Here you will find writings that give some insight into Trinity’s programs.

Volunteering for the EAST Alternative Open House play…15 years+ later

Posted on Dec 11, 2015 in

Back in the 1990’s, my sons, twins, Alexander and Matthew went to Gledhill Junior Elementary School in the French Immersion program. This meant they were going to move on to a middle school before entering high school. Because we live in this great city of opportunity, I suggested we look around at options for their grade 7/8 years. That’s how Alex ended up at EAST Alternative School (and Matthew at Canada’s National Ballet School – but that’s a story for another day).

EAST Alternative was only in its second year of existence when Alex started there, but even then, in its infancy, it had a very strong arts-based enriched curriculum and its renowned equity and social justice ethic. Over the years the school has continued to grow and mature into one of the most evolved, caring and safe learning environments I have encountered. At this school you will encounter confident, articulate, respectful, engaged students, nurtured by caring, courteous, yet demanding teachers. And you will encounter parent volunteers.

Parents are expected to volunteer 15 hours a year at EAST. (I think that they even have to sign a contract now). This is how the school manages to pull off all the incredibly ambitious enriched curriculum programs, projects, field trips, etc. I was, and still am, one of those parent volunteers. Years ago, when Alex was at the school, I dragooned Alan into helping me create a play for the EAST Open House. I have continued to direct this Open House play for over 15 years now – which would put me in the running as the longest serving parent volunteer!

So I’ve just spent two days this week at EAST, directing this year’s play. The play is made up of the voices of EAST students draped on a framework of mission statement, philosophy and teacher speeches. The students write colourful descriptions of the life at an equity and social justice-based alternative school that get turned into script which helps to enliven the ‘pitch’ to parents and students interested in coming to the school. The students have their lines now that they will memorize over the holidays then in January we will block the play.

It is always fascinating to hear the voices of these 12-13 year old students as they enthuse about EAST. And it is always fascinating to work with the ten precocious ones who are the actors in the play. Far and away though, it is always fascinating to spend time in this school, soaking in the energy that envelops all who enter its midst. The walls are covered with brightly painted masks revealing ‘inner selves’, posters describing stem cell research and alternative energy; there are fish tanks containing ecosystems; there is always a buzz of excitement among the students and teachers alike. Yesterday, as I was gathering up the actors for our rehearsal, I came upon the grade 8 English class delivering ‘rants’ on social justice issues – the two I witnessed were about assisted suicide, and homelessness. As the actors gathered I overheard one supporting the other “You’re just too invested in the relationship… but that’s point of relationships, isn’t it?”

EAST has an ambitious mission statement. “EAST fosters personal responsibility, self-discipline, independence, critical thinking, community spirit, and an appreciation of diversity.” These students leave this school well prepared for their transition to high school, and even better than that – they leave as aware, awake, responsible citizens. Don’t let their age fool you, these young people have been challenged to take a look at themselves and at the world around them, and really do have something to contribute. I hope they get to do so.

 

 

Holiday Reflections

Posted on Dec 8, 2015 in

How to celebrate a non-religious Christmas on the road to “finding yourself”?

The miraculous birth in humble surroundings for instance and a flight into Egypt…

When we become aware of the incredible complexity involved in the growth of a fetus – from the union of a single cell, an ovum, with a sperm cell literally trillions of special function cells develop to form tissues, in turn to form organs and systems of integrated activity-

It is apparent every birth is a miracle

And given the frailty of our human condition

Every birth occurs in humble surroundings

Because when our species evolved larger and more complex brains

The period of post-birth dependency of offspring lengthened

Till it means today it takes longer for a newborn’s thinking patterns to mature and for enough learning to occur that they might join the social systems we as primates are always building

Humble and perilous beginnings

And none more so than sifting through

The inherited mindsets and practices

Of your communities and culture

Of coming to know all you couldn’t know

But could only absorb as you were growing

Images of miraculous intentionality

And dangerous intimate struggles

Not particular to our Christmas alone

But of the growth of consciousness

And compassion in everyone everywhere

Closing a Chapter

Posted on Dec 4, 2015 in

The end of my residency at Trinity is upon us and there is only a week left in my term here. The last seven months have flown and were full of learning, new relationships, and self exploration. These seem to be the purpose and calling of Trinity- to challenge people and push them toward growth through learning, relationships and self-reflection. I can certainly attest to this.

Speaking to the first element of my journey with Trinity- new learning- I can say without question that I have learned an immense amount from my time here. Whether that’s the technical skills of programs like Adobe Illustrator or the ins and outs of the education system and most importantly, what students now are experiencing, worried about, and facing on a daily basis. From my time in the classrooms I’ve learned more about how I engage people (youth specifically), where my strengths and weaknesses lie, and who I want to be in that fight for stronger public education that develops the whole person.

Over the course of the seven months I’ve met so many incredible people from students to teachers to impassioned community members and beyond. I think I have been most blown away by the passion of individuals and the genuine curiosity that people have for the life experience of others. So often, young people are not given credit for their intuitive knowledge. Let me tell you, after 7 months working with this group of youth, they know a whole lot more then society gives them credit for and a conversation with a young person is a reciprocal learning relationship not to be ignored.

Since May, I’ve questioned what I believe about life, society, and myself on many occasions as a result of working with Trinity. As with any deep questioning this was both a positive and negative experience that was by no means a simple process. It is inherent in the questioning process that one’s reality be shaken and thus discomfort occurs, but what emerges at the end is a more empowered, honest, and clearer sense of self. This is a powerful process that any participant in a Trinity program must be prepared for.

