August 18, 2017

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With a class of generous students as our tour guides, the Free Press has travelled on an academic journey taking us from kindergarten all the way up to Grade 12 graduation with the Class of 2017.

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Reading, writing and responsibility

"They're still kids, but they're kids who care"

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/6/2012 (1903 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Tyler, 7, is the centre of attention, with sister Emily (right, in green shirt) big brother Griffin (in red) and the class of 2017.

Tyler, 7, is the centre of attention, with sister Emily (right, in green shirt) big brother Griffin (in red) and the class of 2017.

It's not all about you. Some of us never grasp that valuable life lesson, but it's one a close-knit group of Grade 7 students at Windsor School has been grappling with as their rookie season in junior high draws to an end.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Class of 2017 -- whose progress the Free Press is tracking from kindergarten all the way to Grade 12 graduation -- is developing a social conscience.

Their first year in the big leagues at the 238-student, K-8 school in St. Vital has been all about change -- no more recess, no more sitting in the same class all day, and everyone gets their very own locker.

But the biggest change has been the size of the expectations placed on their still-small shoulders. With elementary school a fading memory, it's no longer just about reading, writing and playing with your friends.

It's also about leadership, responsibility and a growing awareness there are other people in the world, people who just might need your help from time to time.

Over the past nine months, the Class of 2017 has helped to organize and execute a wide range of events to help their school, to help their community and to make life better for the poorest of the poor in the slums of East Africa.

With summer vacation knocking at the door, they're throwing themselves into a project close to home -- a drive to raise money to replace the school's decaying wooden play structure, which isn't accessible to children and parents who rely on wheelchairs.

Griffin with his little brother Tyler on Windsor School's old play structure. The Class of 2017 threw two fundraisers Friday to replace it with something newer, and more accessible.

Griffin with his little brother Tyler on Windsor School's old play structure. The Class of 2017 threw two fundraisers Friday to replace it with something newer, and more accessible.

On June 1, the Class of 2017 shepherded the elementary students at Windsor School in a walkathon and a cleanathon to raise money for a new, accessible play structure.

Armed with garbage bags and gloves, the students fanned out in the community to clean up designated areas, then kept a wary eye on the smaller kids as they navigated a circuit around the nearby Canoe Club.

"It's an event that will be good for the community, good for the environment and good for the students because they'll be outside exercising together, cleaning and walking together and helping others," Windsor principal Ann Walker explained in an earlier interview.

"It's not just the school that uses the play structure; it's the whole community because there's not a lot of play structures in the area. We have people in our community who can't use our old play structure, so this is about helping others."

No one needs to tell 12-year-old Griffin how important this latest campaign is -- his younger brother, Tyler, a Grade 1 student, has cerebral palsy.

"My brother uses a wheelchair, and he can't use the play structure because it's surrounded by pea gravel and there's no ramps and it's all stairs and stuff," Griffin quietly tells a visitor. "It feels like he's left out."

Then, looking into the distance, this boy who dreams of playing in the NHL talks proudly of how Tyler's young school buddies show solidarity for their physically challenged friend.

"At recess, kids don't go on the structure," Griffin declares. "They walk around with him. They care!"

He ain't heavy; he's my brother: in 2012, Griffin, 12, carries Tyler, 7, to the play structure at Windsor School.</p>Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press</p>

He ain't heavy; he's my brother: in 2012, Griffin, 12, carries Tyler, 7, to the play structure at Windsor School.

Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press

Sitting nearby, listening attentively, Aby, 12, eagerly chimes in: "It means a lot to everyone. We all want to help raise money to help Tyler be a part of normal class life. We just want him to feel like he's a normal kid."

For Aby, helping runs in the family. Aided by her brother, Micah, now a Grade 9 student, she created Water From Windsor, an initiative that raises cash to buy water filters to ensure families in a slum area of Nairobi have access to clean water.

In February 2011, spurning a visit to Disneyland, the siblings chose to visit the slums with their family.

"Africa was life-changing," says Aby, who dreams of being a special-needs teacher. "We wanted to do something important and change people's lives. It made me more grateful for everything here, and I made friends."

