science teacher

Avni Soni – Secondary Science Teacher at Centennial High School

Avni Soni – Secondary Science Teacher at Centennial High School
About Avni Soni

Avni Soni is the secondary science teacher at Centennial High School in Calgary. This episode explores her passion for the sciences and how she got into teaching!

Connect with Avni: Email

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Centennial High School

Brent Dickson

Dr. Ivan Joseph’s “You Got This Mastering the Skill of Self-Confidence”

CBC Massey Lectures

The Transcript

**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 (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest was referred to me by a previous guest. And I just wanna say shout out to Brent Dixon for making the introduction. I wholeheartedly appreciate it when you reach out and let me know other educators that you think I need to interview and need to talk to on this show.

Sam Demma (00:59):

So if you have anyone in mind, please reach to me, sam@samdemma.com. Let me know who I should interview, cuz I would absolutely love to chat with them. It results in phenomenal conversations and getting your friends featured on this podcast. Today’s featured guest who I’m super excited to share with you is Avni Soni. Avni is the secondary science teacher at Centennial High School. And what you’ll, what you’ll feel listening to this episode today is that she is extremely passionate about student wellbeing, about biology and science. And it’s a little difficult doing things virtually, but she’s embracing the reality and doing the best she can to give her students a phenomenal scientific education. So enjoy today’s interview with Avni. Thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Can you just start by introducing yourself and maybe sharing, like why the heck did you get into education?

Avni Soni (02:00):

Okay. So I’m Avni Sony. I’ve been teaching for 13 years now all in Calgary. And I got, and I’m a bio teacher and I got into education because I absolutely loved biology and I wanted to share my passion with the kids and just show how cool and all it is. And throughout the years I just, I love my job. I absolutely love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else is yeah, it just, it’s just so much fun. Every single day is just so different. And I just can’t describe it. It’s even though I teach the same con content, it’s just it’s fun and getting to know these kids too. Yeah.

Sam Demma (02:47):

What prompted you to become a biology teacher instead of a biologist? Like I’m sure you could have took different passions with your, you know, your interest in biology, but why teaching specifically?

Avni Soni (02:59):

Because it was a challenge. It was to get these kids to have that, or try and have that same passion for biology that I do. And to like to be a biologist, just doing research, I think, and I just found it would be so mundane, but being in the classroom and, you know, seeing these kids learn and just getting to know them and seeing what their interests are and seeing if I can tweak that towards BI bio or science is just awesome. Or if I could do that, that would be great. So that’s why I chose teaching.

Sam Demma (03:34):

That’s awesome. And did you have any teacher when you were in high school that had to huge impact on you in terms of teaching that led you down that path as well?

Avni Soni (03:43):

Ah, of course, yes. I definitely there was my grade six teacher Sandra Cober. I tried to look her up and I can’t find her. But maybe she listened to this. Yeah. If you’re listening. Cause I think you’re based off of in Toronto or something like that. Right. Are you, yeah, so I mean, I, I grew up in Toronto, so hopefully she’s listening. I’m like you had a huge impact. When I was in grade six, grade five and six, she was both my grade five and six teacher. And just again, her dedication and her hard work and just trying to get all of us to learn and just she’s just so wonderful. And then there was my bio teacher of course in sir, John, a McDonald McKinley I think his name’s Mike McKinley. I probably retire now, but he also had a massive impact just again, cuz he had all this knowledge of bio. Like he could just ask him anything and he would tell you the answer and just, and his passion for it. Kind of steered me towards bio. And then yeah. And then Sandra steered me towards, I think education in that respect.

Sam Demma (04:49):

Oh that’s awesome. It’s funny. Yeah. I really inspiring teacher when I was in grade 12, whose name was also Mike, so Mike must be correlated to passion maybe?

Avni Soni (04:57):

Right, exactly. It can be for sure.

Sam Demma (05:00):

But tell me more about what Sandra did in her class to make you feel so passionate about education. Like what is it that she did that had a huge impact on you? That’s left an imprint so much that you literally can remember her name and have tried to reach out to her in the past?

Avni Soni (05:16):

I, I think the reason I’ve tried to reach out is because when I found out she was Lee, even the school, I, I didn’t go and see her. And I regret that. I regret saying that you have such an impact on me as a kid and as, as a student that I just wanted to tell you how, cause you know, sometimes like as teachers, you just don’t know the effect that you have on kids, you hope for the best, you hope that they will, you know, thrive in the future, but you just don’t know. And sometimes, I mean, it’s nice now with Facebook and all that stuff and social media that you can reconnect, but sometimes we just don’t. So I, I that’s one thing I regret not telling her is that she had this huge impact. And I think again, it was just her nature and like I think our class was a pretty tough class too. There was a lot of different socioeconomic issues. And so but you wouldn’t, you couldn’t tell cuz she was just there day in and day out early in the morning, I feel like after school and just, you know, giving her a hundred percent all the time to whatever it was is, is what I remember. She’s just yeah.

