Unique Cross-Cultural Program Builds Hagersville Secondary Students’ Leadership Capacity

Right: Hagersville Secondary student Grace demonstrates a game with Walpole North student Leah.

On a scale of one to 10, Leah Cooper, a Grade 7 student at Walpole North Elementary School, is considering how much she knows about Canada’s Indigenous peoples’ cultures and traditions.

“I know they have traditions, but I don’t know exactly what they are,” she says, and rates her current knowledge as a modest two on the scale. That’s about to change.

Moments later, with the guidance of Grade 10 students visiting from Hagersville Secondary School, Leah and her classmates are participating in a fun, active game meant to develop hand-eye coordination, traditionally utilized by the Dakota to increase success during buffalo hunts, an animal they depended on for survival.

The Grade 10 students have taken part in a three-day leadership training through Rising Stars Athletics and Education, an Ontario-based organization with a goal to empower young people, build relationships, and increase understanding of these important facets of the country’s collective histories. The Hagersville Secondary students have learned how to play a series of high-energy games that have had a central place in the cultures of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities, but more importantly, they’ve learned why those games were played, and the practical life lessons they served to impart.

With this knowledge and training, the older students share what they’ve learned, and support the younger students in expanding their own understanding, while having a lot of fun in the process. Over the past two weeks, groups of student leaders have visited Hagersville Secondary’s feeder schools to host the sessions.

“It’s exciting to share things you’re passionate about, and this has been an opportunity to model positivity and respect, and has definitely benefitted my communication skills,” says Grace Robillard, one of the Hagersville student leaders who went through the training. “Playing the games is a way to connect to someone else’s history, and considering we [Hagersville Secondary School] have a large population of Indigenous students, I think that’s really important.”

Dee Channer is one of the facilitators from Rising Stars who has been working with Hagersville students to prepare them to take on the opportunity. She’s an educator and member of the James Bay Cree First Nation and knows from her own family’s history the importance of keeping traditions alive.

Right: Hagersville Secondary student Tyler looks on as Walpole North student Mackenzie masters the skills needed for a particular game

“When I visited the elders in my community to learn more about our own traditions, I found that a lot of the games and activities that had been a part of our culture were lost due to the residential school system,” Channer says. “A lot of work had to be done to recover those traditions.”

Channer introduces the Walpole North students to her capable co-facilitators, who have set up four stations in the gymnasium through which the younger students rotate, trying their hand at new activities all aimed at developing physical literacy in addition to learning about the life-skills development they were intended for. By the time Leah Cooper has completed her rotation, she feels that her knowledge of Indigenous peoples’ cultures has increased from a two to a seven out of 10.

“Education is the key, and building understanding breaks down stereotypes, stigma, racism, and discrimination,” explains Channer. “Rising Stars is all about leadership, empowerment, awareness, and development, and the cross-cultural connection is that students can relate to the games we play because they’re using the same sets of skills in their everyday lives too.”

Hagersville Secondary School has a unique connection to the Rising Stars program: Matt King, another staff member who has been working with secondary student leaders this term, hails from Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, and is a Hagersville graduate. Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan emphasizes Equity, Community, and Well-Being as three of its main pillars, and ventures with community partners such as Rising Stars share the goal of increasing a sense of belonging among students. The unique approach of building secondary school students’ leadership capacities so that they can share their learnings with elementary students also functions to build relationships and create a welcoming atmosphere as they approach the next steps in their education.

“I think you’ve found your hidden talent,” says Grade 10 student Tyler Doughty to Mackenzie Regan, a Grade 7 student who’s quickly mastered the skill involved in an activity known as stick game. The game involves a stick connected to a leather rope with a small ring on the end of it. The object is to toss the ring in the air and catch it on the end of the stick, developing concentration and patience.

“Are you going to go to Hagersville?” Doughty asks Regan, who nods in response as he gets ready to move on the next station. “Great! We’ll see you in a couple years.”

Photos by Grand Erie Communications

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