September 23, 2014 – Early on a Tuesday morning, a sleepy crowd of grade nine IB students equipped with a plethora of backpacks, sleeping bags, and rolling suitcases piled onto the front of Weston Collegiate Institute. After being herded into three coach buses aptly parked out front, the lot sped down Pine Street and made their three-hour long drive to Algonquin Park.
At the beginning of each school year, the freshmen and the graduating class of the Weston International Baccalaureate program attend a trip to Camp Tamakwa, a camp located within Algonquin Provincial Park. The camping trip acts as a fun orientation into the program for the grade nines, allowing them to create lasting friendships and feel comfortable with their transition into Weston. For the grade twelves, this final return to Camp Tamakwa will test their leadership skills and give them a chance to pass down any knowledge and experience to their younger peers.
Flanked by a gorgeous, nearly overwhelming array of trees changing colours, the students were first organized into multiple groups, each bearing the name of a mighty Canadian animal. After a few icebreakers, their homemade chants could be heard echoing across campgrounds. Together, the students rotated through the camp facilities, actively engaging themselves in teamwork and leadership oriented activities for the next four days.
They tackled the rock wall, many climbing for their first time. Only after toughing out a hike through the park’s foliage and muddy trails were the students offered picturesque views from various points across Tea Lake. In addition to learning a dance routine for a huge flash mob to Calvin Harris’ I Met You in the Summer, the groups prepared unique skits, riddled with jokes geared at fellow campers and teachers, to be performed on the last night. Scheduled meals were always waiting for them in the dining hall, completed with a dessert after every dish.
At night, ghost stories were exchanged, and several Tamakwa staff members from Wales and Manchester took their turns at imitating a Canadian accent while watching over the students at the campfire. The lack of city light pollution painted the night skies with a thick blanket of stars and celestial bodies (we all pretended like we saw the same constellations when in truth, there were too many jumbles of stars to make out anything). And, during the night hike, a few screams and surprises along the pitch-black trail made the seemingly calm walk through the forest very interesting.
But none of these activities would be possible without the hard work and supervision of the grade twelve IB students.
The annual Tamakwa trip illustrates a tale of continuity – the students enter as reluctant freshmen from different schools, all anxiously worrying about the program’s workload and the idea of making friends seeming foreign. After the first Tamakwa trip, they’ll parade through Weston halls laughing loudly with their newfound friends whilst feeling a new level of comfort they wouldn’t have achieved otherwise.
“I think the best part [of the trip] was the bonds we created together,” Jordana Dhanpaul, a grade nine pre-IB student reflects. “If I didn’t go, I probably would’ve had only a close group of friends and not the family of grade nines, elevens, and twelves that I do now.”
Forward three years later and the same students will return again as mentors. They’ll look at the batch of grade nines, clustered in their own small clumps of friends and recall their own uncertainty around new faces. Equipped with the experience of the IB program and the responsibility to make Tamakwa as memorable as their own freshmen year, they’ll work around the clock to sort groups, prepare activities, and build a timely schedule. Of course, WCI IB director, Ms. Dale, works relentlessly to make sure the paperwork and administrative portion runs smoothly as well.
Ruchi Vijh, an IB student of the graduating class recalls on her own Tamakwa 2014 experience – this time as a mentor. “For the third time I was to go back to Camp Tamakwa. Now one might think that I would be tired of going there but it was quite the opposite. Going in grade twelve as a leader was probably the most exciting because now it was our turn to run the week for the new grade nine students at Weston. After previous weeks of planning and going over various activities, it was rewarding for all of us to see how smoothly and enjoyable the events worked out.
“Personally, I was fortunate enough to be a group leader and bond with the grade nines in my group – I even managed to lose my voice from cheering too much! Seeing all the grade nines and even grade twelves become comfortable with one another enough to perform on the final night for the talent show was amazing to see as well! Overall this trip was a memorable experience that I will never forget.”
My own experience as a grade eleven mentor shed a new outlook on the annual Tamakwa trip. In grade nine, I was ecstatic to make new friends and delighted at the family-atmosphere we quickly adapted. Now assigned as a group leader, I took immense pride in watching my kids unfold from the first-day awkwardness to full comfort, belting out our Beaver cheer every chance they could and cracking jokes alongside each other. Previously quiet niners, who were unwilling to talk during icebreakers, were now helping the skit’s plot take form and dictating group control in the teambuilding games.
It was heartwarming and fulfilling to know that my grade nine experience was being relived again by a new batch of bright students, and that these kids too would grow within the IB program to pass on their leadership and positivity.
This post is brought to you by:
Maureen Lennon, who is happy to encourage great writing by young Westonians!