Sam Demma (06:27):

Dedication. Yeah. I love that. I, I think that’s awesome. And what’s really cool is that, you know, that was a teacher that you had who had a huge impact on your life. She doesn’t even know it because you didn’t get a chance to tell her yet.

Avni Soni (06:41):

No, I know Sam.

Sam Demma (06:43):

I know the reason why that’s so awesome is because what that means is there’s gonna be kids that you teach, who, whose lives you change, that you might never know. And of course its, it helps when they tell you and you, you have these bubbly, warm feelings, but the reality is still changing lives and making a huge difference, which is that’s right. Which is awesome. It’s big. Yeah. Do you have any stories of students that you’ve seen transform as a result of education that you think were really inspiring? And the reason I’m asking is because there might be an educator listening who’s, you know, facing some challenges this year and is a little bit uncertain about their own future in this calling. And if there’s a story, you know, maybe there’s a student who, whose name like you can, you can just like take it away or change it just for privacy reasons, but oh yeah, yeah, yeah. If it’s a serious story, but do any of those stories kind of come to mind and if there’s not a, maybe you can share a personal experience.

Avni Soni (07:42):
So yeah, there are a few, okay. I have to change the names. So let’s call this person. I don’t even know William. But I think just, well I don’t, I don’t know what it was out. I don’t know if it was actually, let me, I have to think about this. Sorry. No, it’s okay. I didn’t really come prepared to honest, be honest. I want to wing, I want to wing it.

Sam Demma (08:09):

It’s, it’s more authentic that way.

Avni Soni (08:11):

Yeah, exactly. I just have to think about I God, 13 years and.

Sam Demma (08:18):

And while you think about that, I mean yeah. You know, let that germinate and, and yeah, come to mind and when it does just feel free to interrupt me and say, oh, oh, sorry, my, you know, I.

Avni Soni (08:27):

Yeah, yeah. Okay. Fine. Yeah sure I can do that.

Sam Demma (08:28):

But in the meantime you just told me, or before this, that you were a part of a teacher’s convention and I’m curious to know what is, what maybe one or two things you’ve learned that you thought were valuable from the convention that you could share with any other teacher or educator listening today?

Avni Soni (08:48):

Okay. From the convention. I would say that the takeaway is I think just to always grow and to find new and interesting ways to bring ideas into the classroom. Nice. Is what I would say. It’s just sometimes you get so stagnant just again, being in the class, like, especially if you’re teaching the same grade, same course over and over. So I think the best takeaways yeah. To find some ways to like reinvent the wheel in a way or reinvent the way that you present or reinvent that material to help those kids always about the kids. That’s what I, a hundred percent.

Sam Demma (09:35):

That, and I know biology sometimes is, is very hands on. You’re doing different dissections sometimes. And your models. How have you kind of transitioned during this time to still make biology class possible and, and like fun for the kids?

Avni Soni (09:51):

Oh, okay. It, I mean, because of COVID and the pandemic, it would be completely like online dissections that we could do. Or if I like when we in Alberta, so in December we had online teaching for that one month. And so I still was in the classroom, so I just brought in my models and I just, you showed it with the video. So try and explain that. What are other ways have I online dissections, online videos the models that I have there to show the same concepts is yeah. Is what I’ve done, I guess. I can’t think of anything else really.

Sam Demma (10:34):

That’s awesome. That’s that’s phenomenal. And if you could, if you could travel back in time and speak to younger Albany, when you were just starting education, like what advice would you give your younger self in this calling and profession?

Avni Soni (10:49):

That I know it’s difficult. Sorry. Are you talking about like when I just first, first started out teaching? Yeah. Or like what yeah. Started of teaching. I would say that I know it’s super difficult and it’s so like the first five years are so hard, they’re like the hardest part, but you can do this. You are going to make a difference in these kids lives because you have in some of these kids. And so yeah, I would just keep on doing, you got, this is what I would say. You have this in the bag. Just, just keep driving.

