Good to Know

Customizable Secondary School Education!

Written by Patti Foley

What would you say to the idea of grade 11 and 12 students being able to customize their secondary school education to match their individual interests and skills? Pretty exciting?

Then how about a program that helps them develop sector-specific work habits and skills to give them an advantage in transitioning to post-secondary education or employment? Even more exciting?

Well, that’s exactly what Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) programs are all about. And, right here in Caledon, we have a secondary school that offers not just one, but three!

Teacher Andrew Cresswell of Humberview Secondary School, the first school in Peel to offer 3 SHSM programs, and grade 12 student Jordan Winstone, sat with me recently to talk about their newest SHSM program: SHSM Environment.

Students on site

“I feel that that environmental sustainability is one of the defining natures of Caledon” says Winstone, who is engaged in the program and has set Political Science in his sights.

“SHSM Environment focuses on conservation and environmental sustainability. Humberview is a neighbour to acres of conservation lands including the newly reinvigorated 94-acre Bolton Camp. That proximity is without a doubt beneficial to this program.”

The scope of “conservation” has widened to include sustainable planning, environmental education, impact assessment, research and product development as well as site and resource management.

Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) is one of the lead partners and provides “gifts-in-kind” such as location access, training courses, and access to their staff to assist with projects. Recently the 30+ students enrolled in the program travelled to the Authority’s Lake St George location to obtain their 3 prerequisites: GPS, Map & Compass, and Tree Identification.

“The program is very diverse” explains Winstone. “Beyond the prerequisites the student will enrol in courses suited to their career-path. For example, you may have a social scientist like me, or you may have someone who is interested in Biology. They will take programs to do with the biological nature of trees for instance. Natural Resource Manager would be one.”

“This is a great example of partnership” offers Cresswell. “We have educational partners, community partners and bridging partners. Bridging partners are former Humberview students who have gone off and are either in post-secondary institutions studying the “green” field or are actually in the workplace now, and they provide mentoring on the transition between high school and that next part of their life, from their lived experiences. In terms of partnerships we have broad representation from Caledon organizations.”

Asked about what it took to get a third SHSM program at Humberview the teacher talks about “a process of 1-1/2 to 2 years before we even start. That includes the application process, surveys with students, going to parent council, and developing all the partnerships. The application that goes in is not theoretical, it has to explain how we would be able to manage the program. Then it is reviewed by the School Board to make sure it is consistent with their vision on the management. Then to the Ministry for approval.”

“Because of the labour situation last spring the Ministry didn’t make the announcement until September. So I use the analogy of “we’re playing and building the violin at the same time”. We were registering students and building the program simultaneously which, it turns out, is actually good because it has given a lot of ownership and responsibility to the students earlier than planned. And it is a 2-year program so right now we are running both years at the same time; we have about a dozen students that are getting a 2-year program in one year.”

While Cresswell is the lead teacher there is also a school committee of staff members who have different responsibilities in the program. And the students are thoroughly engaged.

“Our Guidance Counsellor Shannon McCauley handles most of the administrative side of the program; paperwork, registrations, documentation and tracking. She and I had the goal of not just to educate and inform but also to empower the students right off the bat. So we started an outreach program called Green Squad, students training other students in the certifications and experiences the SHSM students are having. We have a student, Matthew, who lead a tour of Bolton Camp. We have a class that wants to do GPS. Jordan is handling media relations. Another student wants to make a documentary film about the program.”

“We want to give them a background in environmental perspective but then have them go back to what else really interests them” he explained. “So we are truly building customized programs for almost every single student.”

Cresswell adds that the students in the program are getting noticed. “We see students showing improvements in the classroom, students stepping up into leadership roles, students going beyond the normal realm of activity in the school.”

While I was there a trip to the Kortright Centre for Conservation was being planned so the students can see the 2 sustainable homes and learn more about green building technology. In the afternoon Universities and Colleges would be attending to suggest where to go for post secondary education if they are interested in specific fields.

“We want students to understand technology, not just its uses and abuses, but also its power. Look at green technology. The environmental sector is the fastest growing sector of the Canadian economy and the role of technology is so integral to it. I was talking with an 80-year old farmer and his tractor is controlled by GPS. We see it on construction sites. We see it in tracking migratory birds. We see a whole variety of applications for technology.”

“The other aspect of course is conservation and we are living our beliefs” he smiles broadly while passing me a media kit on a USB key rather than paper.

As part of the application process Cresswell had to do a labour market rational and one observation was that the northwestern GTA is the centre of green innovation in Ontario. “So there is huge potential for Caledon to be involved in that. Another observation was that over half of the people involved in the green industry sector is age 45 or older. So there is a critical need to start succession planning.”

In conclusion Cresswell says “This is about students who live in this community, wanting to learn in this community and hopefully some of them coming back to this community. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Caledon became the green technology hub!”
Want to learn more about Humberview’s SHSM Environment program? 

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About the author

Patti Foley

Having spent 25 years in Bolton, Patti remains an advocate for Caledon. As a former Regional Councillor and a long-time community volunteer she is passionate about communicating information about its issues, news, events, people, non-profits and businesses.

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