About Maren Abuzukar
Maren is a high school senior at J.R. Robson Highschool, in rural Vermilion, Alberta. She is super passionate about helping others, and within the last few years, she has been taking initiative within her community through volunteering at long-term and representing youth in my local FCSS committee. Being a senior has been really stressful at times and it’s been really important to have activities to help her de-stress. After a long day, she loves reading a book, baking, knitting, or working out whether that’s on the school’s volleyball courts, the cross country trails, the soccer fields, or my bedroom. Contact maren by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
About Bryanna Rentz
Bryanna Rentz is a grade 11 student attending Wainwright High School. She participates in volleyball and curling in school and Girl Guides and archery outside of school. She is passionate about archery, and helping others! Contact Bryanna on email by: Bryanna.Rentz@btps.ca
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (01:50):
Maren, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.
Maren Abuzukar (01:59):
Well, hi, thank you for having me, Sam. That’s the first thing I wanna say. Like you said, my name’s Maren I’m currently in grade 12 and I’m from a small little town in Canada called Vermilion. Some things about myself, some things I enjoy. I love to volunteer giving back to my community. I love just taking walks or running outside. I also love reading books. I think that’s just, yeah, it’s tiny little excerpt about myself.
Sam Demma (02:26):
Before this interview, you mentioned tomorrow, you’ll be doing work with four H you’ve also done volunteer work with the believe initiative. Where in your journey did volunteerism start for you or become such a important part of your life?
Maren Abuzukar (02:43):
I think that was something when I was in the fifth grade, I believe so I played soccer in our town and one of the things they wanted you to do was they’d like ask you to go and volunteer during games or something. And it was just mandatory for every team. So my parents were really busy people. So I would take up their shifts for like my age and we’d go help out in the shack, like giving out treats, we’d pick up garbage, we’d help out wherever we could in games. And then what I specifically decided to do was I was the assistant coach for my sister’s team. And that was kind of where it all started because there’s like something to push me. So I started there and I took a little break because for the longest time I thought I couldn’t be a volunteer cause I was too young.
Maren Abuzukar (03:26):
And that was one of the things I regretted the most because it doesn’t come in an age so you can do it whenever. And from there as I got older, it just kind of naturally started failing I in my school, I did like a program or I wanted to teach people about vaping and the harms about it, which was a huge thing to me. So I was, again, I was like, I, I don’t care about my age at this point. I really wanna do it. And then from there just more opportunities came out. I joined the BLC, I volunteered in my hospital and it’s so rewarding. Like you, you feel like you’re giving back. And I just, like I said, one of the biggest are starting late.
Sam Demma (04:02):
In your journey throughout school. Did you have any teachers that encouraged you to volunteer or also made a big impact on you as a student? And if so, who were they and what did they do that made an impact on you?
Maren Abuzukar (04:16):
I think I’m very grateful and I’m like very happy to say that with my school, I’ve had such amazing teachers. They’re all very different and they all help encourage me in different ways. I think sometimes the easiest thing is when they just, they applaud you for what you’re doing or they recognize what you’re doing or, you know, they’re goofy. They’re fun. I think once, like one teacher I’m thinking of specifically this year too. So like, don’t think you have to learn when you’re younger, I’m still learning to, and he was my math teacher and I remember there was one test. I had like a volleyball game. Like I was busy. I wasn’t feeling the greatest and I didn’t do all too well in that exam. And I feel like it, it broke me at some point, I thought like I had such high expectations and it was a grade that I didn’t normally get.
Maren Abuzukar (05:02):
So I got it set. And I remember going up to him and talking to him and he told me, he was like, you have to understand that sometimes you don’t get the outcome you want, but it’s your job to keep going to persevere, to not let that hold you back. Because if I let you retake that test right now, I’m not teaching you that lesson. I’m not, I’m, I’m almost brushing it by and I’m, it was tough love. And I really, really appreciated that. Cause it’s true. You know, you don’t always get to redo things in life. And he taught it to me the hard way, but sometimes that’s just how things have to come. So that was one lesson I’ll never forget.
Sam Demma (05:37):
Will Smith recently released a book titled will. And it’s all about his journey through life. One of the chapters, he mentioned a quote that in school you get taught the lesson and then you take the test and in life you get taught, you get the test and then it’s your job to try and figure out the lesson. One of the amazing things about education is you have teachers who are helping you learn the lessons, which is really awesome. And it sounds like this teacher did that for you.
