There Are No Answers in the Back of the Book for Life’s Tough Questions

As you journey through your school years, you will be faced with a number of different problems that you will be told you need to provide an answer for: math homework, history tests, where to go to high school, where to apply for university, and almost definitely what do you want to do when you’re older? Unlike with math problems, there is no formula that you can use to make decisions in regards to your life’s path. As someone who’s been through it, I’d like to say that not having a formula isn’t always a bad thing.

School can be a stressful experience in itself; it requires you to balance your academics with your social life and your extra-curricular activities. As you get older, you might start to experience some added pressure from your parents, your teachers, or even your peers to have a confident response for the question, “what’s next?”

The truth is, you won’t always know and you don’t always have to; it’s perfectly okay to go with the flow.  In grade eight, you will have the opportunity to apply to a specific high school, or to your feeder school. The feeder school will automatically accept you, whereas any other schools you apply to may require a specific set of requirements for your admission, such as academic scores or high achievement in a sport or the arts. Everyone has their own reasons for applying outside of their feeder school, but it is important to remember that all hope is not lost if you don’t end up at the high school you thought you would. In Canada, we are very fortunate to have access to a strong public education system, and for the most part, your education is what you make it. Two people could have an identical education, but it is your responsibility to apply yourself in a way that is most productive for your goals. If you commit yourself to learning the material, you will be prepared for post-secondary. It’s important to remember that not getting into the school you thought you would shouldn’t change your dreams; it will only change the course you take to achieve them. There are many possible paths and outcomes that you won’t be able to predict, no matter how hard you try.

When I was in grade 12 and the time to apply for university rolled around, I was farther from knowing what I wanted to do than I had ever been. For at least two years leading up to the application deadline, I was sure I would go to the University of Ottawa. I was strong in French in high school and thought that since I did well in it, I should continue to study it in a bilingual city. I visited the campus and found out that Ottawa was not for me. Even though French was my best subject and it might have been in my “best interest” to follow this path, I didn’t like the campus and I wasn’t in love with the city like I expected. Learning this set me back to square one. I visited guidance counselors and took aptitude tests to try to figure out what program suited me best, but in the end, I didn’t apply for any of them.

Instead, I took a look at what I actually enjoyed, not only in school, but also what I liked to do in my free time. At the suggestion of one of my teachers, I concluded that critical media studies might be something I was interested in, even though I had never heard of such a program before.

Not having a solid idea of what I wanted to do in terms of study–or for work once school was over—gave me the opportunity to explore a variety of options when I started my first year of university. I learned that I didn’t like film classes in the way that I thought I would and that I really liked political science. Your first and even second years of university are an opportunity to explore what you actually enjoy learning about. I think it is important to look at it this way because in my experience, you need to be open to the possibility that your life plans will change. For this reason, I want to reassure you that not having a plan at all is okay too. For me, I started university in a program I applied for because someone suggested it to me, not because it was my strongest subject or because I thought it would lead to a job.

I then spent four years figuring out what I wanted to learn, instead of struggling with concepts I didn’t enjoy; instead of asking myself, “what job do I want after I finish my degree,” I was asking, “what do I want to do after completing my degree.”

What I found was that I loved learning and being in the university environment, so instead of applying for jobs in my fourth year, I began applying for graduate school. Was a Master’s degree a part of my plan when I was choosing where to go to high school in grade eight? Absolutely not. It wasn’t even on my radar in grade 12 when I was applying for university. In all honesty, it may have seemed like a last minute decision, but in the end it worked out anyway. I now work in the charitable sector doing work that I enjoy, with skills that I didn’t even know I would have when this journey started. If you don’t know what skills you’ll have in the future, how can you be expected to have a plan for it before you’re even 18!

You have more time to plan your life than you think and there’s no need to rush into the “real world.” Some people take more time discovering themselves and their interests than others, so don’t feel like you’re in a bad place just because your friend already has her major picked out. Instead, enjoy your time in school – it really will be over before you know it!

Life As an 8th Grader and What I Learned From It

When grade 8 came, we were thrilled and excited as it was our final year before high school. At the same time, our teachers, guidance counselors, and our parents began to pressure us. It was also around this time when the pressure of deciding on our “ultimate destination” – that what we chose to study in high school would inform what we did for the rest of our lives.

