The IB program at WCI had been popular for offering their incoming grade nines and graduating students a trip to Algonquin Park, often acting as an incentive to battling the program’s enhanced curriculum. The idea of a four-day getaway to build friendships over s’mores and canoe sessions while surrounded by beautiful late-September scenery speaks for itself, and often produces fruitful results: the new IB students instantly become more comfortable, and the graduates spend these nostalgic four days around Tea Lake before diving into an intense final year.
Yet, why just the IB students? A ground-breaking opportunity like Tamakwa should not be restricted to strictly one classification of students.
As of 2015, change had finally arrived.
This year, Weston’s IB director, Ms. Dale, and Guidance Counsellor, Ms. Galanis, with collaboration of many other teachers, successfully opened up the annual Tamakwa trip to all grade nines, inviting every student regardless of their educational background.
The newly proposed Tamakwa accumulated just over one hundred grade nine students. This large combination of IB’s and non-IB’s seemed to introduce a daunting new task of removing boundaries between the two, but once the campers stepped off the boat ride onto the camp site, they became a cohesive, relaxed mixture where no one cared to identify each other’s programs.
Activities included canoeing, hiking, and rock-climbing among others. To replace the traditional skits that each team was to create and act out at the final night’s talent show, a mandatory lip-dub to a song of their choice was showcased instead – needless to say, hilarity ensued. Team-building and leadership activities, and mentoring from the grade twelves were also included in the program. Mr. Botnick, Weston’s new principal, and Ms. Aloisie, a vice principal, even made a guest appearance to spend the day participating in the camp activities.
After the four days, new friendships were formed and the grade nines were at ease, having carefree conversations and laughing loudly with both the seniors and each other.
However, tackling the new change proved to be difficult, particularly the pre-trip preparation. The IB students were well-rooted in the tradition of the Tamakwa trip – a stark contrast to the non-IB’s whom were new to this tradition.
“When we did the presentation… we received multiple negative comments on their forms, and we did not know what we could to change that. But, when we thought back on it, the non-IB students were not given any real information because none of their teachers really knew about Tamakwa and its many perks. It was the first time all the grade nine students were allowed to come so we ran into a wall trying to think of a way to intrigue the non-IB’s into going,” says Yahye Alasow, a grade twelve student. “A couple of students came up with an idea of going to their classes and doing more of a close one-on-one presentation.”
During those presentations, the grade nines responded more openly, asking questions, and as the grade twelves rolled on nostalgically about their own grade nine memories, the interest in the room visibly heightened.
“I feel like these grade nines just respond better to one-on-one type of situations,” he continues, “Rather than speaking to them as an elder I noticed it is more effective to talk to them as a friend. They responded better to me and felt comfortable enough to come up and ask me questions.”
Once at Tamakwa, the previous lack of enthusiasm and various worries immediately vanished.
Jan Leonardo, a grade nine student who had only recently come to Canada from the Philippines several months ago, was a notable lively and bright camper. “[It was] a great experience for me to join that trip,” he says, “Because of Tamakwa, I met a lot of friends. Based on my observation, there’s no division between an IBs and non-IB students. They treat each other as normal students because everyone’s goal is to meet new friends and have fun!”
“Taking both the non-IB and IBs was probably the best idea because in our school there’s this ongoing and unwanted division between both students and it was so refreshing to have that wall between them just crumble,” Aayushi Sharma, another grade twelve responsible for Tamakwa says, “People put down their prejudice and just had fun, and if that’s way they view each other in grade nine, then that’s the way they’ll view each other for the rest of high school.”
Heeho Ryu, another grade twelve, recalls, “Before going into Tamakwa, the grade twelves all sort of had worried that the grade nines would find Tamakwa boring and not participate. However, the moment the wheels on the bus went round-and-round, I saw the grade nines, elevens, and twelves coming together, making jokes and sharing candy and chips. We all wanted to make Tamakwa a good experience for the grade nines, and so each individual became more understanding, enthusiastic, and dedicated.
“[My team], The Teen Titans, had the brightest, most talented, and friendly kids I had ever met. It’s granted that when we first got into the group, it was sort of awkward, but just after 30 minutes we were joking around, dancing, having conversations about school, and really cooperating to do the best in the two group activities on the first day. I was totally wonderstruck, and it feels, really, that it was I who got to experience what it means to be a part of Weston.”
Evidently, this new progressive step forward will produce positive results within the student bodies for many years to come. This more cohesive student body will create a more motivating, supporting and accepting environment for these students to progress in, and for their future younger peers to experience as well.
This post was brought to you by:
Laura Albanese, MPP for York South-Weston.