YMCA Academy Community Garden

The YMCA Academy is located right in the heart of the downtown core, however we do our best to stay as connected to the environment as possible. We have a green wall, plants all around the school and even a vermicompost! One of the highlights of our annual YMCA Cedar Glen trip is the time we spend on the farm, planting, harvesting and caring for the grounds. It is so nice to see the students getting their hands dirty, being outside away from technology, and finding relaxation in this work. For all of these reasons we decided to build our very own urban garden on one of the terraces connected to our school!

Step 1: Design
Our Green Industries class designed sub-irrigated planter boxes. With the location of the terrace, distance of a water source and direct sunlight, it was important that the planter boxes were designed with these limitations in mind.

Step 2: Create
Students in our Gardening Club, and Green Industries class worked together to build and assemble the bins. Building these bins required students to have a strong grasp of the design, collaborate with each other and follow the design instructions.

Step 3: Prepare
Our Personal Fitness class spent the morning hauling heavy soil and materials to the terrace garden. Each of the bins required several bags of soil so the team had lots to carry! Students were instructed on proper carrying techniques to avoid injury.

Step 4: Plant
Every student in the school was assigned one plant to bring in for the garden. Once they were all brought in our Green Industries class organized and planted them. Students brought in an excellent variety of herbs, vegetables, fruit, and flowers that attract bees and butterflies.

Step 5: Care for
As a community of staff, students and volunteers we all play a role in caring for our garden. Depending on the weather, the gardens are watered once a week and checked on each day for changes, needs and the opportunity to harvest.

Step 6: Harvest
The fresh vegetables in the garden were harvested by students daily, many vegetables and herbs such as cherry tomatoes, chives, and green were harvested for lunch time snacks and cooking club. The majority of hot peppers were harvested by the students in the 7 / 8 program and made into hot sauce!

It has been incredible to see the impact the garden has had on our school community since the garden has been built and begins to grow. Many students and staff have expressed how much they love getting the opportunity to spend time outside and around the plants. Many of us are over the moon when something begins to grow, fruit, or is ready for harvest. One of our students in particular has expressed that a quick visit to the garden helps to settle him, reduce stress and anxiety and gets him ready to focus in class.

Overall the garden has been a great success and we are looking forward to expanding our garden even more next season!

Take a look at our Hot Sauce blog to see what we did with this years harvest and check out the rest the rest of the pictures on our Facebook page!

Community Garden: Design, Create, Prepare | Community Garden: Plant, Care, Harvest

5km Bold and Cold Run!

On Saturday, November 24th, the YMCA Academy participated in the annual 5k Bold and Cold run organized by Team Unbreakable. Many students from the YMCA Academy showed up to either participate in the run, help out with the organization or show support for their peers. The 3 degree Saturday morning was the perfect weather for the 5K run the students had been training towards for the past months. Two of the Academy’s gym classes had been training for two months leading up to the run. As people arrived excited to run, it was some of their first times participating in a run and some were experienced runners but all were waiting and excited to begin. The energy in the crowd of people who had assembled to participate was extremely positive with encouragement throughout the group and eagerness to run.

Each student had their own personal goal that they had been working towards. Javier, a student who had never participated in a run before, said his goal was simply finishing. “I didn’t want to do it”, he said about leading up to the race, but “the support of the teachers” is what made him participate in the run. Seth, a student who is an experienced runner had a goal of finishing in under 25 minutes. He ended up finishing in 21 minutes and 40 seconds! “I felt accomplished,” said Seth about how he felt finishing the run, adding that “Nils came in every Wednesday to help us train for the run so that was very helpful”. The Academy had partnered with Team Unbreakable leading up to the run and Nils, a representative of Team Unbreakable, came in every week to help the Academy gym class students train for race through interval training. He helped each student achieve their personal goal.

The run had the students excited about participating in physical activity and helped educate them about mental health. “The run was a great experience” said one of the students, “and I hope to participate in the next one in spring”.

Check out more photos from this event on our Facebook page!

Written by: Jonah M.

Students participate in the Shoebox Project!

This holiday season the YMCA Academy community came together to support woman impacted by homelessness by creating gift-filled shoeboxes. Students first learned about homelessness in Canada and then brainstormed what gifts women would want and need. Each advisory group decorated a shoebox, wrote a card with an inspiring message, and filled their box with thoughtful gifts to make a woman feel special.

The Shoebox Project for Women operates throughout Canada and the United States, delivering gift-filled shoeboxes to women in need. In Toronto the shoeboxes are distributed to women accessing a variety of services such as the YMCA Women’s Shelter, CAMH, Native Women’s Resource Centre, Covenant House etc. The aim of the project is to remind women that they have not been forgotten and that they are a valued and respected member of their community.