There were schools that came to promote their specialized programs. I remember when a representative from my home school (a school designated for you based on your address) came to promote their outstanding math, science, and technology program. Another representative from a different high school came and promoted the same type of program. My middle school’s guidance counselor promoted other programs (e.g., arts, French immersion, etc.) whose representatives weren’t able to come. There were also people who came to promote the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), Cooperative Education, and Dual Credit programs.

Then, everyone around me began to change. People who were interested or who were pressured by parents to apply to programs became competitive. They strived to get high marks. They joined many clubs and other extra-curricular activities. They filled out applications, made portfolios, practiced their talents in performing arts, took entrance exams, and prepared for interviews, if there were any.

I, too, did the same. After considering my strengths and weaknesses in my school subjects and the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) path, I decided that I wanted to get in to a math, science, and technology program. I became fierce and focused on that one goal. I visited high schools.

I filled out applications and took entrance exams for my home school’s program and my current school’s program. I didn’t get into my first choice, which was my home school’s program, and cried. I thought of myself as weak and stupid at that time, but then, I got into my current high school’s program, which returned my confidence.

In January, guidance counselors and teachers began to bother us more to pick the type of courses we would take in grade nine before the end of the month. There were three types of courses: applied, academic, and locally developed. But for me and my class, the choices were between grade 9 academic and applied courses. Parents urged us to pick academic grade 9 courses, the way to university; because they told us it’s the “right path.” “Applied is for the dumb” became the norm, so almost everyone picked academic courses. But I and others that were in specific programs had little-to-no choice, as majority of our courses were mandatory.

Finally, we graduated and moved on to high school.

Fast forward to today. I’m now in my last year of high school, deciding which university to attend and what program I should choose, as well as aspiring to be a published author. Right now, I’m working hard to keep my math mark high enough for university applications and interning for Ripple Foundation as part of my school’s co-operative education.

I’ve graduated from my school’s math, science, and technology program last year, successfully completing all the enriched math and science courses from grade 9 to 11. I’ve written short stories, poems, a first draft of my first novel, this blog, and I’m about to begin writing my second novel. Since graduating grade 8, I’ve accomplished a lot of things.

Did I arrive at my “ultimate destination?” No. In fact, between grades 9 and 11, I’ve realized that there is no such thing. At points in our lives, we will change our paths and they will lead us to destinations. My path went from STEM to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), and my destination right now is to be a writer.

Did I like the program or did I regret it? There were times when I didn’t like it, but I did not regret applying to it and attending. It taught me to handle pressure and which habits I should fix. It gave me opportunities, like trips to Microsoft and workshops like Think About Math!

Also, looking back, I find it insane and ridiculous to consider people “dumb” if they were put into grade 9 applied courses and “smart” if they were put in grade 9 academic courses. As I moved forward in high school, I realized how close-minded we were. I learned that in life, it isn’t about who is smart or not, or what makes you smart. It’s about if you will find something that will satisfy you and make you happy.

Sure you will have those marks in the 50s and 60s; sure you took those boring high school courses; but later on, those will be traces of ash. No one will care about it or they’ll forget about it.

My advice to eighth graders? Be open to opportunities and change and don’t fall to pressure; life doesn’t end at grade 8.

Challenges and Choices: The Transition Out of Grade Twelve

Some moments are destined to be life-changing. These moments, and the circumstances surrounding them, are often accompanied with an acute awareness of just how much gravity they hold. Personally, I am currently facing one of these moments – completing my final year of high school and transitioning to post-secondary education. This process is one accompanied by much contemplation, decision-making, and ups and downs.

The choices I will make around my educational future are undoubtedly the most important that I have been faced with in my life thus far. These are choices that require immense self-reflection, including my interests, goals, and educational past.

I find myself considering the most important factors that have shaped me—both academically and personally—and beginning to decide how I want these factors to continue to contribute to my future.

As I reached the senior grade levels of high school, I was asked more and more frequently about what I was planning on doing after graduation. I have always planned to go to university, though I was not always entirely sure at which school or in which program. I love a wide variety of subjects, and never felt as though there was a sole educational or career path I was destined to follow. There are so many options available for post-secondary students today, which is great. It is amazing that I have so much choice in determining what and where I would like to study, and so many degrees are easily personalized and adaptable to one’s specific interests; however, the more choices there are, the harder it is to decide.