Sam Demma (11:26):

That’s awesome. That made me think of a book. I just recently read called You Got This. Oh really? Yeah. There’s a, there’s a, a PhD in sports psychology. His name’s Dr. Ivan, Joseph, and he has a Ted talk. That’s all about self confidence and yes, he believes that self confidence is actually a skill you can build and there’s a specific way to build it. And he wrote a book about it called You Got This.

Avni Soni (11:50):

That, is that book all about like how to develop that skill and yeah.

Sam Demma (11:53):

And if you watch, yeah. If you went on, if you went on YouTube and just searched, mastering the skill of self confidence, you’ll see his Ted talk and it has over 20 million views. Like it’s really good. Okay.

Avni Soni (12:03):


Sam Demma (12:04):

I’ll check it out. But on the topic of books do you enjoy reading? Have you read anything recently that you think might be interesting to share?

Avni Soni (12:12):

So I have been reading, I’ve been trying to get back into reading. I have two young kids, so nice. It’s been hard in the last few years. I mean, I should say hard, but like my time is spent with my kids so nice. But now that they’re a little bit older, so I was like, you know, I’m gonna start reading. So I did start, I got some books a fr from a friend who recommended a book called a short history of progress. It’s based off of these Massey lectures. I don’t know if you know about the Massey lectures that the CBC puts on. Sounds awesome. Yeah, it’s great. Like every year they have a speaker about a certain topic and so and then they put out a book about that topic. And so I’m reading one of those books right now. It just talks about sort of human civilization. I think I haven’t read SAPs yet, but I think it’s supposed to be similar to sapiens. Yeah. And yeah. And so it goes through that. I also have an evolution book that I’m halfway through, but those are on my reading list right now.

Avni Soni (13:14):

I, I feel like there’s something else there too. Yeah, I, yeah, I’m trying to read more also to be a good model for my kids as well.

Sam Demma (13:22):

Yeah. Cool. And are you teaching virtually at the moment? Like, are you teaching from?

Avni Soni (13:28):

I right now for the next I I’m quarantined right now for, until February 20th. And so I’m teaching my class, that’s also in quarantine and then I’m also teaching my other bio class. There’s 10 kids isolated in that class. So I’m also teaching them online, but the rest are yeah.

Sam Demma (13:50):

Was there a case, are you okay?

Avni Soni (13:53):

Yeah. I’m okay. Thank thanks for asking. I, yeah, there was a case in my class and so we had to all quarantine for two weeks and so that’s okay.

Sam Demma (14:01):

Okay. And how are you finding the online teaching? Is it a challenge? How are you getting your kids to turn their cameras on?

Avni Soni (14:09):

I’m not. I know when I was in high school, you know, you’re like self, like you’re self-conscious. And so, and you’re at home when some of these kids probably, especially cuz we have class at eight 50 in the morning that they’re just rolling outta bed. And so I don’t force them to put their cameras on. I, I, I said like, if you want sure, I’d love to see you. I always have my camera on so they can see my face. And I try and make it fun. I’ll do silly things cause I sometimes really silly. Nice. And I’ll yeah, I think like when we did that online teaching in December I did theme days and so ridiculous things like crazy hat day, crazy hair day a sports day, one of my classes came up with the themes and we went with it and the kids.

Avni Soni (14:53):

Yeah. So some of them dressed up, they showed their pets one day they had a pet or a stuffy. And so it was just, it was fun. It was just trying to get them more engaged because this online stuff is so hard, especially when they’re transitioning from, in person online, there’s a case you gotta go, then you’d be back. And so there’s I think it’s taking a toll. I know it’s taking a toll on me, so I can’t imagine how much it’s taken on them with all these transitions that we’ve gone through. Yeah. So I guess, yeah, I think about their health is what I’m concerned about their mental health.

Sam Demma (15:28):

Yeah, that’s awesome. No, I appreciate that. As you’ve been talking, any stories pop in your head about transformation?

Avni Soni (15:36):

Transformation? I think more like I’m just trying to think of and if, if that, well actually I can, I, can I, can I have one? I have a few, I think, but I may there’s one that just happened this year with the online and we’ll call him I’ll call I guess, with the online stuff. And I was worried I, and he wasn’t, he, he just, he kind of wanted to take biology cuz he had to take one of the sciences. And I think he said from the three, you know biology was his thing that he wanted to take. And so he took it but not so much of an interest and he was struggling with the online. I was worried, I actually talked to his dad was a teacher also at my school.

