Student Exchange: Adventure in Australia

2017_2018_Rebecca_Yedid_001Since arriving in Melbourne, Australia, two weeks ago, my experience has been really eye-opening.

I am attending Carey Grammar School with my exchange, Taylah. This school is so different from LCC. To get from class to class, you have to travel outdoors, so we spend most of our free time outside. This is a very big contrast for me because at LCC, the only time we go outside is for lunch recess and gym in the warm weather.

One of the many differences from LCC is that the year is split into two semesters (four terms) and for each semester they have three electives. Their electives are things that we at LCC would never think we would learn, like fashion, wood, food (cooking), CSI (as a class), and law and order. I participate in indigenous studies, where we learn about the relationship between the Australians and the Australian indigenous peoples. It is very interesting.

On Thursday, we had summer sports day, a day where all the houses compete in a number of sports, including volleyball, cricket, softball, water polo, patanque and tennis. I played volleyball with a couple of new friends and it gave me the chance to meet some new friends inside and outside my house.

Last weekend, I attended a regatta, which is like a rowing tournament. It was a unique experience and one of the highlights of my trip here. It gave me a chance to meet some more people and create some great friendships while my exchange was racing. Now that I know how the races work, I will be training with my own crew of exchanges from England and will be racing in Head of the River, an overnight regatta this coming weekend.

The Yarra River, where rowing practices take place, is a river that goes right through the city. On Wednesday morning, I had a chance to take a ride on a little boat. This was a very unique way to experience the city, and a big contrast to the way I saw it on foot. There are some cool spots to eat, including one right on the river. It is such a beautiful city.

My exchange and I have done a number of interesting things throughout these two weeks, like going to the fashion festival in Melbourne, the Ed Sheeran concert, and a wildlife sanctuary where we got to see many animals. Although moving into someone’s house and lifestyle across the world can be tough, this experience has been really enjoyable and I don’t know how I am ever going to be able to get on a plane and come back to Montreal. I love it here. – Rebecca Yedid ’20, Exchange Student at Carey Baptist Grammar School

Head’s Blog: Reflections on Black History Month

Black_History_MonthOn this last day of Black History Month, let’s reflect on the history of black Canadians and the particularly difficult early years when slavery was the norm. It is important to remember that African slaves were introduced into what was then “British North America” in the latter part of the 1600s. They were violently stolen from their homes in Africa and forced into lives of servitude very far away.

As you know, slaves possessed no rights and were coerced into forced labour, which actually brought economic benefit to this country and even more so to the US where the number of slaves was much larger.

Slavery ended in Canada in 1834 but lasted until 1865 in the US, after the American Civil War. That 30-year period is when the “Underground Railway” of slaves seeking freedom in Canada became so famous. In total, slavery in the US had a significant 250-year legacy, with about four million slaves in the US when they were emancipated in 1865 (about 13% of the total population.)

Despite their emancipation, African Americans were not immediately offered the same freedoms and privileges as white Americans. Open segregation endured in the American south well into the 1960s during the era of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.

Today, many writers, activists and commentators – both black and white – point to many inequities that persist today between the African American population and the white majority. Perhaps one of the great indicators of the long-term impact and challenging legacy of slavery and inequity in America today is the large-scale and disproportionate imprisonment of African Americans, especially males.

A few years ago, I gained a better appreciation of this topic by listening to a passionate presentation by African-American lawyer, writer, and social activist, Bryan Stevenson. Some have compared Stevenson to a modern Martin Luther King, and others have called him America’s Mandela. After that speech, I bought his insightful book Just Mercy.

Mr. Stevenson works closely with men in prison, including men on death row. He emphasizes that one of the great divisive issues in the US today is the disproportionate number of African American males in prison. Approximately 2.3 million prisoners, or 40% of all American inmates, are African American, while the black population only represents 13% of the total population. This incarceration rate is five times the rate of white Americans.

To put this in perspective, there are more African- American men imprisoned in the US today than the total prison populations of Canada, India, Argentina, Lebanon, Japan, Germany, Finland, Israel and England combined (Antonio Moore, Huffington Post).

In Canada, we have a total of 40,000 people in our prisons, compared to America’s prison population of close to six million people – about 150 times as many.

Yet, even here in Canada, while our black population represents approximately 3% of the total population, 10% of the total prison population is black, and that rate is growing quickly.

Bryan Stevenson is in his mid 50s and attended an all-black high school in Alabama. Restrictions on African Americans were such that even his father was not allowed to attend high school. Stevenson was a very good student, the first in his family to graduate from high school, and he earned a full scholarship to university in Philadelphia, followed by Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government.

But despite being at outstanding universities, he says there was little meaningful discussion about inequity, its causes and possible solutions. While most of his Harvard classmates went to work on Wall Street or in fancy law firms, he was drawn to helping condemned men receive proper care and support. He realized that greater social justice had to be supported by action, compassion and empathy.