Many schools and programs may sound fantastic, but it can be difficult to determine if it is truly the right fit without yet being able to actually experience it.

With regards to programs specifically, it can be overwhelming picking a single subject or area of study to focus on. Throughout high school, I have always studied four subjects at a time, each covering different material. The concept of studying a single subject, for at least four years, is very different for me. I am currently looking at business, law, and general arts programs. I am leaning towards these areas of study as I feel I would be able to learn universally applicable skill sets in these programs without having to narrow my focus to precisely or quickly.

Deciding which school to attend is both easier and harder. On one hand, once you know what sort of programs you are looking at, the reputation or availability of those programs at certain schools can help guide your decision. Further, if distance or travel is a concern, schools outside of your geographic range are removed from consideration. Personally, I would prefer not to attend school on the opposite side of or outside the country, so I am not considering schools that would require me to take a plane to visit home. While there can be limiting factors on school consideration, it is still a difficult decision.

There are so many great schools out there, with nearly all of them offering enticing student services, extensive extracurriculars, and welcoming communities. Ultimately, it seems as though the decision comes down to what environment will complement you best as a person, as it is nearly impossible to deem schools simply “good” or “bad”.

The sheer amount of paperwork involved in applying for post-secondary education is a tad overwhelming. This is a process that requires a significant amount of time, as well as great attention to detail. Applying for university and preparing for everything else that comes along with it is nowhere near a one-step process. Many schools require supplementary applications alongside general applications, and completing all applications require transcripts and other paperwork. There are an immense number of scholarships, both school-specific and general, available to students. This is fantastic, as these scholarships provide students with opportunities to be financially rewarded for their hard work throughout high school. There is no reward without effort, however.

Most scholarship applications require students to demonstrate organization and initiative skills, not just within the body of the written application, but in the completion of the application itself.

By this I mean that without properly applied time-management and organizational skills, it can become very easy to miss application deadlines or components. While it is very important that all ts are crossed and all is are dotted when it comes to university and scholarship applications, the opportunities that may come about as a result of these applications are entirely worth it.

What I have found to be the most important sentiment to remember throughout this process is to make these decisions for myself. Ultimately, I am the one who will be attending the university, studying the program, entering the workforce with the degree, and living the experience I choose. There can be a lot of pressure to choose a school or program based on others opinions. Many students feel as though they should attend a prestigious school to appease or impress their family, friends, or society at large. I truly believe, however, that students, myself included, will be most successful if they make choices that are right for them, not right for others.

The transition out of high school to one’s next steps is a process that every grade twelve student has to undergo, so it is comforting to remember that everyone is in the same situation as I am.

I have found that there are plenty of resources and support, friends included, to help students make it through this process. While it can be an overwhelming and stressful time, I also recognize that this is a very exciting chapter of my life, and I am looking forward to continuing to enjoy this ride.

An Open Letter from Last Year’s Kids Write 4 Kids Winner

Since I began working on Kids Write 4 Kids, one of the most rewarding experiences for me is the positive feedback I receive from kids, parents, teachers, and volunteers. Sometimes they are in the form of a phone conversation, but most of the time, it’s just a sentence or two in an email.

Last weekend, I received an email from Olivia Simms, one of last year’s winners, who wrote How to be an Abbott. After reading the email, I just knew it was something I needed to share since the letter wasn’t address just to me but to the Writer of the Future:

Hi Ivy,

I’ve been back in school for about a month now and although things have felt a little hectic, I can’t begin to explain how much the KW4K experience has helped with my self-confidence in dealing with new challenges (like starting high school!).

 Also, I put this together quickly. It’s a letter, not a blogpost…I just wanted to say something to this year’s participants.

Dear Writer of the Future,

Congratulations, you’ve found one of the best opportunities for young writers in Canada! Kids Write 4 Kids absolutely changed my life and I firmly believe it will continue to help kids across the country realize their writing dreams. But enough about me. What does this mean for you?