Class of 2017 boys goofing around in the schoolgrounds at lunch break:  (from left) Jesse, Garrett, Thomas and Noah.

Class of 2017 boys goofing around in the schoolgrounds at lunch break: (from left) Jesse, Garrett, Thomas and Noah.

Sure, the members of the Class of 2017 are still kids, but get them talking about the importance of volunteering and helping others and it becomes clear they're starting to think about things other than hockey and video games.

Noah wasn't necessarily looking forward to riding herd on the elementary school kids during the walkathon -- "They don't listen!" -- but he's proud his class raised about $900 for cancer research during Terry Fox Day events.

"You've gotta help people, and you know you did something. What is it they say? A hero is somebody who does something good, not for a reward but because they can."

With a little prodding, Jesse admits he's trying to lend a hand.

"I help my neighbour clean the snow off her walk just for the good of it," he says, shrugging. "I help my grandparents clean up their house.

"Most kids have a heart."

Liam and Shelby dig into their work, getting the school's garden beds ready for spring planting.

Liam and Shelby dig into their work, getting the school's garden beds ready for spring planting.

Speaking of heart, Avery, who is now rocking the new Justin Bieber haircut, was among a handful of classmates at Winnipeg's first-ever rally for We Day last fall, where students were motivated to tackle local and global issues.

"It was basically like a concert, only more inspirational," Avery recalls. "There were tons of speakers talking about how important it is to help people who are less fortunate. When I walked away, I felt I should be doing something like organizing the walkathon and the cleanup."

Replacing the rundown wooden play structure, adds Garrett, is important, "because you're helping the little kids who can't do much and that's good and it's not just for them; it's for future grades, too."

Chris Arnold, one of two homeroom teachers for the Class of 2017, stresses the walkathon/cleanathon is just one of the charitable activities the students have been involved in since starting their career in junior high.

"When they're given an opportunity to see where there's a need, they'll help address it," Arnold says.

"They're still kids, but they're kids who care."

In coming weeks, the students will visit a seniors home, Siloam Mission and Winnipeg Harvest food bank.

"They're among the oldest students in the school and it's their responsibility to lead in a positive way and set a good example for the type of community they want to have," Arnold declares.

For her part, principal Walker agrees a lot more is expected when kids reach Grade 7.

"We don't wait until grade seven and eight to teach about caring for others," she insists, "but there's a big change in grade seven and eight in that they are a lot more involved in the organizing. It's a key time to realize how they can contribute to community service."

Earlier this year, she notes, the kids came up with the idea for a hockey tournament to benefit Water From Windsor. Told to ensure every student was included, the idea grew into a winter festival featuring events revolving around the theme of the earth's water resources.

Avery and Noah (right) work together on a Grade 7 class project at Windsor School.

Avery and Noah (right) work together on a Grade 7 class project at Windsor School.

No one is saying they're angels, but the seventh-graders confess they get a warm, fuzzy feeling helping others.

Sarah recently helped her mom collect cash for breast cancer.

"It feels like something worth doing because other people are sick and you're trying to cure them," she explains.

Julianna volunteers every Thursday afternoon at St. Amant Centre.

"I volunteer at the day care and help little kids," she whispers. "I just have to play with them. It's fun, sometimes."

Naomi is spreading her wings as a babysitter.

"I'm babysitting my cousins and my little brother," she says proudly. "My brother won't listen to me, but my cousins will."

Mackenzie volunteered on pizza day in support of cancer research.

"It's important because you're helping a cause," she points out, "I love helping animals, especially dogs. I hate those commercials where they look so sad.

"Older people think all we do is text each other, but we do more than that."

Hailey couldn't agree more.

"We're the older kids now, and we take on some of the leadership," she advises.

Sydney believes volunteering is important "because if you get a chance to help, you should."

And that's just what Quinn, 13, does in the gym at St. Amant, although he's reluctant to make a big deal of it.

"It makes me feel good that I'm giving back," Quinn admits, thoughtfully.

