Eyes shining and catching her breath, Gurvir Varaitch a Where Everybody Belongs (WEB) Leadership student at Brocklehurst Middle School, part of the Kamloops/North Thompson School District #73, pants “That was such fun!”
Gurvir, Inderpreet Bains, Inderpreet Khunkhun and and Jasmit Mahal had just given their second of two ‘Diversity Day’ sessions in Bhangra dancing, a very energetic form of dance from the Punjab. First they’d shown a video of a professional Bhangra dance group, and then the four Leadership students had demonstrated hand and foot positions for 16 Brock students who had chosen Bhangra for their second option of the afternoon. Before practicing the steps and movements themselves the students were treated to a mini-performance by a guest dancer from Thompson Rivers University. The four girls are classmates in the WEB Leadership program at Brock. The 15-year-olds had arranged the whole Bhangra dance workshop with some coaching from Leadership teachers Nikki Stewart and Carole Gillis. The girls were basking in the glow of success tinted with the pride of sharing their culture with their enthusiastic schoolmates.
In other classrooms and venues the 680 students of Brock Middle School had been engaged in everything from Wheelchair Basketball and Bannock Making to African Hand Drumming and Bingo with seniors during that afternoon. They’d had 30 choices for the two afternoon time slots. Brock Middle School was celebrating its diversity.
2012 is just the second year Brock has been a Middle School. Declining numbers of Secondary age students in the District had forced the School Board to take the dramatic step of reconfiguring the grades served at each school. North Kamloops High became a grade 10-12 facility and Brock grades 7-9. Thomas Dinsdale, accepting the Principalship of the new Middle School, said it was rather exciting having the chance to start something fresh right from scratch. The student population (780 the first year) is drawn from an extremely wide economic and cultural spectrum plus a large land base (some students are bussed an hour). Dinsdale knew it would take a special kind of energy and interaction to meld the disparate 12-15 year-olds into a happy, cohesive school body.
The time-frame for action was extremely short as the decision to reformat the schools came in May for that September. Dinsdale knew of very successful Middle Schools in Kelowna. He took teacher/councellors Nikki Stewart and Carole Gillis to visit KLO. The Leadership students at KLO were the ones who gave the Brock trio the grand tour. Dinsdale was impressed with the confidence of the students. He asked many questions about the Boomerang Project curriculum the student leaders/mentors were following. He learned the curriculum was not available without hands-on training.
“It was quite a scramble finding the money to send Stewart and Gillis for training in California in such short order,” Dinsdale recalls. He cobbled the funds together from about seven different sources. “It was definitely worth it,” he says. Stewart and Gillis returned with plenty of ideas and practical know-how which they quickly adapted for Brock. First they set up a WEB Leadership program for selected grade 9 students who would ease the grade 7 students into life at what would seem to the grade 7’s, the GIGANTIC Brocklehurst Middle School. In mentoring the younger students the WEB Leaders get practical experience in taking charge of situations and exercising the knowledge they’ve already acquired. They become role models, mentors and friends. The students I spoke to are thoroughly enjoying the trust placed in them to carry out projects, tasks, and interaction with the grade sevens and each other. By participating in the arrangement of a variety of events such as the February 2012 Diversity Week the Leadership students take ownership of their school.
‘The WEB student mentoring programs create schools with fewer discipline issues and better academic performance. The ‘character building’ (ethics) and improved school climate enhances anti-bullying efforts and increases school safety. It not only teaches students, but reaches students,’ the Boomerang Project www.boomerangproject.com states on their website. It creates a win/win situation where the choices students make can lead to living life to its fullest potential. Making the students aware of healthy choices to accomplish this is the aim of the program.
One Brock student who declined being in the Leadership class now regrets his decision after his best buddy keeps telling him of the ‘cool’ things the class does. “The Leadership class is awesome,” the friend states.
Carole Gillis, a partner in promoting the Leadership Program at Brock says Teacher/councilor Nikki Stewart is the creative one. Stewart was the one who came up with the idea of a “Shopping Cart Parade” to raise awareness that some folks in their community need to use the Food Bank. Each class in the school got a shopping cart to fill with non-perishable food and to decorate for the parade that did a circuit within the school. The exercise created a sense of community, of caring and also let loose students’ creative decorating spirits while diffusing their physical energy pushing the carts through the hallways.
Celebrating Diversity was also Stewart’s idea Gillis says, though Stewart claims Gillis played a big part in the concept. Dinsdale and other staff and teachers helped manifest Stewart & Gillis’ vision. Students and teachers made ‘I Am!’ statements . . . I am a girl; I am a Canadian; I am gay; I am (giggle) Ukrainian; I am 15, I can grow a beard!’ (Yay!) The statements are taped and made into a short video screened at the Diversity Assembly where basketball teams, wrestlers, musicians and a competition fly tier are introduced. WEB Leaders take on MC duties. When the whole school assembly is over it is the WEB Leaders who fold up the chairs and turn the gym back into an athletic arena. It is fun! It is so great to feel needed, useful, competent and respected. It doesn’t feel like education at all. They’ve become one happy, caring student body.
These Brock Leadership students will be the ones that next initiate community projects, motivate other citizens to join them, coach and empower their friends and families and open to their own amazing potential. They will be our future leaders.
*WEB Where Everybody Belongs
By: Valerie Rampone - a free-lance journalist & photographer living in Kamloops BC.
Sources: www.boomerangproject.com website
LEADERSHIP FROM WITHIN – Peter Urs Bender www.PeterUrsBender.com