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

A re-cap of the best Christmas break of my life and back to school

22 Jan

Let me start with a Happy New Year (even though it feels like quite a while ago that we had our holiday break). I had the best Christmas ever! My son Matthew, who dances with the Stuttgart Ballet, is always performing over Christmas (like all dance companies seem to). This year, however, the company was given five days over Christmas off. This knowledge he and his twin brother Alex decided to keep a secret from their parents, and on December 23, for the first time in ten years, Matthew came home for Christmas. The guy surprises us by walking into our respective kitchens. This was, of course, captured on Alex’s cell phone camera, and posted on Christmas day. You can see it if you find me on Facebook. The video is somewhere on my home page. It was truly a dizzyingly wonderful handful of days with Matthew here. Add to that the joy that delightful grandson Wesley brings into the mix, and I will hold Christmas 2015 in my heart for the rest of my days.

Now that we are back to school, and I am once again writing blogs, I want to refer to an aspect of that extraordinary reunion – namely the cell phone on which Alex captured my reaction. Thanks to the presence of cell phones in our lives, I now have a video to look at when I’m feeling sentimental – for which I am grateful. But here’s my dilemma – what about the presence of cell phones during our training?

We are guests in schools, and as a result, not always sure what each school’s official and/or unofficial stance is regarding cell phones. I’d like to think I am easy going regarding their presence in the nooks and crannies of a training session – I mean, before we begin, during breaks, etc. – but I think that when we are involved in the actual training there should be undivided focus and attention given to the trainers and fellow peer leaders.

So what would you do when presented with a group of Grade 8 peer leaders who throughout the course of an entire day had to be constantly asked to put the cell phones away? Who put knapsacks on their laps to disguise their compulsion to continue texting? Who, in the end, were either being openly oppositional, or didn’t even hear the request to put them away because they were so caught up in whatever was on their screen?

I’d also like to think that I am always respectful of those I am training – regardless of their age. I do my utmost to treat everyone kindly, reasonably and with transparency. But to have that approach of patience and respect challenged eventually got my insides roiling. Reluctantly, I went ‘adult’ and started lecturing. But I did leave the group with this task for our next training session – “If you were me, how would you handle the cell phone issue? “ We will consider their suggestions for removing them as distraction and work with the most reasonable solution. By the way, the school has a no cell phones in class policy, so we can always fall back on that, but it would be an accomplishment if we could, as a group, arrive at a solution in which they felt they had some say.

So I ask you, what about our attachments cell phones? In the end, I am thrilled that there was a cell phone present to capture the experience for me. But, what about in school? At Trinity, we are looking for ways to integrate a role for them in our training, but I have to say that when it comes to face-to-face interaction and the very real mentoring and leadership development work involved, there is no place for split focus and the optics of disrespect that is part and parcel of looking at a smart phone screen.

Building Relationships Across Age, Distance, and Field

27 Nov

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.

A Summer in Review

17 Sep

September… The summer behind us, the school year ahead. Just like that. It feels like only yesterday we were handing out certificates and applauding our Peer Leaders’ great year of work back in May. Yet on the other hand, it feels like ages ago.

We tend to fit a lot in to our summers.

We started out at PACT studios with several days filming with our summer student hires and retired educators at the end of June. Our workshops are being transformed into on-line training programs. Everyone seemed pretty fascinated with the whole process of ‘lights, camera, action’ and meeting other peer leaders from six high schools and four universities.

Then we were right into our Summer Leadership Lab. This year, our partnership with Laureate International College enabled eight summer students to gain GPP3O and/or IDC 4U credits in blended learning courses developed and delivered with the support of our very creative teacher, Danielle Atkinson, and four university student TAs.  We, as always, somehow managed to fit a lot in to the course. In addition to the Trinity-style peer leadership training Alan and I carry out, Danielle introduced yoga, mindfulness and meditation. As well, there were self-defense lessons, university and college campus tours, and post-secondary prep workshops. Then there were the trips – Fort York, St. Lawrence Market Gallery, City Hall, Queens Park, City of Toronto Archives, CAMH, Toronto Star, Ontario Historical Society, Bridgepoint Health, Don Jail, Old City Hall Courts, AIDS Memorial, the Acropolis, AGO, Toronto Reference Library, The Scott Mission, South Asian Autism Awareness Centre, Baycrest Health Centre Creative Arts Studio, Canoeing at Harbourfront – and the interviews – with Jayne Fry of Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation, Constable Shayne Gordon Toronto of Police 23rd Division, Matthew Jennings of Raymond James Ltd., Artist Monica Gutierrez, Jackie Advichuk from Inner City Outtripping Centre, City Councillors Mike Layton and Mary-Margaret McMahon, DECA’s Alison McMurray and Gay Stephenson, CJFE’s Tom Henheffer, Nadine Guimond from Tangerine, Jacqui Strachan of People for Education, and Glenda McLachlan of Quetico Foundation. No doubt I’ve missed some place and some one, but you get the idea. A lot was fit into the month of July.