Don’t let that scare you! Like any worthwhile program or process, there is work involved in a Trinity program. The difference with this work is that it is in the interest of improving the participant’s life in the long and short-term. By exploring your self in the context of new learnings and surrounded by supportive relationships, you just cannot lose.

So a cheers to Trinity and the growth I’ve experienced in this short period as a result of the association!

-Meredith

Becoming You

Posted on Nov 30, 2015 in

 

FINDING YOURSELF PART SIX

Playing Kitten

…expect that there may be several ‘versions’ of you in your lifetime

or another way of saying this?

what is essential in you may find ‘application’ in different professions or work pursuits in life

you will not find the truth of this idea in conventional thought

in conventional thought the dedicated practice of a talent is considered success

implying that the person displaying the talent really knows their self

while it could just as easily be understood as a person captive to that talent to feel fulfilled

finding yourself rests in finding what is essential in your nature

what desire or what passion is asserting itself within you

paradoxically you can find what’s essential in you not by looking deep inside yourself or by looking at your skills or talents

but by considering what you like doing

those activities that when you do them make you feel good inside

or feel like you’re more you when you do them

even if they involve certain challenges and difficulties

because we are ‘wired’ to love, to learn, to forgive, and to grow

and the deeper paradox here is that while we are essentially unique, we are also sharing a common store of essential human capabilities

like the ability to create thoughts, express ourselves in words and other media, be in relationships, extend ourselves in imaginative empathy, create beauty

right now the limited popular thought is that the personally unique and widely appealing expression of these essential capabilities are acts of genius by individuals

when we grow in discernment we realize that genius actually lies within each one of us in the act of being able to clear away the debris of daily living- its failures and successes, our attachment to ego, fear and the various other awkwardnesses that can drive our lives-

and doing one thing, one thing we care about, doing it as well as we possibly can

like raising and educating our children, writing symphonies, or managing an organization

strive to be the best you

you can possibly be

doing what you like

and finding yourself

will follow

Building Relationships Across Age, Distance, and Field

Posted on Nov 27, 2015 in

Since my last blog I have been to Montreal to present at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse Issues of Substance conference, helped prepare packages for distribution to TDSB schools, travelled to London, ON to attend the first Middlesex London Health Unit hosted Community Drug Strategy meeting, connected with Peer Leader alumnae, engaged in an evaluation model planning meeting with YouthREX, and met with our Toronto Retired Educators Circle (TREC) to gather advice on the development of our intergenerational mentoring program.  Meanwhile our Peer Leaders at Central Technical School and Central Algoma Secondary School delivered their second workshop, gathering knowledge about the issues and concerns in their school community.

RE:  Issues of Substance… Our wonderful peer leader Abigail Laulman accompanied us in making our presentation with Health Canada on “The Importance of Engagement in Community-Based Prevention Projects”.  Having been put on the spot to have the last word (seeing how the focus of the session was on youth engagement), Abigail rose to the occasion to make an appeal to the audience to be patient with youth, that investing in youth may not reap immediate rewards, but to trust that caring adults make a difference.  I’m so grateful for Abigail to have reminded the audience that it is crucial to include the youth perspective.  Tears well up in my eyes just remembering her contribution.

At that session, we were approached by Khalidah Bello of Middlesex London Health Unit and asked to attend London’s first Community Drug Strategy meeting.  Both the impressive turnout – easily 100+ stakeholders in attendance – and their commitment to the Four Pillars Approach (Prevention, Treatment, Enforcement and Harm Reduction) bodes well for the future of this initiative.

While I was grateful that Trinity was included at this meeting, getting the chance to have lunch with our Peer Leader alumnae Jasmine Channana and Jai Fadia, who are attending UWO, really helped make the trip worthwhile.  Talking about the value of peer leadership development and youth engagement as an effective prevention measure at a meeting, then an hour later meeting the ‘real deal’ was so rewarding.  Such accomplished, assured, compassionate, involved young people… Yet again, the tears well up…

Then today – we had the very good fortune to have two university students / Peer Leader alumnae – Khadija Waseem currently at UofT and Aman Patel at Ryerson U – and a retired educator, John Maitland, join our brainstorming session with YouthREX to develop a logic model for Trinity.   We learned a wonderful new term that Khadija uses to describe what Trinity endeavours to do: she calls our work ‘social counselling’.  Eloquent, articulate, empowered young people…  Geez – those tears are cropping up again…

Later in this same day, our gathering of retired educators engaged in a lively discussion about how to support young people as they navigate the education system.  Likeminded, caring older adults figuring out how to continue their connection with youth…  If my experience proves anything, Abigail, Jasmine, Jai, Khadija and Aman are the living, breathing, walking, talking, “qualitative and quantitative” outcomes of Trinity’s intergenerational relationships.

Compassion- Speaking it and Practising it

Posted on Nov 20, 2015 in

Compassion. These last two weeks have been so heavily focused on the concept and practice of compassion. With a conference this week dedicated to addiction and substance use and abuse, I couldn’t help but confront my own biases about people who struggle with addiction in their lives. There has been so much energy, time, money, and politicizing put into demonizing people with addiction issues that so often the general public forgets that there are people under the addictions and they are all around us, in fact they are most of us. In one way or another, we are all reliant on substances- whether it’s caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, or something else- yet we so often stand and point fingers at “those” people who are “addicts” and fit our socially acceptable image of the “addict”.

What research has discovered however, is that addiction is a mental health issue. It is not that these people choose not to control themselves with certain substances. We must make a concerted effort to practice the compassion that we preach to our youth and change this stigma, standing up and acknowledging the prevalence of substance use, reliance, and addiction. It is not shameful to be an addict, it is a cry for connection, for compassion and I hope that in the near future we can all step up to support our fellow citizens in a less judgemental manner.