Avni Soni (16:35):

Nice. And just worried about him. Dad had didn’t have any really clue that like that he was struggling with biology anyway, so that student cuz we were still allowed to have students come in. So he came in and he had, I gave him a crash course. And by the end of it, I was talking to his dad and his dad was like, William really loved your class, like so much so that he wants to take grade 12 biology. And I was like, wow, I didn’t know that. I, I can’t tell like sometimes in the classroom that I’ve had that much of an impact, it didn’t seem like he was as interested as he made it out Tobi and that he’s now taking grade 12 for that. I’ve also had another kid I just remembered. Also I think he was really bright.

Avni Soni (17:23):

We will call him, man. This is tough. Bob, Bob. Thanks Robert. So Robert, I mean he is a hard working student and that sort of thing. But again, I guess I think he wanted to go into engineering. But he took grade 12 biology and loved it so much now I, I guess, I don’t know. What’s good. I think he went to the UK and he decided to major in like bio medical engineering. And so yeah, there’s another one where it, you know, the interest of biology and maybe being in my class transpired into his future path there for that.

Sam Demma (18:11):

That’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing. Yeah, no, I appreciate it. Yeah, it’s always cool. When there are some examples you can think about just because it shows other teachers how important it is that they do, like the work that they do.

Avni Soni (18:22):

Oh yes, definitely. It is a hundred percent. Like if I can say that to all teachers who are unsure or if there’s any educators unsure of what they’re doing, you are doing the right thing. You are making a difference, even though it may not seem like it. You have that small impact, you are doing the best that you are for these kids and they know it and you are going to transform these lives a hundred percent guaranteed.

Sam Demma (18:50):

I love it. And if a teacher listening to this is inspired. No, I think we should end on that note cuz it was so good. Like you said, you said it better than I could, but if there’s a teacher listening, who’s inspired by anything you’ve said or vibes with your energy and wants to just connect and have a conversation. What would be the best way for another educator listening to reach a out and just chat with you?

Avni Soni (19:13):

I mean, I guess it would be via, I do have Instagram, but it’s private cuz I also don’t want students on their or Facebook or email or I don’t know. Yeah. I, they can reach out via email is at avsoni@cbe.ab.ca.

Sam Demma (19:35):

Yeah. I’ll just put a little link to like a form they could fill out in the show notes if they wanted to reach out everyone who listens to this is just other educators. So if someone did reach out, it would just be a teacher like no worries. Oh, okay.

Avni Soni (19:46):

I didn’t know. I didn’t know how it works. Sorry. It’s my first time doing any of this stuff.

Sam Demma (19:49):

No totally fine. Yeah. Yeah. So I’ll just, I’ll just post that in the little notes. If someone to reach out, they could reach you out over email. Okay. Sweet. Perfect. Sounds great. All right. Okay. A thank you so much for doing this. I appreciate it.

Avni Soni (20:04):

Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate this. It was fun.

Sam Demma (20:08):

And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating in review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed are going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Avni Soni

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Karen Kettle – Retired Science Teacher, Speaker and Author of Countdown To Camp

Karen Kettle - Retired Science Teacher and Author of Countdown To Camp
About Karen Kettle

Karen Kettle is passionate about the power of student-led leadership programs. Throughout her career with the Durham District School Board, Karen has been a high school science teacher, a consultant, an international presenter, an author, and a course director for the York University Faculty of Education.

She has worked beside talented student leaders and dedicated colleagues to create and implement the Eastdale Eagles Leadership Camp and the Port Perry Rebels Leadership Camp. In retirement, Karen continues to explore new and creative pathways to share her love of leadership with the next generation!

Connect with Karen: Email

Personal note from Karen

Leadership Camp is a collaborative effort.  I would like to thank all of the people who are partners in making camp happen.

Camp Heads
Camp Committee Members
Team Leaders
Student Leaders
Camp & Club Advisors
Camp Program Staff
Secretaries & Custodians

A very special thank you goes out to the two camps that I have had the privilege of working with: Kilcoo Camp (Eastdale Eagles Leadership Camp) and Youth Leadership Camps Canada or YLCC (Port Perry Leadership Camp). Having talented camp staff to work with is priceless!

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Countdown to Camp (Karen’s Most Recent Book)
The book Countdown to Camp is available at volumesdirect.com for $20

Youth Leadership Camps Canada

Port Perry High School

The Transcript

**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 (00:02):
Karen welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about who you are and why you’re passionate about the work you do with youth.