Maybe you’re doing this as a school assignment, maybe you’re chasing your dream of becoming an author one day. Maybe you’re doing both! In any case, being published “one day” doesn’t have to mean a trillion years from now. It can mean in a couple months. It can mean by the time summer rolls around, you’re a published author. And if you’re like me, those two words make your heart race and your head spin.

Though some people might question you, make you wonder what business a kid under the age of fifteen has publishing a book, let me tell you: you have every business. If you have a story to tell, you are no different from the Rowlings and Hemingways that came before you. Your experiences in this world are inexplicably unique, not because of the things that happen to you, but how you think of them.

If you take part in this challenge, please don’t do it to impress anyone but yourself. Yes, maybe your teacher is making you do it and you “don’t think you have it in you to write well.” But here’s the secret I’ve learned in talking to authors and becoming an author: everyone feels that way sometimes.

 Don’t just write what you think everyone else will like. Write something that you think is funny. Write something that you’d like to read yourself. Write something that changes the reader, but more importantly, changes you. Because if by time you submit your story, you’ve grown as a person and as a writer, you’ve already won.

What are you waiting for? You’ve got writing to do!

Olivia Simms
Author of How to Be an Abbott

Thanks Olivia, it’s fabulous to hear Kids Write 4 Kids has given you such a positive experience. I believe that it’s powerful for kids to inspire other kids, so thank you, Olivia, for your encouragement to this year’s participants!

About Kids Write 4 Kids

The 2017-2018 Kids Write 4 Kids Creative Challenge was officially launched on October 1st.  This will be our 6th annual writing contest for grades 4 – 8.  There’s still plenty of time for students to get started in writing a great story as the submission deadline is March 31st, 2018.  All the details can be found on Ripple Digital Publishing website.

Would you like a chance to meet one of Kids Write 4 Kids first published authors and win a copy of her book?  Safaa Ali, author of Why Peacock have Colorful Feathers will be reading from her book on Wednesday, October 25th at Indigo’s Manulife Centre location in Toronto. Click here for more details.

My Experience in a Classroom Book Club

Becoming a book club member, whether at your school or in a local group within your community, provides opportunities to listen to others, meet new people, and explore new things. In my freshman English class, I was involved in a small book club assignment. The class was divided into four groups of approximately six people.

As a member of one of these groups, I was able to observe some of the great things that one can experience and learn when involved in an activity such as this.

1. Listening to Others

Since the core purpose of an exercise such as a book club is to get people to think about and share their own interpretations and questions regarding the book they are reading, you are bound to hear the perspectives and opinions of others in your group. This in turn expands your worldview, exposing you to ideas you may never have considered before and brings you closer to those involved—more on that later. The basis for our discussions when we congregated for book club stemmed from things we’d discovered while fulfilling the duties of the “roles” we’d been assigned, and which we rotated at each meeting. One particular role, which really got my creative juices flowing, was Discussion Director.

As the name suggests, whoever happened to be the Discussion Director would think of questions (usually 10) relevant to the book and the specific chapter being read. When I assumed the role of the Discussion Director, I posed these questions to everyone, and directed the general ebb and flow of the conversation.

This led to a lively discussion where my peers would bounce ideas, theories, and even more questions off of each other. Feeling oddly satisfied that I had stimulated my peers enough to have them actually shouting animatedly at each other over the table about what a character’s intentions really were, I’d even contribute a few ideas of my own and then proceed to the next question. If you can get people talking with one another, there is no limit to the ideas you can discover!

2. Getting to Know the People around You

Chances are that the book club you have joined (or are considering joining) is in your school or community, so wouldn’t it follow that these are people you would be seeing on a day-to-day basis? If so, wouldn’t you like to get to know them better? If the answer is yes, then book club is the activity for you! As a freshman in high school, I sometimes felt like a small fish in a huge pond. It’s in moments like that where you feel that the more people you know and can call friends, the more at home and comfortable you are. However, there will always be people that you wouldn’t naturally be drawn to or would consider being friends with. Personally, I had good friends in my English class, but there were some people I had never even talked to before. Luckily, some of these people ended up being in my book club group.

It was an amazing experience, getting to know them in non-traditional way. Instead of discussion about background, family, life goals, and hardships, I got to know them through the ideas and opinions they put forth in discussion. I found this to be the most intimate way to get to know someone and the most rewarding.

