Handsworth students spread their wings

There might be something in the water at Handsworth Secondary, where students are trained to become leaders.

Inspired by their experience at Handsworth, soon-to-be Grade 12 students Genevieve McKay, Rachel Kim and Daniel Ko will spend part of their summer vacation continuing to grow themselves.

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All three have been accepted into a prestigious enrichment and entrepreneurship program called SHAD, which is offered at different university campuses across the country in July.

Founded in 1980 to help “exceptional youth reach their full potential,” SHAD brings together students in grades 10 to 12 and immerses them in a one-month enrichment program focused on STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

The teens interact with renowned university faculty and visionary corporate leaders, and participate in hands-on workshops and activities.

Once they graduate the Handsworth students will be in good company with a network of SHAD Fellows, which includes a NHL hockey executive, a NASA researcher, an international best-selling author and 32 Rhodes Scholars.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity, say the students who credit the Handsworth community for setting them up for success later in life.

“Handsworth really empowers the students to become leaders,” says McKay. “A lot of our programs here are student run. It’s really empowering because they give us so much responsibility. I really discovered that through dance here at Handsworth.”  

Kim, meanwhile, has found a great sense of responsibly as part of Handsworth’s first-responders club. The students are certified in first aid, carry pagers and can tend to an afflicted student or staff member.

“Basically I can treat any emergency situation,” explains Kim. “We are in the level of firefighters (first aid training).”

Ko is self-described as the school techie. He’s instrumental behind the scenes to help make sure the school’s productions go off without a hitch. At the same time, Ko says he’s making connections with fellow students.

“I think what Handsworth does best compared to I think almost all the schools in Vancouver is the community that Handsworth has,” attests Ko.

When applying to the SHAD program, students put in a request for their desired campus. Organizers, however, want to get the teens out of their comfort zone.

“They want us to go somewhere on the other side of Canada, so that’s why most of our university choices are in the eastern provinces,” says Ko, who was placed at Western University in London, Ont.

Boredom pushed Ko to apply to the SHAD program.

“Usually I would just stay home and play games. It’s a pretty unproductive summer, so I thought of something interesting I could do,” he says.

Kim had a special reason for choosing the University of Calgary.

“The reason I’m going there is because it’s actually where my dad graduated from. I thought it was kind of interesting to walk in my dad’s footsteps,” she explains.

Since coming to Canada four years ago from Korea, which Kim calls “a very academically challenging place,” she has been searching for something different.

“I felt my life was all about studying and school,” explains Kim. “I heard SHAD is academic but also incorporates all the other parts, like connecting with other people.”

McKay will have travelled the furthest this summer, when she arrives at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“I think it’s our last summer before we graduate that we can really try anything that we want,” says McKay, of why she applied to SHAD. “I felt like I needed to put myself out there and experience a lot of different things so I’m sure that I know what I want to do (at university).”

In a unique element of the program, the students are challenged to come up with an original solution to a societal problem affecting Canada.

The News posed a question to the Handsworth students: How would they help fix the current opioid crisis?

Kim says it’s important to talk to students about drugs in a personal way.

“If we just gather 300 students in a gym and have a presentation, I’m not sure if everyone is going to listen to it,” says Kim. “The biggest problem is the reason why students use it, mostly teenagers who are under stress and peer pressure. I think it’s more important to get rid of those underlying causes.”

McKay says having an adult talk to teens about drugs is not going to be effective.

“If we have people that are equals telling the stories and telling the negatives and the effects of (drugs) is more beneficial than bringing an adult in.”

The SHAD program looks good on a university application, says Handsworth scholarship chair David Lavallee.

“It will also help you guys in life to sort of explore different avenues and be exposed to different parts of the country, different kinds of people and different kinds of ideas,” says Lavallee.

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