Karen Kettle (00:15):
Okay. my name is Karen Kettle and I am a retired science teacher. I taught for 30 years in the Durham school board. And my passion outside of science education is working with students to run student-led leadership camps. And I’ve had the opportunity to do that twice. I worked with a group of kids at Eastdale and also at port Perry high school. And we ran camps for about 130 or 140 students from the school that were mainly student run. So that’s, that’s my leadership passion outside of the biology classroom.

Sam Demma (01:06):
What brought you to that passion? How did you discover it and why do you think it’s important that students get involved in camp?

Karen Kettle (01:15):
Well, I spent a lot of time at summer camp growing up. I first went to camp when I was nine years old and I really badly wanted to come home on visitor’s day. And my mom left me there crying on the dock and told me I would learn to like it. And after that I went back every summer to that camp and also to the Ontario camp leadership center at bark lake until I was well in my twenties. And when I decided that I wanted to become a high school teacher, I wanted to be able to bring the best of that camp, spirit, that transformative experience into my teaching career.

Sam Demma (02:04):
That is awesome. And what, what, what were the steps you took to start building camp? So I would imagine being involved in a camp as a student is a different experience than organizing a camp as an educator. What, what were the initial steps you started taking to build the camp and tell, yeah, tell me a little bit more about that process on how it turned into its its own thing.

Karen Kettle (02:30):
Well, I was very lucky when I got to Eastdale I knew the principal very well and he was a principal that was a camp director in the summertime. And the year before a very talented leader had started a student retreat as part of a course. And so they wanted to continue it and they were looking for someone else with camp experience, there were some great teachers involved with it. And so I joined their team and then we just started to increase the length of time. We took students away until we were up to a four day camp and involve all sorts of different students from the school, from all sorts of clubs, like student council and music council and meet and we and athletic council and all of the social justice clubs and geeks unlimited and the gay straight Alliance and the ambassadors and the environment club and the business club. And so it became sort of an umbrella training ground for student leaders in the school. So that was my, that was my first experience with leadership camp. And then when I left and went to port Perry high school, I started from scratch again.

Sam Demma (04:06):
And now you are a camp pro or a camp in ninja, or I don’t even know what to call it, but you, you you’ve built out so many supports for camp and encouraging students to get involved in camps and encouraging students to lead camps and encouraging educators to understand the importance of camp. You’ve even, you know, written books about it. One that’s very, you know, new and fresh. Can you share a little bit about what inspired you to write the book and also why you think student led leadership camps are also really important?

Karen Kettle (04:45):
Okay, well in working with students over the years one of the things that they use to say to me is I kind of know what we need to do, but I sort of need a checklist to get there. And so during the, a pandemic, because I had lots of creative alone time I sat down and tried to pull all of the collective wisdom together from all of the other advisors I’d worked with and camp heads and camp committee members and my colleagues and support staff and put it together just in a way that someone who had never run a leadership camp could pick it up and know that they could start with simple steps. And then as their school got more involved and the student leaders in the school got more involved, all they could build it into whatever it was that they wanted and needed for the school.

Karen Kettle (05:51):
I think student leaders are incredible role models for their peers because the camp committee, which works together all year to get camp ready by designing it and implementing it and, and running everything other than high ropes course and waterfront they are just that little bit better at, at some of the leadership skills than their peers. And so it’s kind of like if you’re an athlete and you wanna learn to get better at tennis, you don’t want to play against world champions. You wanna play against someone who’s just that little bit better than you are and makes you stretch your skills. So the senior students are great role models for their less experienced peers, cuz the kids can look at them and say, you know, in two or three years, that’s who I wanna be. That’s what I wanna do. And it also keeps the ownership of the camp program in the, in the school. It, they’re not going somewhere and having someone else run everything, they’re working with a camp staff to, to run a program and, and the program belongs to them.

Sam Demma (07:16):
That makes a lot of sense. And, and I think giving students a voice is so important because thinking back to the educators that made a big impact on my life, their class was more so a discussion than it was a lecture. And because I was given a voice, I was more interested in the content they were teaching and speaking about out. And if I was running or organizing an event, I would be more inclined to get involved and also to promote it to my friends and to get other students in the school involved. Because I, I feel like ownership and interest are kind of tied together. Something you do a great job at, in your book countdown to can a, is breaking down this idea that student leadership is a year long process. What do you mean by that? And what does it look like? Or what does a typical year of planning in a student leadership position look like?

Karen Kettle (08:17):
Okay. well what would happen is at the beginning of the year students would apply to be on camp committee and this would be a group of about 20 students that really wanna put in the time because it takes a lot of time. They, they meet once a week for an hour and a half or two hours as a group. And so they go through a, a process where they start off with lots of team building within their group and getting to know each other, figuring out who has what skills and who can bring music who can bring organization, who can bring humor to the group. And then we basically start through a process where we develop a theme which holds camp together. And some of our past themes have been things like Dr. Sue or Harry Potter or Beatlemania or clue.