Maren Abuzukar (06:13):
I was, I was really grateful because I think up until this point, I’d never had test result like that. And it did break me, but like he said, if I had just retaken it, I wouldn’t have learned that lesson. So I can say I was a little mad initially. But after like afterwards I worked harder brought my grade up. I was super happy. He really saw that. I tried and it just, it helped me so much. So I’m really grateful.
Sam Demma (06:37):
Volunteerism was one aspect of your high school and elementary school experience. At what point did you start getting interested and involved in student leadership and why?
Maren Abuzukar (06:51):
I think like when I was just from a young age, I’ve always been very outspoken. I’ve always liked to just say what’s on my mind. I’ve always like to just, you know, know, represent the kids who didn’t really wanna talk. Like if somebody told me their concerns and I knew they just felt shy in class to say, oh, but like teacher, you haven’t taught us this. You haven’t said this. Like, when’s this gonna happen? I would be the first to put up my hand and be like, well, I’m just wondering, like, I’d say in, like I was wondering, but it was really dumb. So I’ve always been outspoken. And I think that almost it becomes contagious. People start realizing it. People start relying on you for certain things. And I remember one thing, grade seven, maybe grade seven or grade six, I came up with an idea up, but the worst ideas are the one that you don’t follow through with.
Maren Abuzukar (07:39):
So this one, I was like, we gotta follow through with it. It’s a new thing. And it was to have a Christmas party where it would be a potluck. Everybody bring something in, it’d be fun. And I remember how hard it was to convince everybody to bring something, to come in and to do something or to get involved, especially the guys in my class. For some reason, they just wouldn’t budge at the very beginning. And I just kept going, kept going. I had a lot of people helping me on my end, but I was really like the speaker of the group. And it was a success and it became like an annual thing. I remember two years ago when we could still kinda have these events in our school, I was like, everybody bring $2. We’re gonna get pizza. Plus everybody bring everything. And it was it so successful.
Maren Abuzukar (08:22):
And from there, it’s just, it’s been, I think here’s what I’m gonna say. With leadership, a lot of the traits that come with leadership are they’re like muscles. So the more you practice them, the bigger they get and the better they become or the more prevalent they are in you. So with that just first situation, it made me more confident. It made me break outta my, and from there it was like, like I said, I did that. Vaping presentation broke me outta my shell more. And then I had just people coming up to me instead of me going out to them and being like, can you do this for me? Do you wanna be part of this? And it’s just, yeah. It’s like a snowball effect here.
Sam Demma (08:58):
Sounds like small, consistent actions.
Maren Abuzukar (09:02):
Sam Demma (09:03):
So do you think there are specific characteristics that make a well rounded leader? Or how would you describe a strong leader?
Maren Abuzukar (09:14):
I think one misconception is a lot of people. Like, especially when you’re younger, you envision a leader, some big CEO sitting at an office, he’s got like hundreds of people. He’s got a lead, he’s taking action. He knows everything. He’s super smart and just, he’s got everything going for him. And I think that’s something that a lot of times scares people away. I think that is, that is an example of a leader. But just because that is a leader, doesn’t mean that somebody else can’t be a leader, there is no cookie cut leader, their cookie cut shape of a leader or anything. I think some well rounded leaders would be confident. They’d be resilient when something doesn’t go their way, they keep going. They they’re very outspoken. I’d like to think they’re also very, they like to take initiative. They see a problem. They wanna be the first one there.
Maren Abuzukar (10:02):
They wanna take that start. They wanna do something about it. And of course, when you’re a leader, you’re not singular. You’ve got a group. So you gotta know how to lead a group. Now, with that being said, I also wanna say that just because you don’t maybe possess a, all these characteristics, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a leader. I think like Sam said small, consistent actions. So one of the big things for me, I think with leadership is like I said, taking that initiative, maybe it’s in class, maybe you’re the first one to put your hands up. And all of a sudden there’s a wave of other kids who feel more confident. They’re like you broke the ice. I’m gonna join in, in a project. You wanna take that lead. You wanna tell people in a friendly way, like what to do, and maybe you’re not seeing anybody take that charge and you wanna be that person.
Maren Abuzukar (10:48):
And like I mentioned before, it’s a muscle over time. You’re gonna get better and better at it. You’re gonna get that. You’re gonna be able to speak well in front of crowds, you’re gonna be able to look for the crew group and want the best for the group. You’re gonna have that skill of confidence. You’re gonna be resilient. You’re gonna have that discipline. So I think those are definitely traits. But remember everybody has to start somewhere. And just because you don’t have an abundance of one of them right now, doesn’t mean you can’t in the future. So I wanna end that question by thing. You can be a leader too.