But I’m not finished yet. Thanks to our partnership with Laureate International College, we had three Japanese students join us for two weeks of the program. It was rewarding to witness the students overcome the language barrier and cultural differences and join in with everyone. Hosting the Japanese guests made our peer leaders tourists in their own city with trips to CN Tour, Harbourfront, PanAm Games, Toronto Zoo, the ROM, bowling, and of course, a trip to our part of Canada would not be complete without a trip to Niagara Falls.

And then there was Quetico in August. Trinity has partnerships with the Quetico Foundation Ridley Youth Wilderness Program (RYWP) and Toronto Police Service TROOP program which made it possible for a team of six Peer Leaders, who reflected the diversity of urban new Canadians, to go on a wilderness canoe trip into the heart of Quetico Provincial Park. The purpose of the RYWP program is to instill an appreciation of wilderness stewardship in our future leaders. The students were guided by our intrepid TDSB outdoor-ed teacher Torie Gervais, and Constable Shayne Gordon from TROOP. The group travelled by Greyhound and Caribou Coach bus to Atikokan, met the mayor and councilors, toured the town, paddled in Quetico Park for six days, did some volunteer field study work with the Park Biologist Brian Jackson, met with Park Superintendent Trevor Gibb at Dawson Lake Pavillion, visited Lac LaCroix Youth Camp at Mink Lake, celebrated the Park at an end of season BBQ, toured Souris River Canoe and XY Paddle maker facilities, visited the Atikokan High School Outers Program, saw and learned about Steep Rock abandoned open pit mine, and stopped in to see Kakabeka Falls on the way back to the airport for a Porter flight home.

I was planning on talking about everything that is coming up for us this school year, but I really think that should wait until next time. I think you get the idea – Trinity tends to fit a lot into our summers!

Vulnerability and Creating Communities

26 Jun

This week has been a whirlwind of meeting new young people, diving into deep discussions with seniors, and quickly learning new computer skills to get the online course ready to go for the students. Needless to say, it’s been busy over here and wonderful in all its busy-ness.

First, our team of Teaching Assistants, Mentors and Peer Leaders for this year’s course are simply delightful. Their positive and infectious energy reminds me how important it is to enjoy the moments when we encounter new people. They have all thrown themselves into the program and bonded through laughter, serious discussion of difficulty in each of their lives, and music. While they are all connected through their association to Trinity and the Leadership Lab course, their connection runs deeper. They are all individuals who are willing to be vulnerable with others- they value the strength of vulnerability in themselves and in turn that same strength in others. Furthermore, these young people have the emotional and social maturity to recognize how this vulnerability is essential in making real bonds with other people and creating a healthy and thriving community.

So often we allow our challenging experiences and the manic pace of life in cities like Toronto to halt our engagement with others. With Trinity, though, I am encountering people of all ages and life stages who have equal appreciation for creating community through a sharing of our authentic selves- all the good, the bad, and the ugly.

So, here I sit playing the fly on the wall as our circle of leaders and retired educators share experiences of “transitions”, opening up and trusting in the strength of one another to take on – with love and respect- their fears, challenges, and joys. What a unique and priviledged position I’m in- I get to be the audience to a community coming into being.

-Meredith

Peer to Peer as Theatre Part 3

22 Jun

The Peer to Peer program is part of a larger group of programs we call Creating Communities We Want.

The act of preparing Peer Leaders to step away from their own studies and work with the younger members of their school community in a theatre process does more than just address the vulnerability of the transition to high school.

It addresses the need of the Peer Leaders to grow socially and emotionally by participating in their school community as more than just ‘consumers’ of academics and skills.

As such it addresses the need for all of us to create the communities and world we want instead of experiencing both as something that just happens around us.

It is a shame that we unconsciously create school communities where the unspoken curriculum is that it’s ‘every man for himself ‘– that all life is about is acquiring information and skills and then going out into a world that basically is operating the same indifferent way.

In this unconscious curriculum, we prepare our young for the idea that wealth and personal comfort are all that matter and that ultimately you can only look after yourself and perhaps those closest to you.

But the fact of living – despite our curriculums- is that we are not happier the more we possess but with more contact with others, more creative activities and more meaning arising from both.

We are happier when we feel part of something bigger than us. When we see the results of our efforts in the faces of other people and not in our acquisitions.

Creating the Communities We want is an enterprise for all of us.

Peer to Peer Workshop 3

12 May

In each of the workshops, the Peer Leaders lead the younger students through exercises on various themes. The themes are determined by how effective they will be in nurturing the positive social/emotional development of the students.

In workshop three, the Peer Leaders introduce the younger students to the idea of becoming self-aware regarding how they are handling conflict and the possible sources for their behaviour. The workshop also involves the students in discussions around the present state of conflict in their school community.

Broadening their self-awareness around how they handle conflict puts them on the road to enlarging their capacity to adopt more peaceful methods of coping with conflict.

In workshop four, the students begin assertiveness training. This is an important step in their workshop training since it introduces them to the idea that they can create their own peaceful responses to provocative challenges from others. Being assertive is a life skill that also benefits a person’s learning capacity.