Karen Kettle (09:26):
And so they have to brainstorm all sorts of different themes and come up with what it might look like. And we take a lot of time to make sure that all of the themes are, are really, really strong. And then we have a process, a decision making process that we go through to help them come to a consensus on theme. And then after that’s done, we start through the same process again, to trying to decide what workshops we’re going to put into camp. And that is one of the places where you can really tailor camp to your own individual school, because you can pick out knowledge elements that the kids in your are clubs might need, they might wanna learn something about emotional intelligence or mental health. You can pick out skills that they might wanna develop, like communication skills or delegation or creativity.

Karen Kettle (10:33):
You can work on some values like attitude or kindness, and then you can also look at issues like inclusion or consent or anti-bullying or environmental issues. And so that becomes the, the part of camp. That’s the learning part of camp. The, we would then organize students in the teams, workshop teams, and they’d pick from the ones that they’d brainstorm and they’d work to put together their interactive workshops. And then we get to plan all the fun things at camp. And those are things like campfires and large group games and talent shows banquet. So there’s, there’s a lot of organization that goes on throughout the year. We also do a lot of fundraising to make sure that we can support kids financially, who might not otherwise be able to attend and that’s kind of fund too, because there’s a lot of experiential learning in, in running a, a fundraiser.

Karen Kettle (11:45):
Quite often the camp committee takes on some other challenges at port Perry high school. We used to run a minicamp day for the grade eight that were gonna come to our school the following year and run through our workshops with them and just help them come into the high school and feel comfortable in the high school. So all of that goes on throughout the year. And the culminate activity is the three day or four day experience with a camp partner where we take somewhere between a hundred and hundred 40 kids from the school. And, and they get to share in the experience.

Sam Demma (12:31):
What do you think are some of the really positive outcomes on a school’s culture when students within that school participate in a camp experience?

Karen Kettle (12:44):
Well, there’s a lot of them because there there’s individual learning and individual development with the people, especially the people of who are on camp committee. There are the skills and knowledge that advisors can take back with their students in their own clubs and apply those. But also I think students find that it’s, it’s intrinsically rewarding to do something that is sort of in the service of others. And, and so there’s, there’s a, a good feeling there. You get a large group and, and that’s, what’s different about student led leadership camp rather than sending an individual student to a conference is that you come back with like a hundred kids that have shared the experience and that increases cooperation and trust among the students. It increases cooperation with staff cause once you’ve boosted your vice principal up onto the ropes course, or you’ve, you know, what had your principal walk the plank because he was the villain story.

Karen Kettle (14:03):
They come back with a different sense of understanding that, you know, that the teachers and administrators are, are people and they’re there to, to help. So you get this sort of shared vision of, of what you can do as a, as a team. If everybody works together student thoughts will meet and interact and live with students that they wouldn’t otherwise meet at school. And so it breaks down social barriers in the building. It there’s more cooperation between clubs because each club knows what the other club is doing and what their purpose is and why they’re there. And then the other thing I find is that student leaders, when they come back, they look for or understand the deeper meaning in some of the activities that they’re running at the school. So they might be running like something really fun and silly on a Friday, but they know that they’re doing it to build community. Yeah. And they know if they put together something on study skills that they know that they’re providing a, a service for other students in the building, or they, sometimes they do things like they’ll come back and put up a kindness tree or something like that. So they understand that there’s a deeper purpose behind all of the extracurricular activities that, that they’re doing.

Sam Demma (15:41):
And how do you go about selecting what students in a school would get to participate in a camp? I would imagine that’s probably one of the most difficult aspects because you want everyone to have the experience, but you might have a li limited budget and a limited amount of students that you can bring with you to these four, five-day experiences.

Karen Kettle (16:03):
Yes. Well, one of the things is that with leadership camps, again, because you can fine tune it to your school, different schools have slightly different selection criteria. But the way we’ve always gone about getting students is that any student who’s already involved in the leadership club in the school gets an invitation to go grade nine and 10 students who are involved go through that process, or they can also self nominate themselves. So if you have maybe a shy grade nine student, who’s not yet involved in anything, they can just fill out an application form for an invitation and they get an invitation. We all also have our teachers that teach a lot of grade nine and 10 students nominate students that they think would benefit from the experience. And some of our teachers are really good at that.

