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Vanier students build friendships during welcome-week activities

The high school held its ninth annual Valhalla event — similar to Frosh or Freshie Week — in mid-September. The school’s Leadership 101 program organized everything, with Grade 12s leading each group.  

Vanier Collegiate recently welcomed its new Grade 9s by holding several fun team-building activities during an annual event that also enables Grade 12s to demonstrate their leadership abilities.

The high school held its ninth annual Valhalla event — similar to Frosh or Freshie Week — in mid-September. The school’s Leadership 101 program organized everything, with Grade 12s leading each group.  

Sept. 14 and 15 were the main days when activities occurred. Grade 9s gathered in the gym in four Harry Potter-named groups for games one day, and after a school sleepover, they participated in Amazing Race-style events in seven groups at The Oval in Wakamow Valley the next day.

The new students

Grade 9 students Linda Ruberwa and Kallie New spoke about their time during the fun-filled week.

“I’ve really loved it. It’s been a great experience because I’ve met all the Grade 12s (and they) act like we’re part of the community and they don’t act like they’re better than us,” said New. “And they (Grade 12s) really welcomed us into Vanier and let us get the feel of community there.”

The activities New enjoyed included the gym-based games and Harry Potter theme, karaoke, hide-and-seek in the dark, come-and-go sports matches, playing Mario Kart and the Amazing Race events. 

Ruberwa — who had a raspy voice from all the cheering she’d done — said she liked knowing who the school’s leaders were and learning about the commonalities she shared with other students.

“… it’s more than just a school. It’s like a family and like a home where everyone belongs,” she said, adding she won’t be as confused now about who people are in the halls.

New appreciated engaging in these community-building activities because she could learn more about her fellow Grade 9s, many of whom she shares classes with but barely knows. She now has new relationships with some people she may not meet until Grade 10.

“Not being an outsider and knowing that I belong, that’s what matters the most — and Vanier represents that,” added Ruberwa. 

The leadership program

Vanier created the Leadership 101 program to make Grade 9s feel welcome and help Grade 12s become leaders in school and the wider community, explained Leanne Meili, the program’s academic advisor. Those seniors are invaluable because the program wouldn’t run without them.

Teacher-advisors didn’t have a clear vision for the program the first year but had an idea and ran with it. Meili initially shoulder-tapped students to help, but the program — youths join in Grade 11 — is now refined and there is an application process to join. 

“So once they participate in something like Valhalla, then they’re like, ‘Hey, I want to be a leader in Grade 12.’ And so we work on those skills,” said Meili. 

Areas the program focuses on include the qualities of a leader, what it means to serve, focusing on others before self, giving back to the school and giving back to Grade 9s. 

Meili noted that the program’s growth “warms (her) heart” because it gives Grade 12s the ability to be difference-makers now. For example, they can help during Grade 8 tours and support sports tournaments — like this November’s provincial volleyball competition.

Leadership 101 and planning for Valhalla usually occur in semester 2, but what Meili appreciates is this is the first year Grade 10s can also take the class, which will add to the school’s future leadership capabilities.

“So, it really is something that’s special to our school (because) it’s our culture (and) it helps develop relationships (and) builds leaders,” she added.

The graduating students

Grade 12 student Callie Klemenz joined the program because her class didn’t experience the full Valhalla in 2021 due to the pandemic, so she wanted to experience it herself while properly welcoming the Grade 9s. 

“We got a smaller event at the end of the year, but nothing like this. And I think that took away from high school … we didn’t get to meet anyone in our class,” she said, noting she only met some Grade 12s this fall through a group chat. 

Classmate Jack Dueck agreed, saying the event’s absence and pandemic’s effects affected social relationships, the sense of community and clubs; normally, 50 people want to be Valhalla leaders, but only 20 registered this year.  

Community is important — it makes for a better high school experience — because it brings students together and ensures they recognize each other, he continued. It also helps during extracurricular activities because students will pack the stands to cheer their classmates.

While Leadership 101 focuses mainly on Valhalla, it also builds leaders and ensures students display an attitude of “servant leadership” throughout the year, Dueck added. This sets a good example for Grade 9s, who can carry those skills and attitudes into the future to benefit their school and community. 

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