Stevenson has actively challenged an entrenched bias against the poor and ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system, especially children. He reminds us that some 10,000 black teenagers under the age of 18 are currently in adult prisons in the US – something he sees as intolerable. Stevenson has helped achieve court decisions that prohibit sentencing children under 18 to death, or to life imprisonment without parole. He has assisted in cases that have saved dozens of prisoners from the death penalty, advocated for poor people, and developed community-based reform litigation aimed at improving the administration of criminal justice.

He is also working to establish The Memorial to Peace and Justice in Montgomery Alabama, which will document each of the nearly 4,000 lynchings of black people that took place in the 12 states of the South from 1877 to 1950.

Here is an extract from his book:

“I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavoured, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned. We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated… But simply punishing the broken – walking away from them or hiding them from sight – only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.” 

Stevenson invites us all to go to what he calls “places of despair” to create change and to build hope, because agents of hope are key to moving all societies forward. He reminds us that in the US and Canada, we can and must do better. In the spirit of peace, equity and social justice, I think we should all consider how to honour all those who have suffered from the abuse of injustice and racism. Where possible, we should take action. – Christopher Shannon, Headmaster

Assembly Address: Finding Your Voice

Girl_MegaphoneI’m Lauren and I’m in grade 7. Many of you might think that it takes a lot of courage to be up here talking in front of the whole high school. I have to admit, it is slightly nerve-racking, but I feel I have the courage to talk up here because I am at LCC, a school that makes sure each student has a voice.

Looking back, I can honestly say that it took me a while to find my voice. Throughout Junior School, we were given the chance to develop our abilities to speak in front of our peers. As the oldest last year in Junior School, I was confident and comfortable public speaking after having many opportunities to practice.

This all changed when I initially joined Middle School at the beginning of the year. New people, a new routine and new teachers. I was very shy and didn’t speak up. This all changed when I started attending weekly student council meetings in November. Being part of student council is a way for each grade to express concerns or make suggestions through four grade representatives.

At my first meeting, I was very nervous knowing that I, along with my three peers, were the youngest. I wasn’t sure when or what I should say. As the meeting started, I instantly saw that the students in higher grades weren’t reluctant to talk and voice their concerns, but as one of the youngest, I didn’t feel the same comfort. I worried that my views wouldn’t be taken as seriously by the older students, as they were already known at student council.

As the meeting went along, I started to realize that they were voicing a concern that I agreed with, and I found my voice to speak and agree with the others. I found I was able to speak on behalf of my grade, and that I was not embarrassed to share my opinion. As more and more meetings went by, I enjoyed our conversations a lot and found it easier and easier to express issues pertaining to grade 7.

I have now learned that my voice is just as important and valued as the other students’ voices. We, as students, are fortunate to be at a school where amazing faculty make sure that we are given the opportunity to share our voice. It just takes a little time and effort but it’s there.

A reminder to everyone that student council representatives from each grade meet weekly to discuss student concerns. If you have a concern or issue you would like addressed, please contact your grade representatives, and they will be happy to represent you.
– Lauren Dorsey ’22

Head’s Blog: Better Sleep Hygiene in 2018

Alarm_ClockAs we slide into February, this is the time of year when most people who made New Year’s resolutions, realize that they cannot meet their stated goal. According to Huffington Post, less than 10% of resolutions are kept. The classic example is the crew referred to as the so-called “January Joiners” at fitness and health clubs who have completely disappeared by February. Sadly, most fall short simply because bad habits are very hard to break. It’s human nature; setting a new direction in life is very tough, especially when personal likes and preferences are already well established.

However, despite the challenge of changing a bad habit, I have openly asked all high school students to consider a new commitment for the balance of the school year. If achieved, this one change is probably the single most significant initiative our students can take to improve their lives – and one that I think they can all achieve, if only incrementally. So what am I asking them to do? Get more sleep!

I know that some students are really good about their sleep routines and I certainly commend those who have established good patterns. However, a recent study by researchers at San Diego State University in California tells us that almost a majority of students don’t get enough sleep. This study of 370,000 US teens was published in November. It confirmed a continuing and alarming trend where large numbers of teens in the US continue to trade sleep for increased screen time. And I don’t think that there would be major differences on this topic with young Canadians. The survey showed that more than 40% of all teens get less than seven hours of sleep a night, up from about only 20% in 2009. But medical specialists reiterate that all teens actually need nine hours of sleep a night for the well-being of their bodies, brain development, the deep embedding of learning at school, as well as their emotional well-being.

Over time, a continued lack of sleep is clearly linked to depression, short-temperedness, anxiety, and a host of other negative psychological challenges and physical effects that can notably diminish the teen body. Despite broad conceptual knowledge about the impact of sleep deprivation, current evidence shows that this negative trend continues to move in the wrong direction.

So I recently asked our high school students to be honest with themselves. If they’re not regularly getting nine hours of sleep a night, they actually need more. I urged them to stop wishing for more sleep, but to actually take steps to make it happen. As with most other bad habits, if they want to truly adopt change, real life dictates that they will have to start with baby steps, as vague promises are unachievable.

