Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

Dogs with superpowers, a ketchup race, amazing animals, delicious food, and a whole lot of fun: Academy students from four very different classes came together to experience all this, and much more, earlier this month at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

The Royal is a longstanding Toronto tradition, and a fantastic place to extend learning through experiential opportunities that activate (literally) all the senses. This also means that it’s perfect for cross-curricular learning; at a seminar hosted by faculty and students from the Centre for Food at Durham College, we learned about how ketchup is made — including investigations of chemical processes, food science and safety standards, career connections, and sensory feedback. It was a supercharged lesson for our students from the Food and Nutrition, Grade 10 Science, Career Studies, and Grade 11 English classes.

At the Academy, we’re constantly working to find ways large and small to break down the walls of the classroom and provide authentic learning experiences. And when we can combine that with free cheese samples and a pack of adorable Superdogs? Well, that’s absolute perfection.

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

Feast of Thanks Celebration

On Tuesday, October 15th, our whole school attended the YMCA Academy’s annual Feast of Thanks in the school cafeteria. The feast was an opportunity to hear presentations from students and guests as well as to eat a lot of delicious food, generously donated by students and families!

Our class, a Grade 11 English class focused on Indigenous voices, led the organization and created posters, artwork, and presentations, while Brandon’s drama class set up the space, and Rein’s food and nutrition class took charge of heating up and setting out the food. In our presentations, people learned about some of the background to Thanksgiving and about Indigenous traditions related to gratitude and the harvest. Students and staff also heard about Indigenous storytelling, and listened to a story that a student had written about being thankful.

We were also joined by two staff from the Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto, who talked a bit about what the centre does, and then opened the feast with a smudge and a prayer of thanks. While the smudging shell, filled with fragrant, smoking sage, made its way up and down the long tables of students, a few volunteers, led by our guests, put together a “spirit plate” with food and an offering of tobacco for the ancestors. Eventually, the hungry students were also able to fill their plates with savoury food, which was soon followed by dessert.

Students said that they really enjoyed the food, especially all the pie! Of course, there was plenty of cleaning up to do afterwards, and we are thankful for Todd’s civics class taking on most of the clean up duties. In the end, we hope that everyone who attended the Feast of Thanks has a better understanding of the historical aspects of Thanksgiving, Indigenous perspectives on Thanksgiving, and how we can show our gratitude every day.

– From Katie Freeland’s Grade 11 English class

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Global Climate Strike

Last Friday, the school went to the climate march. The march began at 12pm at Queen’s Park and went along Wellesley Street, down Bay Street, along Queen Street past City Hall, and then back up University Avenue to Queen’s Park.

All the attendees were either students or adults that are concerned about the state of our planet/future. We were at the protest to tell our government that we are disappointed that they are not doing something to save our planet. We were there to also tell them that if they don’t do something now we will not have a future.

The event had a big impact. “It’s thousands of people marching down the street,” says Quinn. “I hope the government will listen because if they don’t, the human race will become extinct because of the amount of carbon in the air.”

For some students, the event was challenging. “I thought that it was very crowded,” says Claire. “There was so much cheering going on.”

But regardless, Friday’s Climate Strike made some clear connections to what our students are learning. “It demonstrated how people want to change the government,” explains Logan. “In Civics class, we talked about how important climate change is in relation to how it impacts people and society.”

By the Grade 10 Civics class

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Youth Exchange Canada: Tobique First Nation

From May 18th to 24th, students and staff from the YMCA Academy shared in an amazing experience visiting Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick as part of the YMCA Youth Exchange Canada program. Many students felt that this trip was a highlight of their high school career and will always remember the fun and interesting activities they did and the wonderful people they met.

Our group met at the airport early Saturday morning, tired but excited for the adventure. After a short flight we arrived at the Fredericton airport and took a bus to Camp Wolostoq. We got a little lost on the way as Rein tried to direct the airport bus down an ATV trail, but we eventually made it, mostly in one piece! The camp was great, there was lots of open space and forested area. All of the cabins had been recently painted with artwork displaying animals that have a cultural significance. We were able to meet the artist who painted the cabins and she told us about why they are important to their culture.

The first night we had a chance to catch up with everyone who had visited us a month earlier in Toronto and also meet some of their friends and family. We settled into our cabins and had a campfire complete with hotdogs and s’mores.

The next day we visited Fredericton and went to the University of New Brunswick to learn about the history of Indigenous peoples through a pop up museum and also got to visit the Beaverton Art Gallery. We explored downtown Fredericton and then headed to Kingswood Entertainment Centre where we got to go bowling and play laser tag and arcade games.

The following day we hung out at the Wolostoq Education Initiative/Tobique Youth Centre and found out about the facilities available and activities they run. We had the option of going fiddlehead picking and were able to forage buckets full of the beloved young fern/vegetable, which we enjoyed for dinner a couple of days later. We also visited Hartland to walk across the longest covered bridge in the world!

The next day we toured the reserve and the local elementary school and helped out in a nearby community garden planting herbs and vegetables. Then many of us participated in a sweat lodge ceremony, which for some was a highlight of the week. The experience was 3 hours long, comprised of 5 themed sessions that allowed participants to share their thoughts and feelings, while in a hot, dark space in very close proximity to each other. It was a very special experience that we will treasure. After this it was a quick transition to Grand Falls for a chilly zip line across some spectacular waterfalls.

The next day we did many activities that taught us about the history and culture of Indigenous peoples. We chose from a variety of crafts, including basket-weaving, wood burning, rock painting, rattle making, and medicine bag making, and also had a chance to learn about the use of plants as medicine and go on a plant scavenger hunt. That evening there was a community potluck and drum and dance circle, which was a lot of fun.

Our last full day was spent at Camp Shiktehawk and we had perfect weather for all of the fun activities, including archery, human bowling, ropes courses and rock climbing. That night we had a friendly game of kickball, Toronto vs. Tobique, and then had many of Tobique youth come back to camp with us for the last night. In the morning we were certainly sad to see the week come to an end and to have to say good-bye to our friends, but we had such a great time and know that we will stay in touch and hopefully see them again soon.

Some words from our students:

“This exchange was one of the highlights of my high school experience and I would very much recommend it to other students.” -Seth

“It was a great trip, I wish it was longer!” -Peter

“I had the time of my life!” -Javier

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Mental Health Literacy Day

Singing in unison. Planting seeds and digging in the dirt. Reading graphic novels. Eating a delicious meal. Journaling. Making art. Exercising. These are more than just fun activities: they are all powerful tools to reflect on and make changes in your mental health and well-being. And on Friday, May 10, YMCA Academy students did all of these things, and much more, at the school’s second annual Mental Health Literacy Day.

This event is the latest in a long line of Academy initiatives built to help young people understand and manage their mental health. As a school, we’ve long taken a holistic approach to student support, and we were an early adopter of making mindfulness exercises a daily part of school life. Earlier this year, we launched a unique interdisciplinary course in mental health advocacy and awareness. “We are really looking to empower students so that they are building up their skill sets while they’re here,” says Kaili Glennon, the Academy’s Assistant Head of School and Guidance Supervisor. “That way, when they leave, they have the capacity to be healthy and happy on their own.”

With that in mind, Mental Health Literacy Day was designed with a hands-on, practical approach. The workshops and guest speakers each provided students with resources and knowledge they can use right away to improve their mental health, and become more literate in mental health issues. “This event is about starting a conversation about mental health, and making it a regular part of our speech,” says Dayna Dann, Academy teacher and creator of the new mental health course. “We want to give students the language to communicate their feelings in a positive way.”

For Bailey, a YMCA Academy student, the impact was immediate. “On Mental Health Literacy Day, I learned lots of things,” he says. “I learned that walking can help with your mental health, which I had no idea would help. I also learned lots about how to sleep better and how to manage my sleep.”

Bailey sees a range of benefits to events like these. “First of all, it informs everyone about mental health and some people forget about it,” he says. “As well, it can give the students a break and relieve the stress and anxiety of school.”

Duncan, another Academy student who is also enrolled in the school’s new mental health course, agrees. “I think it’s very important to discuss and do events surrounding mental health,” he says. “There is a lot of stigma and negativity surrounding mental health. So it’s very important to learn about things like that.”

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