Sam Demma (11:20):
Resilience is a trait that’s being much needed right now with COVID 19 with the transition to virtual school. How has your experience been with online school? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?
Maren Abuzukar (11:40):
I, yeah, so I was one of those special cases that completely got my high school taken away from me. Like my high school experience. I remember we had like, we’d go for volleyball. We’d go to out like a away tournaments. We’d sleep over. We’d do what? Not completely gone. I didn’t know what that felt like until this year. So that was weird there. Like it obviously came all at once. I know one of the big things, of course the school aspects that like electronic learning for a lot of people. It wasn’t interesting. I know sometimes I get up, it gives like, it just seemed so slow and you’d lose motivation and you wouldn’t know what to do and you just didn’t wanna go to class. And that was always hard. And of course there’s like a social aspect to it. Like you wouldn’t be seeing your friends like that.
Maren Abuzukar (12:24):
Got you lonely. Of course that’s never good for your mood. And for me, one of the best things to do was take it one day at a time. I would wake in the morning and have that mindset of being like, okay, I’ve got this class from this to this, I’m gonna pay attention. I’m gonna take an active role. Like I had to do Rome and Juliet online, fun time. And I was like, I put my hand, I put my hand up and I was like to my teacher, I was like, can I be Romeo? So I took that like, you know, first step to that made me that helped me accountable. I had to get up. I had to go to class. I had to take part in that class. Cause Romeo has a lot of lines and that made it better for me. But I think still, even with taking part, it was hard because once we came back to school, it just felt way more fast.
Maren Abuzukar (13:15):
And I remembered like now you had to put back all that sports that you hadn’t done for two years, like the classes or like the extracurriculars. And you’d go into a class that maybe you did in person before the lockdown. Cause we had a smaller school. So we didn’t lock down as frequently as the bigger school. But then a lot of some kids in your class, weren’t on the same page as you cuz they had done it online. And of course that was slower. A lot of things were taken away. So I think the best, the best thing to do in that case was just, don’t be scared to ask, go to your teacher, ask them what you’re gonna do. Cause there’s nothing better than sitting or nothing worse, sorry than sitting in a class, not knowing what to do, going home, still not knowing what to do. And you’re just gonna continue a cycle and you’re never gonna know what to do. So that was another thing that we had to follow through as the year went like as the year kinda opened up.
Sam Demma (14:10):
There will be many educators listening to this podcast who hopefully will share it with their classroom of students. You know, I’m hoping lots of them will listen to it and wanna share it with the kids in their class. Some of which will be in grade nine. If you could give advice to grade nines right now what advice would you share?
Maren Abuzukar (14:34):
I think the first thing I would say is believe in else. And with that kind of take those steps to break outta your shell. I know with me, I said before I found like I fell in love with volunteering. You just feel so good after you’re doing it. And you find something so rewarding. But I had placed limitation on myself saying that I was too young. What would it have hurt if I had went to somebody and asked, Hey, can I volunteer? The worst thing they could have said is no you’re too young, but by not even trying, I didn’t even have that outcome. I didn’t have that opportunity. So I’d say believe in yourself, break outta your shelf. Take those opportunities that you want. A lot of times there’s no matter where you go, no matter what you do, there’s always gonna be people that are gonna have something negative to say about you.
Maren Abuzukar (15:22):
And if you believe in yourself, if you don’t necessarily take what they have to say to heart, or maybe you take it in a critiquing way, maybe they say, say like, you’re you have bored some or something. Maybe you have to ask yourself, Hey, what did I do? What can I fix? What can I improve? But don’t ever have that negative mindset on yourself because that’s never gonna help you. I think something else I would say is you’re in grade nine, you’re young. Like I’m in grade 12, I’m still young, but you’re even younger. And I would say, don’t place limitations on yourself. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t do this or you don’t wanna do this or this doesn’t interest. You I’d say try things out. I know in grade nine, some kids knew exactly what they wanted to be, what universities they wanted to go to, what programs they wanted to be or come out of and like that.
Maren Abuzukar (16:13):
But they’d never experienced it or experienced other things that they might have liked even more. So they placed that limitation on themselves. And I think you’re too young for that. Try things out. See maybe you had a picture perfect with that idea in your head about what being a lawyer would be. But one day you go and shadow someone and you’re like, well, I don’t like this aspect of it. I love of it. Maybe take something out of it and see what other careers come out. I think the thing I’d wanna end off is discipline. It’s hard. I know you think you’re young. I say you’re just you, but it’s to discipline the, I take time outta your schedule, lock things out, organize things in your day so that you hold yourself accountable. Whether that’s for practice. If you have an extracurricular that you love, whether that’s for school, maybe it’s so you get better characteristics and work. I discipline is a huge, huge thing that I’m still working on. So yeah, those are some things that I’d probably say I wish I knew grade nine, definitely would wanna know and hopefully it benefits someone.
