Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup

The Shoreline Clean Up is an initiative that started in 2002 to help clean up garbage around Canada. The Shoreline Clean Up is now the largest and most popular environmental initiative in Canada. The students at the YMCA Academy participate in this initiative every year by cleaning up a site in downtown Toronto.

On October 6th, the students of the YMCA Academy participated in the Shoreline Clean Up at the Don River near Riverdale Park. The students left the school around 12:10pm and took the subway to Broadview station. Then we walked to the park where we ate lunch. We really liked eating lunch in the park as a school because we don’t get to do that very often. It was a really nice day and it was fun being outdoors together. After we ate lunch, we firebolted to the playground and climbed up many tall scary structures. From the top it was terrifying but lots of fun. Once we finished playing, we got into our advisory groups and listened to Rein about the rules of the clean up. He told us where we were all going because each group went to a different location along the river. Zoe loudly reminded us NOT to pick up any needles. Then we walked to our locations and got down to cleaning!

Two students from each group had to keep track of what garbage and recycling we were collecting. They had to do this because we had to send the data to the Shoreline Clean Up organization. These students were from Katie C’s Grade 11 math class. The rest of the students helped to pick up every single piece of garbage that we found. Zee and Andras were taking photos of us cleaning. Some of the weirdest garbage we found were tires, a fisherman’s jacket, a dead salmon, a broken umbrella handle and a pair of rollerblades. In the end, we had a fair amount of garbage and recycling. The garbage bags kept ripping so for next year, we should double bag the garbage or get much stronger bags.

Overall, the day was a success! It was really great to come together as a school and play a part in cleaning up our city.

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

Written by: YMCA Academy Students

Introducing: Meatless Mondays!

YMCA Academy students participate in the "Meatless Mondays' program
On Monday, March 24th, Lunch Duty Supervisors, Katie and Rein, along with help from Rein’s Food and Nutrition Class kicked off our weekly participation in Meatless Mondays.

The idea of Meatless Mondays is to commit to eating meat free, one day a week, in order to improve our health, the environment and consider animal welfare. The Food and Nutrition class visited all Period 3 classes, presented the concept, and encouraged their participation at the school by bringing in, or buying, a meat-free lunch every Monday.

With roughly half the school population participating, we expect that this movement can be sustained long term, with the hopes of eventually having the whole student body participate. Every Monday, I find myself greeted by excited students, eager to show off their meatless meals.

Katie and I will be tracking participation, and collecting recipes from students to share with everyone interested in joining the movement.

Annual Earth Day Cleanup

On Monday, April 24, as part of the Academy’s ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship, the Geography and Leadership classes participated in our annual Earth Day cleanup. Students and staff cleaned the area around our building and our neighbouring park. This year’s focus was plastic pollution. Students learned about the issues that are created when plastic ends up in our waterways and oceans. Many students were surprised by the number of small plastic pieces that were found on the ground. These pieces of garbage would otherwise not be picked up, but would remain in the environment for a very long time. Students had the opportunity to see, first hand, how every action affects our local ecosystem. This cleanup was done in conjunction with the City of Toronto’s “Clean Toronto Together – Spring Cleanup”.

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

Colombia: Learning about Medellin

I am slowly learning about Medellin. There is much to know as it has a long history. Today I learned firsthand about the strata system. Medellin is divided into six strata: 1 and 2 are lower income, 3 and 4 are middle income, and 5 and 6 are upper income. Today I was taken to a community which is considered strata 1. To get there I had to climb what felt like a mountain of stairs.  By the time I got to the top, my legs were shaking and I was quite tired.  The community has electricity, but no running water. The people we met along the way welcomed the YMCA staff with open arms.  It was obvious to me that there was a relationship that ran far and deep. Once at the top, we talked with the nuns who lived there and ran a kitchen.  They feed the children and the elderly every day.

Street Art in Medellin
Street Art in Medellin

I spent the afternoon talking with a social worker named Julian (who works for the Y) about the education system.  This is what I learned:

Although it is considered a right for all to receive education, the poorer communities face many issues: Teachers who agree to come to these communities receive less pay, often travel for 3 hours (1 ½ hours each way) and have larger class sizes.  It is not uncommon for 60 students to be in one class. It is likely that a teacher will find him/herself caught between fighting gangs, drug issues and bullying.  All of this adds up to an inferior education.