Sarah enjoys helping out at home, babysitting her young siblings, cousins and neighbours who come play in her yard.

Sarah enjoys helping out at home, babysitting her young siblings, cousins and neighbours who come play in her yard.

"When we were young, we just thought about ourselves, but now we have to think about our lives and what path we want to take."

Then, after a brief pause, he adds: "You have to start thinking of what you're going to do in your life."

Danelle Bradshaw, the other homeroom teacher for the Class of 2017, says kids at this age are far more altruistic than adults give them credit for, and they demonstrate true compassion and leadership.

"They're at that age where they don't see the obstacles to things, so they dream really big," Bradshaw says, beaming.

"Sometimes we have to get them focused. They really do stop and think about people's needs. They're at that turning point of being a kid and being an older teen where they can take their own ideas and really run with them."

But, like we said earlier, no one needs to tell that to Griffin, a young man who is working hard to ensure his disabled younger brother can enjoy an accessible play structure at school, just like everyone else.

"This teaches you about life," the flame-haired little philosopher tells a middle-aged visitor.

"This is the early stages of our future. It's when we realize that helping is better than taking."

 

A year of dramatic firsts

They've wrapped up their rookie season in the big leagues, cleaned out their lockers and are enjoying a well-deserved summer break before getting back to the daily grind.

It wasn't exactly the punishing schedule of the National Hockey League, but surviving their first year in junior high was a major goal for a close-knit squad of Grade 7 kids at Windsor School in St. Vital.

Just like our new Jets, the Class of 2017 -- whose progress the Free Press is tracking from snack time in kindergarten to graduation gowns at the end of Grade 12 -- has put the finishing touches on a tumultuous year of dramatic firsts.

It was their first year without recess, without sitting in the same classroom all day long.

And, just like their highly paid NHL counterparts, everybody finally got their own locker.

After toiling for seven years in the educational minor leagues, Grade 7 was also a year of increased expectations, a year more responsibility was placed on their small shoulders, a year in which they took their biggest strides yet in the long and eventful journey toward becoming young adults.

When they return in the fall, the Class of 2017 will start Grade 8, the top rung of the ladder at the 238-student, K-8 school. With their rookie season gathering dust in the record books, they'll be seasoned veterans, the kings and queens of junior high, just a single year away from high school, where it's right back to the basement.

Windsor principal Ann Walker openly marvels at the changes she saw in the Class of 2017 this year.

"What I've seen is a real growth and maturity," Walker says, chatting with a visitor in her office. "They get taller and look older, but they're more mature, more thoughtful."

Windsor principal Ann Walker openly marvels at the changes she saw in the Class of 2017 this year.

"What I've seen is a real growth and maturity," Walker says, chatting with a visitor in her office. "They get taller and look older, but they're more mature, more thoughtful."

One of the final events of the school year was something called "Bump Day," in which the outgoing seventh-graders sat down as a group and offered advice to the skittish Grade 6 kids who will become junior high rookies in September.

"The one tip that I heard was -- make sure you have lots of pencils," Walker recalls, laughing. "To see them sitting confidently, giving advice, it made me feel very happy. The adults in a school are there to help the kids learn, but it's a privilege to see them becoming young adults.

"It's a genuine moment for me. A year ago, these kids were in the opposite place -- they were the new kids coming into junior high, and they were nervous and scared. Today, they were the confident ones making the new kids feel comfortable and welcomed."

A hint of emotion in her voice, Walker says the jump to Grade 8 is a huge one for the Class of 2017.

"In Grade 8, they start to think about leaving the nest," the principal says. "They've been at Windsor School for up to nine years, but there's a big wide world out there. Moving on to high school is the big thing in Grade 8. They start the transition in January.

"That's when they start thinking about what courses they'll take in high school. Here, they're in the nest, a protected environment. Next year, we're preparing them for moving on."

Chris Arnold, one of two homeroom teachers for the Class of 2017 -- Danelle Bradshaw is the other -- took a few moments to reflect on a year of change.