Karen Kettle (17:08):
Really seeing that, you know, the little kid at the back of the room, who’s got all sorts of energy, but no focus might actually benefit from camp because once they find that focus then, then they’re set. They know what they wanna do. We also go to our teachers and coaches and guidance department and special ed department and adminis and ask if they wanna nominate kids. Sometimes students who are a little bit at risk because they’ve just moved into the area or something has happened in their family life. And they might just need that really to be part of a really supportive group. Sometimes kids who are just sort of there after school all the time, cuz they don’t really have anywhere else to go will get those kinds of students that are nominated. And then it basically becomes a first come first serve basis. After everyone who is interested through those categories receives an invitation,

Sam Demma (18:23):
Got you. And something else. Okay. Oh, go ahead. Some,

Karen Kettle (18:27):
Okay. Some schools because they wanna have they want diversify between grade nines, tens elevens and 12 do first come first serve based on grade. Mm. We, we’ve never done that. And we normally find that about 50%, 60% of our camp is grade nines and tens.

Sam Demma (18:48):
Got you. You mentioned briefly fundraising and you also do an amazing job in your book providing, you know, literally a template that you use in terms of a sponsorship letter. How, yeah. Can an educator who’s listening to this that wants to run a camp. What should they be thinking about in terms of sponsorship, how do obtain it and also what the letter it should include that they’re thinking to send outside of obviously buying your booking, check, checking it out.

Karen Kettle (19:17):
Well sponsorships are a good way to go sometimes what our sponsors do is they just provide items. So for example, our, our camp committee would go down the main street of port Perry with a letter explaining that we’re raising money to provide scholarships for students who might not be able to afford to go to camp. And quite often they will give us, you know, small items like candy or a t-shirt or something from their, their business. And so we put those together into something like a a draw or a silent auction, something like that. So that’s one way of, of finding sponsorship ships. We’ve also had service groups who have provided us with money sometimes connected to a, a, a service. So we went and helped out with a pancake breakfast and that group donated some money to our, our camp scholarship fund.

Karen Kettle (20:30):
I think if you’re writing a sending a letter to organizations, it has to really clearly state what your, what your leadership camp is, how it serves people. We put down a breakdown of costs per individual student. And then we basically just said, you know, if you’d like to make a contribution, here’s the, the camp advisors contact information and it’s sort of a contribution of whatever they would like to make. And we just basically had a bank account and we put money in from that and from our fundraisers, cuz we like to do silly fundraisers. And then on our application form for parents, there was a little line that sort of said we know that economic are tough for people. If your son or daughter requires some financial assistance, please contact. And there was a camp advisor’s email.

Karen Kettle (21:38):
And then when we got in touch with the parent, we basically said you know, what can you afford to pay towards your child going to camp? And then we can cover the rest of it. And, and that worked really well because it let us spread out the funds among the, the students who really needed it. For me, that, that I came to that realization when I actually had a parent call me and ask if she could pay for her son’s best friend to go to camp. Mm. And until that time we had sort of been fundraising to lower the cost for everyone. And after that experience I realized that it was probably better to target the money because some parents could easily afford to send their kids. And for some parents it was prohibitive. Mm. So that’s why we came up with that idea of, of scholarship funds.

Sam Demma (22:41):
That’s amazing. Another great resource that I pulled out of your book. I know I’m referring to it a lot and it’s because it’s jampacked with great stuff, the workshop topics, that was a phenomenal section that you created that, you know, encapsulated dozens of ideas that people could think about presenting or even bringing in someone else to present at their camps. What are some of the ideas that you found the great success with or would recommend that someone who’s planning their first camp should include in the programming somewhere?

Karen Kettle (23:19):
Well workshops that that list of workshops came about because one of the, the issues when you’re working with young people on a camp committee is that the only work ups they’ve seen are the workshops that were presented the year before the, or the two years before. Mm. And so they, and so they kept reinventing the same workshop and just changing its name. And it was normally about pushing your comfort zone. And it got to the point it’s like, we pushed our comfort zone enough. We know now need actually to do something else because you really want to not repeat anything sort of within the four years that that’s students could be in the school because we have some students that go for four, for three or four years. And so what I did is I basically just sat down and wrote like little teaser for 99 different workshops.

