In Ontario our Ministry of Education has a relatively new initiative called Specialist High Skills Majors (SHSM) in our high schools. SHSM is designed to allow students to focus their learning on a specific
economic sector while meeting the requirements to graduate from secondary school. At our high school, in addition to teaching science and math, I also run the SHSM Program in Justice: Community Safety and Emergency Services which is aimed at students who may be interested in pursuing a career in policing, fire fighting, paramedicis, law, social work, child youth worker, border patrol, security, park ranger, etc.
Last Friday the students in our Specialist High Skills Major program had the opportunity to participate in a 12 hour field trip with me. Looking sharp in our black SHSM tee-shirts, we started at Algonquin College where we visited the fire fighting, paramedic and police services labs. After a nutrition (?) break at MacDonald’s we travelled by public transportation to a local rock climbing gym where the students participated in over 2 hours of training and participating in rock climbing.
Rock climbing is, for the most part, a buddy activity and students who do not normally interact with each another quickly buddied up in order to maximize their participation time. I had no idea that so many of our students are part monkey, or possibly related to Spiderman but they were all extremely adept at climbing and very proud of their accomplishments. I hesitate to describe the “happy dance” that one chronically depressed student did upon reaching the apex of a cliff because it was so graphically disturbing, there was however, pure joy on his face!
By now it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon. All students were respectful and orderly all day. Five of our students had to leave the group due to either employment or family commitments. The remaining ten went onto “volunteer time”. Together we taxied over to one of the local elementary school s where our students were the facilitators for the Grade 6 Leadership Camp. If you knew the stories behind the students that were participating you would completely understand why I may be considered, by some, to be a risk taker.
During this camp I made some observations of our students as they interacted with the 11 – 12 year olds.
1. A new Canadian hesitant to speak English in public and a young lady who has been “thrown away” by her family
An amazing pair who were in charge of an “Agree- disagree” Activity Center. They came up with amazing topics for the youngsters to debate and asked great questions to keep the debate going! They couldn’t believe how engaged the children were in what they considered to be a boring activity!
2. An weak academic grade 10 student and a hyper-active grade 11 student who has had to raise himself
A fantastic partnership that ran a “parachute” Activity Center. They both spoke with authority but respect to the students. They modelled learning and improvised on the fly. At one stage, the ADHD student asked permission from his partner to move over to the adjacent Activity Center where he could see his peer was struggling with a rowdy group of students!
3. Tiny little gymnast
Single-handedly (until ADHA guyn offered to help) put small groups through their paces as they passed hula hoops around a closed circle. Came up with lots of variations on the theme! Her height may be instrumental in bringing out the caring and compassionate side of people.
4. Grade 12 girl who keeps her nose clean and flies under the radar
So calm and in command with the tee shirt Decorating Activity that after she had explained the concept to the first group no other group needed instruction and each became calmer and calmer in her presence!
5. Grade 10 boy, anxious to please!
OOOoooh grade 6 girls love this boy! His self-confidence, energy and deportment make him quite the (young)ladies man! Who knew?
6. Shy Gradde 11 girl
Her shyness is her biggest obstacle. She really struggled when trying to facilitate each group of youngsters in coming up with their team cheer. Once Michelle was imported to help her the cheering really took off!
7. Struggling ADD grade 12 girl
Possibly the most flexible, compliant and enthusiastic of the group. She moved from group to group helping where she was needed. She is almost too independent to work with a partner! Her organizational skills (when it comes to others) are phenomenal!
8. Chronically depressed happy dancer
Our official photographer / videographer for the Leadership Camp. This may have been his big break!
This may all sound very civilized and organized but let me assure you if I EVER comment about the noise level in my class room again please remind me of the sound of 40 excited grade sixers echoing off the walls of a school gym on a Friday night. It is not an exaggeration to say that my ears were ringing for hours afterwards!
So it was a fantastic day on many levels but I am not going to lie to you, by 7 o’clock I was out of Tylenol, I had dined on a potluck supper of salad and potato chips, my head was spinning and I was plotting a way out! At this time the most unlikely student of the group came over to me with a cookie, gave me a hug and reassured me that I could get through this! Can you guess who that student is?
Thank you to this student for reminding me that this is why I teach!