MOUNT FOREST – School spirit, community outreach efforts, and optimism have won staff and students from “The Den” Life Skills class at Wellington Heights Secondary School an “Everyday Hero” award.
The class is among 13 recipients of the award this year from across the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB).
The board annually presents the awards to staff, students, community members and volunteers who “go above and beyond” to support local schools and communities.
“The Den” Life Skills class includes teachers Dave Griffiths, Greg Senyshyn, Heather Reed, Karl Barber and Christine Chambers; educational assistants Dorothy Dunbar, Kim Uhrig, and Joanne Parish; as well as students Brinley, Austin, Nicholas, Alex, Eric, Justin, Pierce and Landon.
School officials say that despite the restrictions and obstacles the COVID-19 pandemic has posed to learning and activities, the students, along with their teachers and educational assistants, persevered to connect with the students, staff, and local community through creative ways and experiential learning opportunities.
The class was nominated for the award by school principal Brent Bloch and Shirley Person, an administrative assistant to the vice principal.
The class was recognized for its promotion of a positive and inspiring school spirit during the pandemic.
“The Den students and staff possess an unwavering spirit of optimism and enthusiasm during a year where many people are experiencing the limitations, isolationism, anxieties and pessimism that have arisen in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic,” said Bloch.
He added there were many instances where the class went above and beyond to promote school spirit and lift morale around the school.
“The Den students practice their oral communication skills by telling jokes each week to staff members they see in the halls or in the main office. They wear pink shirts to support anti-bullying efforts on Pink Shirt Day, and sport their grandma’s ugly holiday sweaters in December to boost morale,” Bloch said.
“The infinite kindness, positivity, and enthusiasm shown and shared by the Den staff and students are characteristics that are of such vital significance during a pandemic.”
Person noted the class has made consistent efforts to get involved in the community and show support for others.
“Our DEN family has always been willing to pitch in for the good of the community, be it in the broader community or within the walls of the school, regardless of the mission,” she said.
“They have recognized frontline workers in our community by building and erecting a large thank-you sign on the property.”
The class increased school spirit with other students and staff by creating and selling Christmas decorations to raise funds for special projects.
Despite being the smallest class of students in the school, with just eight students and four full-time staff, they still collected the most food for the school’s Community Food Drive, exceeding all other classes by a great margin.
When other students moved to remote learning in January, the class was the only one to remain in school. Upon other students’ return to in-school learning in January, they created a “Welcome Back” sign to greet all returning staff and students.
Senyshyn, one of the teachers who works with the class, reflected on the year the class has had.
“It’s been a privilege to work with everyone in the Den,” Senyshyn said.
“Seeing how people adapted and focused on how we could all support each other and the rest of the school has been the silver lining to the pandemic.”
Uhrig, one of the educational assistants for the class, said, “It is an awesome honour to work with this great group of people.”
“To see all the great things that we have done and the new adventures that we have been able to give to the students has been wonderful. As a parent of a special needs parent child myself, I have loved watching them grow and come to life.”
Dunbar, also an educational assistant with “The Den” has been with the class since September. She believes the award is a major honour for the class.
“This is a big deal for us,” she said.
“When you think about it, there are thousands of people within this school board, and to be one of 13 recipients for this award, it means a lot.”
Dunbar is also proud of how the students navigated through the pandemic, and how staff have kept a positive attitude.
“We’ve done a lot better than we thought we would. We have actually had zero trouble with mask compliance,” she said.
“They’ve done great, and it’s great to see them so happy. We were surprised when we saw (the award).”