3. Exploring Different Genres

Being randomly assigned books, as many book clubs do, is a great way to branch out and read novels in genres you might never have considered reading before! Personally, I’m more drawn to classics and heavier books, such as Vanity Fair or Great Expectations. I have never been picky about the books that I read, however, so I’m always open to new things (this summer, for example, my aunt introduced me to science fiction, and it was great fun—looking forward to reading Ender’s Game soon!).  For my particular book club group, we read a book called Unwind, which falls into the genre of dystopian fiction. This is not a genre I would naturally pick off a shelf.

Consequently, I was exposed to new writing and new ideas. Plus, dystopian fiction really gets you thinking a lot about what ifs in regard to the systems of government we have in place, the way social rank is determined, the ways that we entertain ourselves, etc. In this way, I explored a new genre and had fun doing it!

4. Broadening your Vocabulary

Expanding your vocabulary, as well as your knowledge of figurative language, is yet another unique advantage of participating in a book club. This will help you to express thoughts, opinions, and ideas more clearly (in conversation or on paper) and strengthen your communication skills—who doesn’t want that!

In our book club, we had the role of Literary Luminary to thank. As the name suggests, the Literary Luminary picks specific, strange, or singular words from the book, researches their meaning, and shares it with the group.

Another part of the role is discovering different ways that the author of your chosen book uses figurative language within the text (things like metaphors, similes, and hyperbole), why they do it, and what effect it produces. It’s quite fascinating.

5. Make Better Connections with the World around You

Being able to make meaningful links between the books you read and your everyday life gives what you read more significance, and—at least I found—it becomes more enjoyable. When a substantial connection is made between your life and what you are reading, the book stops being a random made-up story that someone just came up with and starts to seem like a more thoughtful, meaningfully worded and depicted story. Believe it or not, there is another book club role for this!

The person assigned to this role is the Connector. They are responsible for trying to find as many links as possible between what the group is reading and things occurring in our world today (for example: stereotypes, government policies, controversial topics, and even our own lives).

They then relate their findings to the group for discussion; some people may agree, some may disagree. Either way, there is always lots to talk about with this one.

Hopefully, with a small dose of my experience, you have learned a bit about what book club involvement is like and why it’s so great!

From Contestant to Judge

My Kids Write for Kids journey started when my grade 4 teacher urged me to enter my Pourqoui tale* from an assignment to the competition. The story was about a peacock who, through a miracle, gets transformed into the most beautiful creature in the world.  The book titled Why Peacocks Have Colorful Feathers.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that my story would be adorning anything other than the classroom bulletin board, let alone the school library bookshelves.

Everything changed while I was on a school trip to Ottawa. While still in my pajamas, a student knocked on the door of the college campus we were staying at and informed me that my teacher was calling me to his room. Petrified that I had done something I shouldn’t have, I walked across the floor to his room. All of my anxiety evaporated when he told me that my story had been chosen to get published. With a large smile on my face, I returned to my room. Ever since that point, I wondered exactly how my story was chosen and who chose which of the incredible Ripple stories were to be published. This is why I was ecstatic when I got the invitation to be part of the judging panel for this year’s contest.

The chance to give children the same opportunity I had was certainly an inspiring moment. Although I didn’t meet the other judges, knowing that some of them had either won the competition or judged my story was very motivating.

All of the ten stories were judged in three categories – creativity of the plot or themes; the story structure; and the style and tone – with the percentages of the final grading varying between categories.

From the first story to the last, my jaw constantly dropped with amazement. After finishing, it was nearly impossible to imagine that it was kids no older than I behind the pen.

The stories varied in genres — from action-packed adventures to marvelous mysteries; fascinating fables to fabulous fiction — and were so good, they would make J.K. Rowling proud.

They say that a reader lives a thousand lives and by being part of the judging panel, this proved true for me when I go to experience so many settings, characters, and plots in a short space of time. I would encourage anyone to take on any writing opportunity that comes their way, whether it’s a homework assignment or a full-blown masterpiece. Who knows, you may find yourself on the shelf in the school library!

*A pourquoi tale describes the origin of something, creating a story to tell why.

A Student’s Perspective on Homework: Necessary, Evil, or a Necessary Evil?

