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Amplifying Student Potential
The Hawthorne Project

This summer, a handful of students from Hawthorne Public School were some of the first students to ever gain a high school credit before even stepping foot in their high school.

A partnership between Youth Ottawa and the OCDSB led to Grade 8 English Language Development students being set on a path to success; learning about practical skills such as opening a bank account, writing effective emails, as well as essential skills for understanding their future career paths. The program, reasonably entitled the Hawthorne Amplified program, provided these kids with the right resources to amplify their potential. Thanks to the cooperation of the students, teachers, and sponsors, they have been provided advantages that they may not have otherwise been able to access. The project started as an extension of Youth Ottawa’s Youth Active Media program , after students showed eagerness to continue their participation throughout the summer. 

Karen Andrews, a teacher at Hawthorne for over 18 years, was the teacher who oversaw the project alongside Youth Ottawa. When she first participated in an OCDSB XL workshop, she wanted to find a way to incorporate experiential learning in her own classroom. In the midst of negative emotions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Youth Ottawa and the experiential learning board helped facilitate this program to provide students a new and fun experience. During the year, the students developed a strong bond to each other and the teachers as they created their science fiction movie. Eventually, the students were able to build their confidence to ask for a grant from OCDSB XL. They were granted $5,000 in order to buy filming equipment, which still remains at Hawthorne. The hopes are for this filming equipment to be used as a resource for future students in their endeavours.

By extending the YAM project over the summer, it allowed the close-knit group of students to stay together while gaining a high school credit and real-world work experience to add to their CV.

Unaffected: The Video Journey

Take a look at the student’s video journey as they created their short film titled Unaffected during the Youth Active Media program.

A Great Mentor

Enter: Mouhamad Al Aarab – an aerospace engineering student at Carleton University. Mouhamad was hired by Youth Ottawa to facilitate the program as an extension of Youth Ottawa’s mission to provide economic opportunities for youth, allowing him to earn income to pay for his own tuition.

Mouhamad immigrated to Canada in 2016, after 4 years without a formal education. His second language being English, he was the perfect candidate to inspire these youth to achieve their aspirations. Nurhan, one of the students, agreed that having someone from a similar background helped them have someone to look up to. From Mouhamad’s experiences, he credited the homework club at his high school for getting him into university – something which Youth Ottawa tried to emulate through this program. 

The Hawthorne Amplified Project empowered Mouhamad to be a role model for students who may be inspired to continue in his footsteps and become mentors for future generations. Consequently, not only were other students’ potentials amplified, but the unemployment gap amongst youth was also lessened in numerous ways.

The summer lessons taught financial and digital literacy, as well as lessons in resilience and leadership, but also included games and interactive activities. Mouhammad and the teachers structured their lessons around the interests of the students, weaving in curriculum expectations wherever they could. Drawing on his own experiences, Mouhamad implemented techniques that had helped him in the past, such as starting classes by encouraging the students to voice their concerns – which was often about school or the pandemic. At first, he found it difficult to get students involved through a screen. These challenges were overcome with incentives such as games where participation was mandatory, as well as building trust with the more shy students. 

The balance between fun and education kept students engaged in the education process. For students, the final project from the previous YAM sessions – a TV show – was one of the most memorable aspects of the program, despite not being able to finish it. Mouhamad also introduced the students to “words of the day”: words that he wished to have known when he was learning English in high schools like “requirements” and “experience” – knowing that these kids would often need to help their parents understand official documents sent in English.  

“It’s a really good example of what we need to be doing more of [...] this is what we need more in education in general: kids super psyched about things” - Kristin Kopra, Hawthorne Public School Principal

The Hawthorne students also expressed disappointment in not being able to finish their movie project, and are eager to continue this sort of initiative.

“I hope one day in the future we could do it again, I still don’t know how, but hopefully one day.” - Nurhan, OCDSB Student

Their enthusiasm raises the question of whether the program could be implemented throughout the city at a larger scale to amplify the potential of even more students.

Both Karen and Kristin agreed that this program could be implemented in other schools, and would have a different – albeit still important –  effect on the students who participate. She also mentioned that one of the main reasons why this program was so successful was the teacher’s involvement and encouragement. Having a strong bond between teachers and students had been a meaningful point of the program: something that Mouhamad provided. With the proper funding, it would be possible to increase communication between students, staff, and families.

Mouhamad also added that students would benefit more if they continued the program, as they only met for two hours a week. According to him, the homework clubs that currently exist for his little brother don’t have as much of an effect as the one he attended in high school. By establishing similar programs in other schools and districts, we could amplify more student potential – but we need your help.

How you can help

How many projects can truly get a group of students excited to learn? In the end, the goal to make an impact for at least one student and support them in achieving their big dreams was achieved. But in order to amplify more student potential, we must first amplify the project as a whole. With your donations and support in fundraising efforts, you would be able to help us make a difference in the lives of more students across Ottawa by keeping projects like these going. Will you help?