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Good deeds earn Orillia school national recognition

Twin Lakes becomes first high school in Canada to be designated 'changemaker school'
2018-09-05 Twin Lakes changemaker
As the sign reads, Twin Lakes Secondary School has been designated a changemaker school by Ashoka Canada. Pictured at the Orillia school are Irfan Toor, the Simcoe County District School Board's principal of equity and inclusion, and school principal Julie Underhill. Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters

Students at Twin Lakes Secondary School have been acting as changemakers for years. Now they’re trailblazers, too.

Twin Lakes has become the first high school in the country to be designated a “changemaker school” by Ashoka Canada, which “aims to build a radically new Canada where solutions outrun problems – a country where everyone is a changemaker,” according to its website.

The idea to apply for the designation came a couple of years ago, when students in the Orillia school’s hospitality class catered an event hosted by Georgian College – itself a designated changemaker college and the first of its kind in the country.

“It was their presence there that sparked the conversation,” said Irfan Toor, who was principal at Twin Lakes at the time and is now the Simcoe County District School Board’s principal of equity and inclusion.

Ashoka wants the action of its changemaker schools to be rooted in empathy, and that fit well with the Twin Lakes philosophy, Toor said.

“This is easily the most empathetic school I’ve worked in,” he said.

But it wasn’t a quick process to gain the designation. The school was required to “analyze all of its practices,” Toor explained. It also had to create a “change team,” which included representation from students, Georgian College, the Orillia Youth Centre and others.

“As a new principal to Twin Lakes last year, I learned so much about the school,” Julie Underhill said of her experience taking part in the application process.

The school has an impressive recycling and waste-diversion program, and it also has the Partners in Education, Adventure and Community group, which does outreach in the community. Those efforts and more helped make the case for the changemaker title.

Social change has been an ongoing focus at Twin Lakes, but the changemaker designation is still important, Underhill said.

“There’s more of a responsibility, or an accountability, to keep this route in mind. It also gives us permission to be even more creative,” she said.

The change team is still in place and will be meeting to determine what projects should be priority. The students seem eager to get going. With this being the first week of the school year, Underhill has been announcing the changemaker designation during the assemblies the school is holding for the different grades.

“The students have been coming up and saying, ‘What’s next?’ They’re excited,” she said. “It is everyone’s business and it is everyone’s ability to be a part of social change.”

Twin Lakes will send a delegation to an Ashoka summit next month in Toronto, where the team, including students, will make presentations to educators and hear from Ashoka fellows – “the world’s leading social entrepreneurs,” as described on the Ashoka website.

“That will provide some inspiration (to the team),” Underhill said.

Having an individual school recognized as a changemaker is a good start, but that’s exactly how Toor sees it – a start.

“We’re trying to create a system of changemaker schools,” he said, adding he wants to see the board receive a regional designation for all of its schools. “When you have a network of people doing the same thing, you have more support and more collaboration between communities.”

Simcoe County is poised for population growth, and that will bring a variety of change and needs with it, Toor said, noting that’s why it’s important to get students across the region on board with the changemaker vision.

“We need to get the changemaker focus visible so all the students are talking about it,” he added.


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Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is the desk editor for Village Media's central Ontario news desk in Simcoe County and Newmarket.
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