Conception Bay North students reach their Duke of Edinburgh goals
Ascension Collegiate’s special-needs students saw their hard work pay off last month as they made a trip to St. John’s to accept their Duke of Edinburgh awards.
Sonya Lee, the challenging-needs teacher at the Bay Roberts school, said the program, designed for youths aged 14-22, encourages development in four areas: skills, physical fitness, community service and camping.
Her 11 students take part in the COSTA aspect of the program - Challenging Our Students To Achieve - which focuses on special-needs students, who take part in activities around the school, including arts, physical fitness, and cafeteria and office tasks.
“It gives the students something to look forward to each year,” she said, pointing out that there are three levels of achievement: bronze, silver and gold, with increasing requirements at each successive level. “I look at it as almost equal to a high school graduation. Each year, there’s more requirements.”
Lee said a big thrill for the students is when they get to go in to St. John’s to receive their awards from the premier.
“ That’s a joy for many,” she said. The students received their awards Dec. 11, 2009. “It’s a very prestigious ceremony.... The premier, he is unbelievable with these children. A lot of times we see the premier in a very rigid role, where he’s the leader but you see a totally different... he’s unreal. He’s so compassionate towards these children. He’s not standoffish. They run at him, they jump up in his arms, they’re hugging him and kissing him, and he just embraces them all.”
Lee said she’d recommend the program to any schools, especially with special-needs units. “I’ve had several students go through the program. It just gives them a purpose. It gives me a purpose. And for the parents, a lot of these children that are in special needs, the bottom line is that they’re not going to actually achieve a high school graduation because of their disabilities and limitations, but for these parents, for them to be able to go in and see them presented with their awards, something that they accomplished, that means just as much to these parents and the teachers and the students as high school (graduation).”
Trudy Carlisle, the executive director of the Newfoundland chapter of the Duke of Edinburgh awards, said the COSTA program started 12 years ago with one school in the province, and 14 schools now participate, although students can participate on their own even if their school doesn’t have a program. “ We’re always looking ( for new schools),” she said. Carlisle said the premier’s presenting the awards to the students is a tradition unique to Newfoundland and Labrador.
“ We started that initiative with Premier (Brian) Tobin, and all successive premiers, regardless of political party, have always been very supportive of this initiative, and it’s kind of like a tradition now, that the premier presents the awards.
Last year Ascension students went to a Tim Hortons camp in Tatamagouche, N.S., with the tab picked up by Tim Hortons and the Duke of Edinburgh awards.
“It’s an awesome experience for some of these children,” she said. “For some of them it’s the first time that they’ve ever been across the island, and for some it’s the first time that they’ve ever been outside of Newfoundland, and it just broadens their knowledge, because some are very confined in their thinking. They live in the Bay Roberts area, and that’s pretty much what they know. And when you give them this experience, it’s just so worthwhile.”
Jonathan Dawe, Jonathan Gushue and Laura Vokey achieved the bronze level; Christopher Baldwin, Miranda Brown, Calvin Galway and Paul Milley earned silver level recognition; and Shane Dawson and Bradley Rose achieved the gold level for Ascension Collegiate. David Murray of Carbonear Collegiate also earned his gold level.
Jonathan Dawe, left, and his classmate Shawn Dawson put papers through a shredder at Ascension Collegiate in March as part of the COSTA branch of the Duke of Edinburgh awards.