Karen Kettle (24:21):
And I think, I don’t really think that there are any, that you are essential that you start with. I think it’s more about giving the kids a, a list of a whole bunch of different things they could do, and then letting them select the ones that they have, that they truly have an interest in. Mm. And quite often what we used to do is we let the camp, if we, if we needed, let’s say six workshops, we let the camp committee pick four. We let the camp heads pick one. And then the camp advisors pick one because they do tend sometimes depending on the, the group of kids to try and they sometimes stay away from some of the more difficult topics. And so sometimes you need a little bit a push in that direction. And then the other thing we did with workshops is that we to connect them to our theme.

Karen Kettle (25:30):
So for example, the year we did Harry Potter, the mental health workshop became defense against the dark arts. Ah, and, and the, when we did Dr. Suess, the environment workshop became Lorax lesson. Mm. So you want tie in and, and tie it to to the theme, but it also, it depends on what the school needs like, do they need to do something on anti-bullying? Do they need to do something on digital leadership? Because really it’s what you do as workshops is completely wide open, as long as you have a mix of some that are really thought provoking and, and some that are, that are fun. Hmm. And we also try to make sure that, you know, if one workshop focused on skits that maybe the next one was gonna focus on a craft activity, or it was gonna focus on some kind of debate or discussion so that when students went from workshop to workshop, they were interactive and they were different. And it wasn’t like they weren’t being talked to, they, they were very HandsOn and involved in, in act in activities that brought them to the point of what the workshop was about. Understand. I don’t know what the, that

Sam Demma (27:04):
Yeah, it does. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all option. I was just really intrigued and impressed by how many ideas you pulled together and was wondering kinda well in

Karen Kettle (27:15):
A lot of the ones in the book we’ve actually done. And, and students come in with very distinct interest. And they take you places that as an advisor, you never thought you would be going because they have an interest in that area that, that resonates with their peers.

Sam Demma (27:39):
And what’s also interesting is extracurricular activities are not only the beneficial for students, but they’re also beneficial for teachers, you know, teachers benefit from being involved. What do you think are some of the benefits of the extracurricular involvement for teachers?

Karen Kettle (27:58):
Well, I think that they brought a lot of a joy in, into my life. I, I love the time that I spent with students outside of the classroom, because it gives you a different opportunity to mentor young people and also to learn from them. As teachers, you get to pick your extracurriculars. So if you are interested in sports coaching, a sport is great. Poor Perry high school had a phenomenal music program. And there were like some of the kids that were in that music program will be musicians throughout their lives, either as a career or as a, as a, as a joy, just for personal growth. So you get to follow your passion as a teacher and you meet up with kids that are also interested in it, and that’s sort of where that mentorship relationship comes from, because it, when you have someone who, who has knowledge in an area and someone who wants knowledge in the same area then that becomes a rich experience.

Karen Kettle (29:16):
It also has tremendous impacts on your classroom. I can remember on a grade eight tour day, listening to someone outside of my classroom going, this is Mrs. Kell’s classroom. She teaches science. I had her in grade nine. I really liked her. And then she takes us to camp. Well, if you have that kind of advertisement going on, when the kids come to your classroom, the next year, they expect that they’re gonna enjoy it. And all sorts of management issues just never come through your door because they know that even if it’s not something they wanna do, they know that you’re are interested in students in the school and that you are willing to put time in outside of the classroom. And it’s fun. Some of the students that I’ve worked with over the year have become really good friends. Some of them have become colleagues because a lot of the skills you learn at leadership camp work really well in the classroom. And so I, I think it’s a, it has a, a huge impact on your enjoyment of your teaching career. Yeah, and, and for kids, it’s great because they really get to interact in something that they’ve chosen, that they have ownership of, and they meet a positive peer group there that has similar interests.

Sam Demma (30:59):
Hmm. Kinda agree more if so, is interested in learning more about camps, more about the work you’ve done, where can they one pick up a copy of your book and two, get in touch with you.

Karen Kettle (31:13):
Okay. If they wanted to pick up up a copy of the book, the easiest way to do it is right from the publisher and the way to do that would be to Google volumesdirect.com. Countdown to camp is listed there. And you can just purchase it from that website if they want to contact me my email address and I’d be happy to talk to people. My email address is Karenkettle@gmail.com.

Sam Demma (32:05):
Awesome. Karen, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, talking about camps, your experience teaching, and also being involved in student leadership. Keep up the amazing work. I look forward to staying in touch and watching your, you know, adventures and work evolve. Thank you so much.

Karen Kettle (32:24):
Well, okay. And thank you very much. It’s lovely to talk to someone who is actually putting leadership into action at a fairly young age. And it sounds like you’re doing a great job.

Sam Demma (32:43):
Thanks so much, Karen.

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