"They will be the leaders in the school and set the tone for how everything runs," Arnold, a teacher at Windsor for 11 years, explains as gaggles of excited students eager to start summer vacation hoot and holler in the background.

"They're still kids, but they're growing into the leadership role that will be theirs in Grade 8. If you don't have strong leaders in Grade 8, that trickles down to the rest of the school," he says, thoughtfully.

"You need to have good leaders, and we have that. They'll set the tone for what's expected of everyone else in class, in assemblies and on the playground. I think they did a fantastic job this year. I'm very impressed with them as a group."

 

(Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)

(Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)

 

Q&A

As the Class of 2017 gets on with the business of summer holidays, the Free Press handed the soon-to-be-eighth-graders something every kid dreams of as classes end -- one final exam.

In an effort to see how they feel about the past year and the upcoming one, we cajoled them into filling out a questionnaire. Neatness didn't count.

Here's what they had to say about ...

 

1) What do you plan to do during summer vacation?

Noah: "Summer things -- sleeping in, eating candy for breakfast, playing Xbox until one in the afternoon, going outside until dinner, eating dinner, then chilling in the evening."

Griffin: "Be awesome! Get more awesome! I'm at the highest level of awesomeness now!"

Hailey: "Play baseball, go to my cabin, go on a road trip to a wedding and SLEEP IN!"

 

2) What was your favourite thing about Grade 7?

Sydney: "Getting to meet a lot of new people and going to shops (classes), and I feel like I have more freedom to go places and do things."

Mackenzie: "Life Days because there's no learning."

Aby: "Hanging out with everyone, making new friends and having more freedom and having shops and Life Days."

Jesse: "The lockers, and Griffin."

 

3) What was your least favourite thing about Grade 7?

Jesse: "The boys' bathrooms, because they're weird."

Naomi: "Getting so much homework."

Mackenzie: "Science class because it makes no sense."

Garrett: "French class."

 

4) What helpful (or otherwise) advice or tips do you have for the kids who will take your place in Grade 7 next school year?

Griffin: "Just be yourself and don't try to act like somebody else. Just be your own person."

Liam: "Don't mess with me (grrrrr!) or Hailey!"

Thomas: "Be nice to everybody and don't draw attention to yourself and don't mess with me."

Mackenzie: "Don't act dumb (only if you are) and don't make a teacher mad or you will be in trouble."

Noah: "Let me see. Don't wash your hands in the bathroom. Go to the Grade 6 bathroom."

 

5) Are you looking forward to being the top dogs next school year when you start Grade 8?

Quinn: "NO! Because people will look up to me."

Liam: "Sure, I just want to get out of here."

Jesse: "Yeah, man!"

Noah: "Yes and no. It'll be cool being the oldest kids, but I don't like most of the Grade 6s."

Mackenzie: "Yes, because we will be the role models."

 

6) If you had a time machine and could travel back to give yourself a message when you were in kindergarten, what would you tell yourself?

Quinn: "Hi, mini me! Be a little more smart."

Avery: "Don't make teachers mad! Seriously, they're scary."

Naomi: "You will transfer to a new school down the street when you are in Grade 2."

Noah: "Hey, man, what's up? I'm your future self."

Jesse: "Get a girlfriend FAST!"

 

7) What's the one thing, big or small, you really want to accomplish in Grade 8?

Griffin: "Be more awesome than ever."

Aby: "Get really good grades and enjoy my last year at Windsor."

Noah: "To refrain from buying something from 7-Eleven every time I walk past it."

Sydney: "Stay on top of homework."

 

We don't want to make anyone stay late after class, so we've decided to give the last "awesome" word to 12-year-old Noah, a future stand-up comedian who, when asked during the video portion of the interview to send his future self a message for Grade 12 graduation in 2017, smiled into the camera and chirped at maximum volume:

"YOU MADE IT! AND YOU DIDN'T DIE!"

Grade seven students horse around in their school grounds at the end of their school day during their final days of grade seven. (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)

Grade seven students horse around in their school grounds at the end of their school day during their final days of grade seven. (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)


Read more by Doug Speirs.

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