What camps are facing

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

What you can do

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

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

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

155 years of Trinity College School

A notable birthday for a notable Canadian institution

for Our Kids Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The school today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live your passion!

Today, retirement communities are all about opportunity

for Comfort Life

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

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

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

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

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

Facing your “Now what?” moment

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

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

Discover your ikigai 

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

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

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

Opening up opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reconsider life’s possibilities

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

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

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

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

Building a better school

Elie Newman’s Transformation Project at The Bishop Strachan School

by Glen Herbert

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

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

Then and now

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

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

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

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

“ … a crucible of creativity …”

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

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

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

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

A capacity for wonder

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

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

 

Review of Meadowridge School

For Our Kids Media

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the scenes at the museum

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

For Our Kids Media

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

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

Art Gallery of Ontario Art Camps

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

The McMichael Collection

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

Black Creek Pioneer Village Day Camp

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

Gardiner Museum

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

Royal Ontario Museum

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

Ontario Science Centre

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

 

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.

Camping on campus

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

for Our Kids Media

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

Cornell University

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

University of Ottawa

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

University of Toronto

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

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

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

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

Ryerson University 

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

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

Queen's University

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

York University

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

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

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

McGill University

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

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.

 

Advertisement

In the spotlight:

Previous SlideNext Slide

  • 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]

First slide details.Current Slide Second slide details.

 


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.

Do all students need tutors?

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

by Glen Herbert for Our Kids

 

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

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

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

A better way to learn

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

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

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

Lessons with fun as a focus

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

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

 

A Brief History of Boarding Schools

The British Tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

boarding-hub-side-1

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Imagining a better world

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

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

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

The backbone of empire

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

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

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

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

Boarding in Canada

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

—Margaret MacMillan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Why do parents consider private school?

The answer is best expressed in a single word: Choice

 

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

—Rob Reich[1]

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

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

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

Graphic courtesy the Fraser Institute. Used with permission.

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

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

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

Learning in the Canadian context

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

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

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

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

Choice is important

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

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

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

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

Parts of a whole

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

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

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

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

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

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

The system we have, the system we need

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This camp will change your life

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

for OurKids.net by Glen Herbert

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

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

What camp does

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

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

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

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

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

“They are all very grounded”

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

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

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

Life lessons

For OurKids.net

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

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

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

Camp Ouareau

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

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

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

Zodiac Swim and Specialty Camp

Be prepared

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

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

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

–Liz Warwick, parent, Camp Ouareau

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

Accept support …

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

Ways of the Woods Day Camp

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

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

— Mike Sladden, Camp Pathfinder

… but carry your own pack

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

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

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

Bytown Brigantine

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

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

Wear good clothes, and do what you need to do

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

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

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

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

—Nicole Christamtsis, director, Olympia Sports Camp

First eat, then sing

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

Camp Glen Bernard

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

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

image

Welcome to Canada, Welcome to camp

(for Our Kids)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They were all just so full of energy”

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

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

Campers are campers

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

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

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

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

Why camp?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed, it seems that they already have.

—by Glen Herbert

Navigating the gap year

Neuchâtel Junior College

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

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

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

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

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

The best case

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

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

The next best case

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

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

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

Class Afloat – West Island College International

Why it’s important 

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

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

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

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

How to spend a gap year

International volunteer programs

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

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

Domestic volunteer programs

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

Cultural immersion programs

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

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

Academic programs

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

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

Ridley College

Language immersion programs

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

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

Resources and programs:

Canada World Youth

World University Service of Canada

Education First

CUSO International

My Gap Year

Study and Go Abroad

Global Leadership Academy

Thinking Beyond Borders

Projects Abroad

World University Service of Canada 

Gap Work

 

 

Students praise LCS outdoor education program

By Glen Herbert for OurKids.net

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

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

“ … we do it all right here … ”

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

First-hand learning

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

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

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

Life lessons

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

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

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

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

Boarding school

(For OurKids.net) Before the Golden Goal, or the Stanley Cup win, or the NHL draft, Sidney Crosby was a student at boarding school, something that many Canadians may find surprising. But he was. As a tween, Crosby and his parents recognized that he needed something more than he was getting at home in Cole Harbour, NS. He was excelling in school, yet there were social pressures. In minor league hockey, Crosby was clearly more skilled than his peers, something that may have been celebrated, yet was increasingly resented. On the ice, and in the stands, he was becoming a target of aggression.

All of that—academics, athletic development, social development—were factors that prompted a consideration of options beyond those available locally. For Crosby and his parents, it was less about sending him away than it was recognizing and seeking the support he needed at a critical and decisive time in his life. <Read more>