Tapping the adolescent resource at Chilliwack secondary

New school and community based program aimed at building empathy from the ground up

Steve Anderson (left) and Joe Ogmundson

Steve Anderson (left) and Joe Ogmundson

A new Human Services Career Program will cater to students whose strengths aren’t always easy to measure.

The students involved will be those who show traits like leadership, good listening skills, helpfulness and compassion.

The new three-year program rolls out in the fall at Chilliwack secondary school, under the guidance of teachers Joe Ogmundson and Steve Anderson. They’ve been building partnerships with some key players in the community in order to build the program, which will reach beyond the walls of CSS.

Students will enter into the program in Grade 10 where they will not only delve into the studies of the human condition (psychology, leadership, mentoring, family management, social justice, law) but also will gain hands on experience through partnerships in the community. In Grade 11, the work experience portion of the program will have the students learning outside the classroom. And in their graduation year, students will develop even further and begin to mentor the incoming Grade 10s.

“This program has the potential to be life changing,” said Anderson. “We’ve been toying with the idea for years.”

Focused planning of the program has taken two to three years, due to the intricate weaving of classwork and community work. They’ve pulled numerous partners on board and are now in the process of speaking to Grade 9 students about what they’re offering. Only 30 students will be accepted into the program each fall, to keep the classrooms a manageable size.

Ogmundson said the idea is to involve students in the community, with the understanding that one day they will be the community’s leaders. The ideal students may have hopes to be social workers, teachers, coaches, community or business leaders. But, he added, they could just as easily go into medicine, journalism or policing. The skills gained from studying relationships are universal, and applicable in every career or life situation.

“This is a program that see adolescents involved as a resource, rather than the problem,” Ogmundson said. He is hoping for a wide range of students to get involved, all with their own unique interests. What bonds the group would be that they all are “natural helpers,” he said — the kind of kid everyone goes to.

“There are people who are just empathetically gifted,” Ogmundson said. “They just have this incredible gift. We thought, what if we can identify these kids early on, to give them a heads up. What if you could do something to utilize who you are at the core?”

Major pieces of the program include peer counselling, and something called “service learning,” where students go out in the community on work experience. They will work with inner city school kids, university students and social workers.

Anyone with questions about the program can contact Ogmundson or Anderson at CSS, at 604-795-7295.