The studies have shown that too much digital screen time is not only stealing potential sleep time, but too much texting, social media or video-watching right before bed can also make it difficult to fall asleep. The blue light emitted is too stimulating and makes it hard for the body and brain to wind down quickly. Yes, something called “night-mode” exists on most phones and tablets. But the experts say it’s not enough. Brain and sleep experts suggest that adolescents should limit screen time and stop all screen exposure at least half an hour – and ideally one hour – before bed.

To avoid all temptation, cellphones should be in another room, and I urge our students to return to an old-fashioned alarm clock rather than full dependence on their smartphones.

A book is also a good way to wind down while feeding the brain before bed. It’s surely a good habit to continue or pick up.

So as we move forward into 2018, I urge our students to forget false commitments to become fitness fanatics, or implement an unlikely broad overhaul of their diets. Instead, they should take some simple achievable steps toward better sleep “hygiene.” The impact could be significant. In only a matter of days they will feel better and notice improvements in all aspects of their lives. – Christopher Shannon, Headmaster

 

 

 

 

Head’s Blog: A Social Tsunami

Gender_equality_symbol_(clipart)The evidence is everywhere: a social tsunami is having a major impact all across North America and things will surely never be the same anywhere.

I am talking about the extraordinary impact on the North American workplace since the so-called Harvey Weinstein scandal. Clearly, as an influential Hollywood film producer, Weinstein took advantage of his powerful position to make inappropriate sexual advances toward young actresses trying to get a break in the film industry. Everyone seemed to reluctantly accept this as the way Hollywood worked. However, dozens of courageous women came forward and shone a bright light on Weinstein’s unacceptable behaviour. The evidence mounted to the point that the board of his own film company fired him and, quite appropriately, his reputation has been permanently stained.

Along with Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace, many other powerful men have been impacted: several senior corporate figures, Matt Lauer, host of the Today Show, Charlie Rose and Bill O’Reilly, once respected TV hosts and interviewers, and several senior American and Canadian public figures and politicians have all been held accountable. Even the American president has been accused of inappropriate behaviour toward women. And whether he likes it or not, no one is above reproach. Men in positions of power are falling from their perches of influence all across North America.

In Canada, women from all walks of life and all sectors of our economy are also coming forward to say no to inappropriate sexual comments, overt sexual harassment and even sexual assault.

The #MeToo movement is truly a tsunami that includes the voices of women who are actresses, politicians, lawyers, waitresses, police officers, teachers and many other professionals. Essentially, women are grabbing the opportunity to come together and be heard all across the continent. According to many writers and social commentators, this seems to be a “watershed moment.”

This was reinforced in December when Time magazine named its person of the year for 2017. Rather than a single person, Time singled out what it calls “the silence-breakers” – women who had the courage to launch a broad social movement. In that article, the Time staff writes:

This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight, but has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries, but don’t even seem to know they exist. They’ve had it with men who use their power. These silence-breakers have started a revolution of refusal.

So what does this social tsunami mean for our students, especially the teenagers? Well, first they need to be aware of it and come to their own conclusions about its impact on society at large. But in terms of day-to-day life, I believe all this is an important reminder about the need for civility between all people. Despite enormous gains for women in the past fifty years in the workplace, at universities, in professions, it tells us that true and complete equity has still not been forged. For me, it reinforces the significant importance of our coed learning environment that we should never take for granted. This is where our students establish their foundations, values and norms. LCC is quite intentionally a coed school for a coed world with boys and girls working shoulder-to-shoulder, equal in every way. Respect between girls and boys as peers, as equals, is not simply something we talk about. Our students live it; it is fundamental to their daily reality. Establishing an environment of true equity is a critical part of what we do in our learning community.

I am not naïve and do not believe that boys and girls are in agreement all the time any more than different personalities (male or female) are always inclined to agree. However, I believe quite deeply that the two genders supporting, challenging and living together, is the best environment for learning and, during the formative teen years, provides real-world experiences that are meaningful. I assert that true equity and true respect begin with our expectations and daily habits and norms right here and, thankfully, these are reinforced day in and day out by passionate educators. For this reason, there is enormous value in this coed learning environment that our students will carry with them decades beyond life at LCC.

This situation, this social tsunami, has no formal name, but courageous women have given it a voice. Whether it’s #MeToo or #Time’sUp, this movement for greater gender equity and justice is a long overdue phenomenon, one that I’ve openly asked our high school students to discuss in classes, advisories and at our lunch tables. They are the young people who will define and help to build a better LCC and a better Canada. So let’s be proactive and talk about this issue and solidly build on our community’s commitment to a core platform of respect for all.

Think about this and how together we can build an ongoing and meaningful conversation about equity and social justice for girls and boys, women and men, as peers and advocates. What a great New Year’s resolution for 2018! – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster