Four local students pushed themselves beyond their comfort zones to earn an international award recently.
Vanier seniors Sophia Grajczyk, Jenna Meili and Jane Morris, plus Vanier alumna Isabella Grajczyk, who is currently studying at the University of Regina, earned the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award at a ceremony hosted by Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor W. Thomas Malloy on Oct. 28.
"It's one of the best kept secrets. It's an international program that was set up by the Queen's husband, Prince Phillip," explained Vanier teacher Christa Lapointe. "It's all about growth and development and trying something new and getting outside of your comfort zone, but what is unique to you as an individual."
The Duke of Edinburgh Award is broken down into four components: service, skill development, physical recreation and adventurous journey. There are three levels of achievement -- gold, silver and bronze -- that require increasing levels of time and commitment to attain. Sophia and Isabella Grajczyk were both gold award winners, while Morris and Meili won their silver award, but both have already begun working towards their gold award.
"I'm a very busy person with my extracurriculars, so I could actually get some credit for what I do already, and I thought that was amazing," said Morris who is off to the University of Manitoba in the fall where she will play on the women's soccer team.
For Morris, who also recently competed in the Canada Winter Games speed skating trials, the physical recreation component was easy. However, the program also encouraged her to devote more time to Vanier's robotics club as she earned 109 hours for her skill component.
"It's really fun and it opens up a lot of doors to new opportunities," Morris said. "We go to an international competition every year called FIRST Robotics in Calgary. We met people from other countries there like Israel, Mexico, Turkey and America.
"I got so much out of Duke of Ed, honestly. There are new skills that I didn't know that I could learn. Robotics has been really great for me personally. I've got an interest in STEM and that opened doors for me in that regard. I didn't realize before the amount that I could give back into the community by doing the things I do and that opened doors for me to coach. I actually got my coaching courses for speed skating and soccer and I've been coaching kids ever since. And I hope to continue."
The youth achievement award is open to students between the ages of 14-24 and since its inception in 1959, more than 10 million youth in 130 countries have been recognized.
Lapointe said that one of the things she likes about the Duke of Edinburgh program is its flexibility. While some participants are natural athletes, others use yoga or going to the gym as their physical recreation. Some of the participants had a skill like playing the piano, while others had to find something they were interested in and work on it.
"We've had students with special needs who were in wheelchairs who completed the program," Lapointe explained. "It doesn't have to be restricted to physical activity in that regard. You can do more of an expedition which is more of a learning-based trip. If there's a learning disability or a physical disability -- or any other barriers or challenges -- then the program will work with them to make sure that the program can still work for them and there can still be growth."