What I Wish My School Knew

IMG_9176By Sofiia Onopriienko

Thinking back on the end of the school year, I am writing this letter inspired by the way my school, Lakefield College School, creates not just the learning space but the atmosphere of a united community, regardless of how many miles away we are from each other. I also want to share how much studying remotely has helped me, not only during the spring, but back in December, when I was away for over a month while trying to combine my passion and my education, and do my absolute best in both fields.

This letter is an expression of my gratitude.

I want you to know that studying online is not a burden for us, the students. I see it rather as a gift to those of us who are provided additional time to devote to our passions, and for those of us who feel discomfort, as it is truly an opportunity for growth.

There have been many moments this year, that empowered me to follow my passion, all thanks to the staff and students at LCS.

Back in December, my online educational platform and blog Education. Inspiration. Change. was recognized, and I was invited to deliver a speech, Generation Z: Passion and Purpose as the Main Sources for Motivation, at the Zavtra Conference in Ukraine. Its goal was to “unite teenagers that already make a valuable contribution to societies and the world as a whole.” They invited me because of the work I shared through my YouTube blog (started last August), which includes my insights about education in Canada, specifically about LCS. The videos I include on my blog share highlights of events that have had a powerful impression on me. Things like:

  • The first days of school, because the way in which we were all welcomed onto campus helped us to start the school year with ease, and without the burden of getting back to class;
  • The week of exams last year, when our teachers encouraged us to de-stress, spend time with friends, sleep, and go to the waterfront. And, for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like exams were harming my mental health. Instead, it was actually enhanced with a new understanding of work-life balance; and
  • My Outdoor Education classes, because learning beyond the classroom is priceless.

The list goes on, and includes videos about our unique LCS intersession days; winter camping survival; the boarding experience; and many other memories captured and combined with my thoughts on how each element of the LCS experience contributes to the “education of the whole person.”

The experience I describe is so new and unusual coming from the public school system in a developing country like Ukraine. A school like LCS, that educates thinkers, artists and leaders, and not mindless performers, isn’t typical, nor is it a common practice in the majority of educational establishments. This is what inspired me to share my experience of education with Ukrainian youth and adults passionate about education. What happens at LCS is real and possible! If one school can do it, if one teacher can be invested in students’ self-realization, if one class can be enhanced with the addition of life skills, if one school day can be filled with such a variety of opportunities, then other schools, teachers and countries, as a whole, can implement the same practices. I focus specifically on my home country because I see the need for change. I am familiar with our society and our biggest challenges; consequently, I can apply the experience had at LCS purposefully.

My speech, Generation Z: Why YouTube Matters? was about the ways we can self-educate with the use of technology, instead of getting stuck in social media. I also talked about how my Canadian school (LCS) taught me discipline and completely changed my mindset. The four parts of my speech are available with English subtitles on my channel.

Generation Z: Why YouTube Matters? | Part 1, Zavtra Conference, Ukraine

For me, these speeches, my project and the YouTube channel, as well as collaborative work with the Ministry of Education of Ukraine, is all about the application of knowledge and skills in a global context. I don’t want to wait until I graduate from high school, then university, and then get a remarkable job, to make a difference. I believe in the education I am given, and in the fact that every motivated student out there deserves a chance to receive more from their school years than just information from textbooks. This is because my Lakefield experience has taught me that, it has never been limited to the classic curriculum and that’s what has made it life-changing for me.

Following the Zavtra conference, I was planning on returning to Canada the next day. My LCS teachers knew I would be away for the week. However, following my speech, I was invited by a major TV channel that led the research on Generation Z, as well as by the Ukrainian government to participate in the upcoming Women’s Congress. Of course, these opportunities felt overwhelmingly colossal, but the opposite reality included months of missed school. I remember using my Harkness skills while convincing my parents to let me miss my flight which was only a few hours away. They were no doubt supportive, but none of us knew what my schooling would look like across the globe from LCS. Having always prioritized education, the decision to stay seemed like a betrayal to our family values.

It is only after receiving an encouraging email from LCS teachers, Ms. Andras and Mr. Van Doleweerd, that I realized that I didn’t have to give up or choose one or the other. I can live up to my school commitments while also pursuing my passion to the fullest. In the following days, all of my LCS teachers generously reached out with a number of ways I could keep up. These included: their readiness to dedicate additional time for individual zoom calls; extended deadlines; and their overall support of this massive change.

The Ukrainian Women’s Congress was so successful in terms of what I wanted to convey and the chance to be heard, that it is undeniably one of the most significant events of my life. There were many political figures including the First Lady of Ukraine, Canadian Senator Donna Dasko, Côte-des-Neiges Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (Montreal) Mayor Sue Montgomery, and many other honorary guests. While discussing gender equality, I was asked to share how young women are encouraged to participate in all kinds of activities and grow as leaders, giving an example of how LCS ensures equal opportunities for all.

Of course, I felt proud of myself, but the gratefulness I felt towards the flexibility I was given by LCS was even more profound. I remember getting a Google Cal reminder about class, which was to start the same minute that I would appear on stage in front of 500+ people. Having the habit of mindfulness minutes from our LCS Chapel mornings together, I closed my eyes and pictured myself surrounded by my peers and singing O Siem. For a minute, I thought about all the effort my teachers placed on developing mind and spirit throughout the time I spent in class and especially for the period I was away. I dedicated my pride to them.

Eventually, I had to catch up on my work all the way through winter break, in airports, buses, and even on Christmas eve. But there wasn’t a single day when it felt worthless or unimportant. I was always “on the go” and never knew when I could access the internet to complete homework. I had to be ready to focus anywhere at any time while also upholding self-motivation, and through that, I matured as a learner.

I mastered this skill of self-regulation and it became crucial when the whole school transferred to remote learning. This is why I believe recent challenges can be perceived as an opportunity for the improvement of our learning skills and strategies.

Every year, LCS graduating students have the opportunity to express their gratitude during their Chapel Talk to the community. Next year will be my last at LCS.  But instead of postponing it to my Chapel Talk, I would like to explicitly thank every single one of you for this school year. It has been incredibly special in so many ways, and the power of our community to not only overcome hardships but also to make the absolute most out of every challenge and make it worthwhile is remarkable. Our strength came not from the things we knew we could do, but from conquering what we thought we couldn’t.

I cannot be more thankful for my experience at LCS thus far. I also know that it’s not the words expressed that are the highest form of appreciation, but whether I live by the advice, spirit, values, and support that are given to me by all of you.  I am grateful.