Youth Exchange Silent Auction

Items on Sale during Silent Auction for the Youth Exchange Canada

Last week, with the help of parents, YMCA Health and Fitness staff, and student volunteers, the YMCA Academy held a silent auction to fundraise for the Canada Youth Exchange program. This year the tables were overflowing with generously donated items from family, friends and local businesses. From handmade scarves, pottery and artwork to concert and theatre tickets to a signed Raptors jersey and Toronto Maple Leafs tickets, there was something for everyone! With this one day auction we exceeded our fundraising goal and brought in over $2300 for this year’s exchange!

The Canada Youth Exchange program is a Government of Canada initiative that helps Canadian youth connect with one another, experience the diversity of Canada’s communities, languages and cultures, and get involved in the future of the country. We are fortunate to have been twinned with a group from Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, who we will be hosting at the end of April. Thanks to all of our fundraising efforts and support from the community we are now able to go ahead with our wish list of activities and ensure that our guests have a truly amazing Toronto experience!

Thanks again to all those involved in the silent auction and stay tuned to find out exactly how the money is spent when we recap the exchange experience.

Special Ballet Creole performance at the YMCA Academy!

The Toronto  based dance company Ballet Creole brought their performance of Saraka to the YMCA Academy. The performance of drum and dance was a celebration of African and Carribean music, song, and dance in a colourful and vivid show that we will not soon forget.  Some students even got in on the act and took their hand at drumming.  The show was brought to us through a generous donation from an Academy family. Thank you to Ballet Creole for this incredible performance and for sharing your artistry with us.

Dungeons and Dragons Club

Video games may have become the norm for most high school students looking for the thrill of solving puzzles, navigating political intrigue, and combating evil monsters. At my school, however, we sit around a table with pencils, paper and dice. The classic fantasy strategy game, Dungeons and Dragons, has made a major come back at the YMCA Academy. Instead of being powered by a computer or gaming console, Dungeons and Dragons games unfold in the minds of a group of people through shared story telling. Rather than quietly staring a screen and clicking buttons on a controller, the YMCA Academy Dungeons and Dragons Club members cooperatively scour maps, lay out plans, brainstorm solutions, and tackle enemies all through the power of imagination.

This week the companions trekked across dangerous, forested wilderness on their way to gather some key information at an abandoned town a few days’ march to the north. The party is tracking their missing Dwarven employer who was captured by a band of goblins. Their investigation has taken them from a sleepy mining town, through damp caverns, through wild forests and to an abandoned ruin of a village where a dragon has made his lair.

The world of Dungeons and Dragons is only possible through the power of shared story telling. As the Dungeon Master, I set the scene by narrating the opening sequence of a story: I describe the scenery, the time of day, what local people or creatures are nearby, and I explain any activity that is taking place. Players then make decisions based on their character and what is taking place. The outcomes of those decisions are determined by the roll of dice. Then I describe the outcome based on the dice roll, and the cycle starts over again.

I can’t express enough the value of this game. Besides the literacy, numeracy, problem solving, divergent thinking, communication, conflict resolution, and geography skills that are practiced, the social benefits of the game cannot be ignored. Every Monday, a group of students, who range from boisterous to downright shy, join together as a close-knit team to overcome a series of new challenges. Players come out of their shells and take on newfound confidence in leadership roles, they learn to encourage and uplift one another, they learn to listen to one another, they learn to recognize the power of choice, they learn to laugh at mistakes (and bad dice rolls), and they learn celebrate one another’s victories.

Hot Docs Documentary: Chasing Asylum

YMCA Academy students attend Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema to watch Australian documentary Chasing Asylum

As teachers, many of us believe that documentary films are often excellent resources for exploring, and exposing, the realities of our world, as well as for looking at the different ways this reality can be shaped. And so, more than 30 Academy students headed out on a chilly morning this past Thursday to attend a special screening at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema of the Australian documentary Chasing Asylum, which exposes Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, including their indefinite detention in bleak offshore camps.

The film, from Eva Orner, had just won Best Feature Length Documentary at the AACTA Awards (a.k.a. “the Australian Oscars”) only a few hours earlier, and is notable for combining secretly filmed footage from inside the detention centres with more traditional interviews and clips. Viewing it wasn’t exactly an easy or pleasant experience, but was a powerful and revealing one. I believe that many of us left the cinema with great appreciation for the efforts of all those involved in the documentary, some of whom could, under current Australian law, face up to two years in prison for exposing injustice and abuse from a government that claims to respect the rule of law, freedom of speech, and international human rights agreements including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1951 Refugee Convention, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Around the world, December 10 marks Human Rights Day, and every year around this date, the Docs for Schools program features a rights-themed film that includes a speaker from a collaborating organization as well as a Q & A with the filmmaker. This year, the discussion had to be held via Skype, but Ms. Orner had risen at 3am (in Australia) in order to answer the thoughtful and perceptive questions posed by some of the few hundred youth in attendance, including from a keen young Academy attendee.

This is the second year in a row that a group of Academy students has attended the December event, and students have enjoyed a number of other Docs for School screenings. Coming back from this particular film, students here were full of probing questions, deep concerns, and impassioned pleas for action. On the other hand, most of the seats were empty when Chasing Asylum screened at the Australian Parliament, with only one MP and one senator in the small crowd that turned out despite thousands of invitations being sent out. Most other screenings of the film, including ours, have been fully booked. Hopefully, this is a sign that the next generation of decision-makers will be more willing to at least inform themselves of what is happening to some of the most desperate and vulnerable people of our world.

Visiting the Royal Winter Fair

Four of the YMCA Academy’s classes made a trip down to the annual Royal Winter Fair on November 11th, stopping along the way to observe a minute of silence in the sun.

Once there, we saw horses practicing their jumps, spent some time feeding (and of course petting) the animals in the petting zoo, saw some incredibly large vegetables grown by some incredible farmers, and watched the awesome Super Dogs show.

Students had the opportunity to meet some of the talented canines, and to work on a variety of assignments including taking photos of all the sights they were experiencing, planning what they would write, and discussing food nutrition and the positive aspects of locally grown produce.

The trip has become a much enjoyed annual tradition, and this year was another great one.