Grade 8 students at W.L. Seaton secondary school have been busy helping to make the holidays a little brighter this year.
The 74 students in the Grade 8 Academy have all pledged to help a number of non-profit groups in the community as part of the project-based program.
Over the last few weeks, they have been working on projects to benefit the Upper Room Mission, Hospice House, the SPCA, the Armstrong Spallumcheen Refugee Project and Alexis Park elementary school.
“We brainstormed about what organizations we wanted to support and the kids were very enthusiastic,” said Michelle Freebairn, the academy’s school-based resource teacher. “We brainstormed and narrowed down organizations and we had teacher-leaders to help guide the kids in their projects.
“James (Carr, science teacher) and I did this two years ago and we saw how powerful it was for kids to focus on giving rather than receiving so when we came back to the school this year, we thought we needed to do it again. With the raffles, bake sales, hot dogs, we probably brought in at least $500 to $600, and that’s just from the school’s students supporting the projects.”
Student Kayla Riggs is working on the project for Syrian refugees.
“I wanted to help someone from a different country besides people that are here, because they get lots of help,” she said.
For her project, warm winter clothing was collected from the lost-and-found at a number of schools in the area, including Vernon Christian School, to be given to a family when they arrive in the North Okanagan.
“A Syrian family is being sponsored by the Armstrong-Spallumcheen Refugee Project and scheduled to arrive in the middle of January,” said Kayla. “I’ve learned how to communicate and make different ideas that will help other people who aren’t from here.”
Evita Dill chose the Upper Room Mission as her project.
“Because I felt bad for people who don’t have a family or their own clothes and can’t go to work and get food,” she said. “We did four bake sales and we raised over $100 and we will do some backpacks with hygiene products, toques, mittens and scarves.
“I learned that helping other people is fun, it’s about helping but it’s fun making it happen,” she said.
The backpacks were delivered to the mission just before Christmas, to be given to clients.
Ethan Kooijman selected the Vernon branch of the BC SPCA as his charity of choice.
“Because I love cats and dogs and want to help because they need a home,” he said. “The SPCA needs all the help they can get to raise money for food and other things.”
A bake sale was held in the Seaton commons area, with students flocking to stock up on home-baked goodies.
And for Maira Wilson, the North Okanagan Hospice Society is the charity she has chosen to help.
“I chose that to bring a bit of happiness to the people who are dying, but the staff go through a lot too,” she said. “To fundraise we made up baskets and we sold raffle tickets, so Hospice can continue to do good work. My friend’s grandpa died there.
“I feel like I have a greater appreciation for everything I have, I don’t take everything for granted.
“And we also added an extra project, which was doing something fun for students at Alexis Park school, where we decorated gingerbread houses with kids in Grade 1.”
Seaton is a dual-track school which offers both English and French immersion programs. For the past three years, the school’s Grade 8 Academy has been bringing all of the first-year English students together into one program as a way of easing the transition from elementary school to a secondary school of 850 students.
The academy uses project-based learning to ease them into high school, but always includes all of the core subjects such as English, social studies and math, as well as health and careers.
The academy is led by humanities teacher Cara Cyr, science teacher James Carr and math teacher Ross Ohashi, along with Freebairn.
“It’s all integrated, and this is to get students more engaged the first year of high school,” said Freebairn. “We have them three out of four blocks in the first term, and they have really good relationships with the teachers because they’re with the same teachers every day.
“The school has also been able, as a whole, to move past attendance problems.”
With three rooms, the students work in small groups as well as in the larger group. When it’s time to work in the larger group, a moveable wall is taken down.
“I found that when I first got here, it was actually really cool because there were a whole bunch of teachers I didn’t know and we got to know them and this made it less scary,” said Kayla, who was at Harwood elementary before starting Grade 8 at Seaton.
Her classmate Evita was also at Harwood and admits to feeling both shy and frightened when she started high school.
“When I first got here, there were all these different people I didn’t know but since I’ve been in the academy I’ve got to know almost everyone and I feel part of everything,” she said.
Ethan came from an even smaller school: Lavington elementary, which has less than 100 students.
“My first day I was so nervous and I didn’t even want to come to school but then I came here and I got into the academy and thought this isn’t so bad,” he said.
Maira made the transition from St. James School, where she had only 10 kids in her Grade 7 class.
“I was kind of nervous but my sister goes here,” she said. “In my old school I knew everybody by name. It was kind of scary because I came here by myself, I didn’t have any friends from elementary who came with me.”