Sam Demma (17:19):
Awesome. Aaron, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, sharing some of your experiences. I know it’ll be helpful for educators to share this with their students and their classrooms. If someone wants to ask you a question or reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Maren Abuzukar (17:36):
I’d probably say my email. That’s probably the easiest way I do check that occasionally. And my email, like just saying it out loud is M Abukar gmail.com. I think I do have to give you a file. So is it okay if I write that down in there? Just so it’s a little easier for them to see.
Sam Demma (17:52):
Absolutely. I’ll put it in the show notes of the episode where everyone can grab it. Thank you again so much for coming on the show. You were awesome. Keep up with the great work and I look forward to speaking to you soon.
Maren Abuzukar (18:04):
Thank you. I had a lot of fun. I am now officially a podcaster, I guess. So that’s something new.
Sam Demma (18:11):
And there was the full conversation with Maren. We will now start the conversation with Brianna Rentz. Brianna, welcome to the high performing student podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself who you are and tell us a little bit about your journey to where you are today as a student.
Bryanna Rentz (18:32):
So my name is Bryanna Rentz and I’m a grade 11 student from Wainright Alberta. I got involved in student leadership in the third grade. I had an incredible teacher. She taught us about the seven habits of happy kids. Oh cool. Since then, my grade has always been looked to as leaders within our schools, the seven habit. They encourage me to get the skills to become a strong leader. Yes. Since then I’ve been heavily involved in leadership in many different ways. I’ve been a part of the girl guides in my community, my leadership class mentors, grade seven kids. And I was able to volunteer with the four H club in my community and teach them what I’m passionate about.
Sam Demma (19:09):
That is so awesome. And seven habits. Those sound awesome. Do you still remember any of the seven or like any of them that stick out to you?
Bryanna Rentz (19:23):
One of them, I don’t remember which number it is, but one is first to understand and to be understood.
Sam Demma (19:29):
Bryanna Rentz (19:30):
That one really with me.
Sam Demma (19:32):
Yeah. That’s super important. That’s such, I, I think those those lessons come from Steven Covey. He has a, yeah. So when I was like your age, I read a book called the seven habits for highly effective teens. And I think this is like the very, I think it might be the same book or something very similar.
Bryanna Rentz (19:51):
Yeah. our teacher, we didn’t have very much of that in our school before, but she was really into it and she brought leadership to our entire elementary school.
Sam Demma (20:01):
Damn. What, what was her, sorry, what was her name again? And also tell me a little bit about what she did specifically for you that you think made a massive impact on you as a student.
Bryanna Rentz (20:11):
Her name was Marion and she had us teach other classrooms in the school about the seven habits. Oh wow. And how we’d do them every day. And we’d watch videos on leadership. And I remember in grade three, we, we were all obsessed with rainbow looms and making those bracelets.
Sam Demma (20:28):
Bryanna Rentz (20:28):
And one day our class, just the entire day we made bracelet and then we had a sale at the school and we donated all of the money we made to charities. Wow.
Sam Demma (20:38):
And do you stay in touch with her to this day or not so much anymore?
Bryanna Rentz (20:42):
Not a whole lot. Now that I’m at a different school, but I remember her all the time.
Sam Demma (20:47):
That is so cool. And aside from her as your teacher, were there any other educators that made a significant impact on you? Like, it, it, it sounds very obvious that she made a massive impact. And it continues to this day. Are there other teachers that you’ve looked up to and have inspired you a lot?
Bryanna Rentz (21:07):
I actually really, really struggle to answer this question cuz so many of my teachers have really made an impact on my life. Yeah. So many different ways. They like, from my schooling to athletics, I’ve learned so many skills from them and they really just make school a better place. They always cheer me up and I can trust them with anything. Yeah. My teachers, Mr. Martin, Mrs. Guy and Han Mrs. Woodell, Mrs. Chesky. And even Mrs. Steele, they were just such a positive impact on our high school.
Sam Demma (21:36):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool.
Bryanna Rentz (21:39):
Sam Demma (21:40):
Bryanna Rentz (21:41):
When teacher, I just have to tell you about him. He wasn’t really a high school teacher. I only had him in junior high for Jim and art.
