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Local students earn international Duke of Edinburgh award

Four Vanier students, including one graduate, completed four components to earn the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award

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."

Isabella Grajczyk began the program in high school, but still saw enough benefit to complete her gold level after graduating.
"I like what the program stands for and the benefits it can have," Isabella Grajczyk said. "If you're at all interested you should at least try it. Try the bronze. It's not for everyone. People have different things going on in their lives and it can be a commitment, but if you're already doing some of the things, I definitely would recommend it. There is so much personal growth... you have to go out of your comfort zone to do a lot of the things."
Grajczyk is in her second year as a Secondary Education student in Regina she said program made her more organized as she juggled different Duke of Edinburgh components with the rest of her life and school work. She feels those skills have helped prepare her for university.
Taking part in the program encouraged Grajczyk to get involved in the cross-country running team at Vanier which then led to her running track as well.
The gold level adventurous journey features four days of camping with three 20 km hikes.
"Obviously, I had been camping, but not to that extent. I had never had to hike 60 kilometres over three days," said Grajczyk who completed her gold adventurous journey in Cypress Hills with her sister and Morris. "You definitely make bonds with the people you go on those journeys with. You all hike the same kilometres, so you really get to know one another on those hikes. I think I would do something similar in the future, but maybe not so much hiking."
Sophia Grajczyk felt that adventurous journey was the most challenging part of the program.  She has also taught young children how to skate and was on the Vanier SRC and yearbook committee.
"It's a great learning experience," she said. "I had to keep myself accountable for tracking all of the things I was doing and making sure I got done everything I planned to get done. There was a lot of responsibility."
Vanier has plenty of good initiatives for their students, Meili volunteered at Riverside Mission and was also active in Valhalla and Vanier's Best Buddies program, as was Isabella Grajczyk. Valhalla is a welcoming event for incoming Grade 9s at Vanier.
"It helps bridge the gap between the Grade 12s and the Grade 9s and makes sure the school is a more welcoming environment for them," Meili explained. "Best Buddies is also a program at the school where you get paired up with a person who has a disability and once a week we get out for lunch with them or take them to a Warrior game and it helps make connections."
Meili also helped create Sets4Supper, a charity volleyball game featuring local high school all-stars and celebrities to raise money for Riverside Mission that will be held on Dec. 1 at 1 p.m. at Vanier.
She plans on completing her gold level adventurous journey with an ambitious trip to the Rocky Mountains. Despite the volunteer initiatives and a challenging journey ahead, she said it was her skill that has been the biggest challenge so far.
"The skill was definitely the most difficult because I chose cooking as my skill and sometimes it doesn't come the most easily. There may have been a burnt meal, but I definitely have become a better cook," Meili said.
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