This project aligns with the YMCA’s core values and provided many benefits for our students including:

  • helping them to dissect the complex issues surrounding poverty and homelessness, particularly as they relate to women;
  • teaching them to challenge stigmas and stereotypes;
  • fostering empathy and understanding;
  • promoting community engagement and volunteerism.

It was great to hear students asking thoughtful questions about homelessness and to see them taking time to draw pictures and write kind words for their shoebox recipient. Through this project we have supported women in need, but also supported our students to be more engaged citizens.

We had so many generous gift donations that we were able to create an extra box (so 11 in total!) and make a donation of additional items to a shelter. So, thank you to everyone who helped make this project a success and we hope to make this an annual tradition.

Visiting the Toronto Humane Society

The YMCA Academy aims to develop programming based on students’ interests and needs. Among our students there are currently lots of animal lovers and many interested in pursuing animal related careers. This lead staff to plan a trip to the Toronto Humane Society so students could find out more about the possibilities that lie ahead.

All three Learning Strategies classes came together for this trip based on the curriculum link to career exploration. Students learned about how the Humane Society helps care for homeless animals and were led on a tour of the facility. They got to meet lots of adorable cats, dogs, and small pets and were excited to learn their names, take pictures and interact with them from the other side of the glass. Students also had a chance for some up close animal visits inside the education center where puppies were brought in to play.

The primary objective of the trip was for students to learn about animal related careers and how they might one day get to work with animals. We heard from two Humane Society employees, a dog trainer and the manager of shelter care, about their jobs and how they got where they are. They told us that to do their jobs it takes a love of animals, a lot of dedication, and strong people skills. One important take home point for the students was that related experience, for example volunteering or dog walking, is really valuable when trying to get an animal care job. This information points many students towards the next step in a pathway to their dream job.

Check out more photos from this event on our Facebook page!

Yukon the Facility Dog

Hi, my name is Yukon. I am a special kind of Assistance Dog called a Facility Dog. A Facility Dog is an expertly trained dog who partners with a human working in a health care, visitation or education setting who is directly working with clients/students with disabilities. My human is Sue Couprie who you know as the Special Education Supervisor at the Academy.Yukon the Facility Dog at the YMCA Academy

I was born on June 30, 2016 and I was part of a litter of 10 pups. Two of my siblings were given to my father’s people and the rest of us started our training. I have been in training for the last 2 years with COPE Service Dogs in Barrie, Ontario. They are an accredited member of Assistance Dogs International and founding member of Canadian Association of Guide and Assistance Dog Schools.

My training has been intense. At first, COPE did not know what my or my siblings strengths would be so we received general training for many jobs. I started in the Canines in the Classroom program which matches high school students who face challenges that may prevent them from graduating from high school with dogs like me, and gives these students an opportunity to learn how to train assistance dogs.

Yukon the Facility Dog at the YMCA AcademyHere I was introduced to about 90 commands which included such things as opening doors, turning on lights, retrieving out of reach items and helping with dressing. My favorite command is “tug.” If you need a sock or a mitten taken off, I am your dog. I love to help.

I also went to elementary schools to help in a reading program called Reading Buddy, where I helped to motivate young students to read. I got to spend time listening to many great stories while getting a lot of cuddles.

I not only spent time in schools, but I also visited hospitals, senior centers, shopping centers, traveled by bus and Go train. In all these places I was learning how to behave in public spaces.Yukon the Facility Dog at the YMCA Academy

In July, I finally got to meet my person – Sue. We trained together for a couple of weeks under the all-seeing eye of COPE Service Dog trainers. It was Sue’s turn to learn how to work with me. She had to learn all of my commands, take written tests and together we passed our practical tests which officially lead to me becoming a Assistance Dog instead of a Assistance Dog-in-Training. To see us in action click here!

All of this was in preparation to become the Facility Dog at the Academy where I plan on giving unconditional love and attention to students and staff. We will be working together to figure out how best my skills and talents can benefit those at the school.

Some ideas include:

  • Classroom buddy – I will sit and cuddle you (students) while you read/study/complete your school work.
  • Conversation starter – I will work with students who need to practice their social skills. I do a lot of cool things that we can talk about and ask Sue about.
  • School avoidance or Anxiety – I can greet you at the door on the days that you need a little bit of encouragement to come to school.
  • Activity break – I also need to physically move around, so if you need an activity break from class, I will be happy to go for a walk with you in the school
  • Deep pressure – Some people like the feel of weighted blankets to calm themselves down or to help them relax. I am trained to place either my chin or my paws on your lap and apply pressure.

The best part is that I am still learning. If there is any other way you can think of that I could make your life better, talk to Sue and we will work together to try to figure it out.