“Today’s homework will be…,” “We will complete the rest of this handout for homework…,” “The majority of work on this project will have to be completed at home….” These phrases, and similar others, are things I have heard on a near-daily basis throughout my time as a student. Like many of my peers, I also found myself dreading them. Homework is an integral part of any student’s school experience, mine included.

As I wrap up yet another school year, I am reflecting on homework’s importance. Has it been a necessary tool in my academic journey? Or is it an outdated, pointless tactic of academic evil?

Almost every student has probably thought homework to be a waste of time at some point in their lives, and I am no exception. I have found that certain aspects involved in the homework process require a lot of effort without providing much academic payoff. Spending hours gluing together a poster or trying to format a second line indent have not made me better at science or a more proficient writer. The formatting and assembly often involved in homework assignments are, quite simply, tedious, and not something that I believe improves my abilities as a student. What these experiences have taught me, however, is that seemingly tedious and futile work is often necessary in creating a finished product. Further, I have even found academically beneficial homework to be unproductive at times. In situations where I already have a strong grasp of the material, doing countless homework questions can feel pointless. These are the times when I find I have to decide how to best use my time and sometimes that means not doing all of those homework questions.

Homework has helped me to learn a number of important life skills. For most of the homework I am assigned, if I do not get it done, there will be consequences. Therefore, homework has predominantly helped me to develop time management skills.

When balancing homework for a number of classes, extracurricular activities, and personal and social obligations, I must prioritize and divide my time accordingly. In order to get everything done, I have learned how to be efficient. Further, homework has taught me to be responsible for completing my own work and has helped me in developing collaborative skills whilst working on various group endeavours both in and outside of class. Homework has also helped me to learn an unfortunate reality of life: sometimes, no matter how much you don’t want to do something, you just have to do it anyway.

Even if I don’t always want to do homework, I do acknowledge that it has consistently strengthened my academic abilities. In certain subjects, such as math, where you have to learn a technique or formula, homework can be extremely useful. The repetitive nature of doing homework question after homework question may be tedious, but ultimately, I have found that it does a fantastic job of keeping the information in my brain. Practice is a great way to learn, and in situations like this, homework is simply prescribed practice. In writing and research based subjects, such as English and history, homework has helped me to get a better grasp of the material and the world around me by taking a deeper look at it. In nearly every subject, from the sciences to the arts, homework can be helpful in becoming better at the subject, or gaining further insights into the information being learned. Ultimately, by extending my exposure to the subject, homework will help me to perform better.

In recent years, I have noticed that my school has put more effort into acknowledging and accommodating different learning styles. This includes offering different ways for students to complete assignments and teaching in multi-dimensional ways that target auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners. I have noticed from personal, firsthand experience and through observations of my friends and peers that providing students with different, personalized ways to learn is immensely beneficial.

Homework can become stressful, however, when there seems to be more of it than hours in the day. I attend a semestered school and have to balance four classes each term. When you put together day-to-day homework, larger assignments, and the time required to study for tests and evaluations, the amount of effort required can really add up. In my school, and at most high schools, students will usually have a different teacher for each subject. Since the teachers are not responsible for the entirety of any student’s academic schedule, it is up to the students to organize their time so that they can tackle responsibilities from each class. As a result, the time commitment required to do well in each individual subject can be rather significant. Oftentimes, I have found myself having to choose between academic success and personal commitments, and have had to sacrifice time put towards recreation and hobbies in order to get everything done.

When I find the time to do my homework, I do reap the benefits. Homework has been a way for me to test-run my knowledge and abilities before evaluations. By doing my homework, I am able to discover where my strengths and weaknesses lie within the subject, allowing me the opportunity to get help and focus on the areas in which I need improvement. I do not always enjoy homework, but it is much better to find out that I do not understand a certain concept while doing homework as opposed to finding out in the middle of a test.

On the whole, homework seems to be a sort of necessary evil, something that can be a bit of a pain, but ultimately, is beneficial. The role of homework in my life has had a number of benefits, and has improved my skills and abilities both within and outside of the academic spectrum. I believe that like any good thing, homework is best in moderation. Take it too far, and it can become overwhelming, but get the balance just right, and homework is a greatly useful tool on the road to success.

Feel free to share your thoughts on or experiences with homework in the comments below!