Sam Demma (21:49):
Bryanna Rentz (21:50):
His name was Mr. Seretsky and every day he’d just greet everyone say good morning. Sometimes he’d forget after turn past 12 and three o’clock when we’re leaving. Hey, good morning everyone. And he just had a super big impact on my high school life. He’d get us all involved and having fun. I remember the day we were told that he was transferring to another school. My heart just sunk and I cried all day.
Sam Demma (22:18):
Wow. It sounds like he made a massive impact because he cared about you guys. Like, like how, what do you think that was? You think it’s him caring about the student? Like if you had to explain what he did. So I, I understand he, he sounds like he was very charismatic and like if you had to boil it down to like one characteristic, what do you think the characteristic was that he embodied that made such an impact on all of you?
Bryanna Rentz (22:45):
He really cared about the students. He gave everything to that school.
Sam Demma (22:51):
Bryanna Rentz (22:52):
Sam Demma (22:52):
Awesome. And when it comes to leadership, obviously you’ve had some great leaders in your life. Yeah. Shout out to your mom too. She’s pretty awesome. You’ve had some great leaders. What do you think the characteristics or the character traits of a great leader are?
Bryanna Rentz (23:11):
In, I think the most important ones are kindness, ambition, authenticity, fairness, and the ability to get people up off their feet, whether like participating in activity or anything else, a leader should really be able to get people involved.
Sam Demma (23:25):
Hmm. I love that. And you mentioned as well a little bit of involvement in the girl guides and four H can you tell me some stories in relation to those initiatives and how you were involved and what you kind of learned or gained from them?
Bryanna Rentz (23:41):
Well, when I turned, I think it was 14 or 15. I was able to apply for the duke of Edinburg award.
Sam Demma (23:48):
What is that? Tell me more, there’s.
Bryanna Rentz (23:49):
Bronze, silver and gold levels. You can unlock the next one as you go. But I have the app on my phone that tells me all about it, but you have to do a certain number of weeks of community service or volunteerism, recreation, an activity and learning a new skill. Yep. And for a volunteer, I chose to teach the four H kids and then another elementary kid in my community, how to do archery. I’m really passionate about that. And then within the girl guides, we meet up with the younger groups and we help them. We plan activities for them and just work with them.
Sam Demma (24:27):
Very cool. That’s awesome. And would you encourage other young people to get involved? Like what do you think the benefit of getting involved and volunteering?
Bryanna Rentz (24:39):
It’s lots of fun and you never know how much you can affect someone’s life with that, sharing your passions with others or help them learn new skills can really like maybe they wanna get involved with it too.
Sam Demma (24:51):
Yeah. So true. So true. And what do you think was your biggest and maybe will continue to be a big challenge when it comes to doing school online and how have you, as a student tried to overcome that and still make the most of the situation.
Bryanna Rentz (25:05):
It was done. Definitely the social part. It was so used to seeing my friends and my teachers every day that it really took a hit when it was all taken away.
Sam Demma (25:14):
Bryanna Rentz (25:16):
Me and my friends got past that issue. We we’d FaceTime every day before class and after class and any other time we could and we’d just play games on our phones and talk how doing, how it’s going at home. And sometimes we’d make zoom calls with some of our favorite teachers just to see how they were doing without us and how the school was.
Sam Demma (25:36):
Cool. That’s awesome. And if you could give other aspiring leaders some advice, like what, what would you share? And this could also be advice for your own younger self?
Bryanna Rentz (25:47):
Get involved in anything you can, leadership can take you amazing places. It can really just make you a better person.
Sam Demma (25:55):
Love that. That’s awesome. And don’t forget to be someone’s taco, right? Yeah. That’s so cool. Well, look, Brandon, thank you so much for taking some time to share some of your experiences. Some of the teachers had a major impact on you. Do you have any parting words or final things you’d like to say to anybody who’s tuning in or would you like to share a way someone could reach out to you, maybe a social platform or an email address? If a student had a question how should they get in touch with you and any, any parting words?
Bryanna Rentz (26:27):
I just wanna thank you for letting me come and talk with you. I wanted you to thank, or I wanted to thank you for letting me voice how I feel. And I do have Instagram. It’s just @Bryanna_Rentz if anybody needs to reach me.
Sam Demma (26:40):
Awesome. All right, Bryanna. Well, we’ll talk soon. Keep up with the great work and yeah. Enjoy the holiday season.
Bryanna Rentz (26:47):
Thank you. You as well.
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The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education. By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators. You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.