Once a student completes high school, the poor primarily have 3 viable options:

  1. Join the army
  2. Become a parent
  3. Work – usually physical labor

A fourth option is university, but this is difficult as they have likely received an education that is inferior to those against whom they will be competing for the highly sought-after public Universities.    Each year, 80,000 applications are received for 10,000 spots.  In order to be considered, you have to sit an exam.  If you are not accepted at a public University, a person can apply to the private universities, but this usually comes with a hefty price tag.  Recently another option is opening up to the community.  Public Works is now beginning to offer scholarships, but you have to agree to stay and work in the community.

In order to improve this situation, the YMCA has begun to offer university preparation courses.  This not only gives the poorest of the community a better chance, but as youth are accepted, they inspire others to dream.

So, what does Julian believe needs to be done?  The public education system needs to be shaken up:

  • The student/teacher ratio needs to be addressed
  • The content of the classes needs to become relevant to life
  • Add labs to the schools (students need not only to rely on books for their education, they also need to experiment and see what they are learning)
  • Teachers need to teach differently to different students
  • Verbal and physical discrimination must stop in the schools (teachers need to take a more active role in ensuring the safety of the students)

Julian had heard that I enjoy art, so, later, he took me on tour of downtown.  The tour focused on graffiti and bronze statues at Botero Square Sculpture park.

Greetings from Colombia!

In support of the growing relationship between Toronto’s YMCA Academy and the YMCA of Medellin in Colombia, Teacher and Special Education Supervisor, Susan Couprie has been accepted for the Henry Labatte Scholarship Exchange Program. Her three week excursion to the Capital of Colombia’s Antioquia Province will lay the groundwork for an ongoing annual youth exchange between YMCA Academy Students and the Youth of Medellin beginning next school year.

It has been a very busy couple of days for me. I have been staying at “The Farm” which is located in La Selva which I have been told translates into “the Jungle”. So welcome to “The Jungle” through my eyes.

We have been learning a lot about what the YMCA does throughout Colombia but specifically about the farm run by the YMCA and how the farm shares the vision of the Strategic Plan of the Medellin YMCA which includes: food security, sharing experiences and respecting mother earth.

Two friendly goats greet us each morning.

The YMCA goes weekly to schools to visit with students to work together on agricultural initiatives. They learn how to take care of the environment and how to feed themselves. This not only benefits the environment but also allows the children to learn about healthy eating and a balanced diet. This area was chosen for several reasons, including that the farmers in this area have a history of using chemicals on their crops. The hope is that by teaching the children about more environmental options, they will be shared with the adults as it is difficult to convince a farmer to change their ways as they have been successful in using their ways for many years. In this way they use the passion that the youth have for the environment to create change in thinking about the earth.

Adults, youth, children and teachers are all welcome on the farm to learn about the environment and how we can contribute to a better environment for all. This is usually on a request basis and the YMCA creates programs especially designed for the needs of the community. An example of this is adults and youth learning how to compost and use organic fertilizers.

The farm itself is not only a teaching center, but it produces 25 types of fruits and vegetables, has rabbits, goats, chickens, worms in their vermi-compost and some unexpected characters like a parrot that enthusiastically yells for “bananas!” There is also a rabbit that will have a litter any moment now.

A parrot
A parrot named ‘Bananas’ watches the farm.

Yesterday and today, myself and Mel (from Cedar Glen) along with the amazing guidance, encouragement and enthusiasm of the much necessary and beloved volunteers and staff are busy working out an agenda for a 2 day English/Environmental camp for 15-20 youths. We will be combining some of the tried and tested programming done locally at the farm with Cedar Glen programming while helping to develop the volunteers who will run this camp in the future with the focus on developing everyone’s English and leadership skills.

We are both having a great time, but we sadly parted ways a few hours ago as I traveled to Medellin and Mel continues on the farm. Mel will not only be working on the farm and sharing techniques and knowledge with its farmer, but will be joining a few local schools who participate in environmental programs with the YMCA. I will be working towards developing an international exchange program! – to be continued…