Ancaster, ON | Grades 9 - 12 | Shortlist
For the first 13 years of my life, attending Hamilton District Christian High was what I most looked forward to. I would pour over my parents' old yearbooks at what the school was like when they were in it, I would ask any older teenager who I knew to tell me all about it, and I would imagine what it would be like to be a student there - what extracurriculars would I be involved in? What courses would I take? Which teachers would I really like? As you can imagine, my expectations were high when I started in 2007 -- but I can confidently say attending HDCH exceeded all my expectations. When I think back on my time, I think fondly about my student council experience, where the notetaking skills I learned still help me in my job today. I think about the conversations we had in music class: about music, the world, and how our faith intersects with all of it. I think back on my fond memories of being involved in the theatre department and the joy that season of time was. I think about the teachers, who genuinely cared for and supported me as a student. As I graduated from HDCH and moved on to a secular university, I was struck in many classes at how well HDCH had prepared me for university and even my professional job today. The project-based learning environment of HDCH (which was just beginning at the end of my time there!) was crucial as I started university studies in journalism. The extracurricular involvement taught me how to be involved in university, giving me a great starting place for student workplace experience. And the strong faith foundation HDCH provided led me to where I am now.
I'm sure much has changed in the last ten years at HDCH, but in my time, the school leadership was very caring. I remember often the door to the office being open, and chatting with whoever was there -- where there was an obvious sense of care and a desire to understand the student in the office. As I've kept up with the school post-graduation, I've seen a shift in the remembering, mentioning, and living into the mission statement of the school. I see how this drives school administrators to make HDCH the best it possibly can be. One thing I also appreciate about HDCH's leadership and administration is a willingness to be curious and ask great questions - I think this is crucial for any school or educational environment to have, and I'm glad it was modelled to me in such a strong way during high school.
I found all the teachers at HDCH to be exceptional at their craft. They were caring in the classroom, knowledgeable about their topics, approachable if you needed help, and easy to talk to about the whole scope of the teenage experience. I remember really struggling with specific concepts in grade 11 math, and using up a lot of Miss Veenstra's lunch hours for extra help, until she knew I had really understood the concepts. I found teachers were respected and appreciated by the students -- and I remember teachers walking a line between formal respect for their roles as teachers and appreciation for the ease of conversations we were able to have with them. I always appreciated that I was given constructive feedback -- as well as encouragement on specific giftings. I remember one instance in a communication technology class where I put in the bare minimum of effort into a project and thought I could get away with -- but Mr. Blyleven told me that he knew I was capable of more than this. And later on, in that same class, I remember Mr. Blyleven specifically telling me he appreciated the way I wove my faith into my school work -- which is a comment that has always stayed with me.
In my time at HDCH, I remember it being a very academic school, with three clear streams for students: science, liberal arts, and trades. Expanding the course selection offerings is the biggest thing I would have changed during my time at HDCH -- but I know from other siblings graduating from HDCH and staying in touch with the school in general, this has changed. As an alum, I've also appreciated the creative approach they've taken to this, specifically with project-based learning and the Venture program at HDCH. Project-based learning (PBL) was beginning as a concept in my time, but I've watched HDCH really take this and make it their own in the last few years. At work in 2018, we also had a Venture student with us for the year, and found it to be a valuable encouragement for our organization.
I found that the extracurricular activities at HDCH were plentiful — and if it didn’t exist for you, you were encouraged to create them. Each extracurricular activity ended up having its own unique community feel, which only strengthens my fond memories. In my time at HDCH, I was involved in Student Council, the theatre productions for three years, the Student Ambassador Team, choir, concert band, and the Assembly Council team. I found these extracurricular experiences so enhanced my learning experience and taught me invaluable other skills, like time management, public speaking, relationship building, note taking, and leadership - skills I started to learn about in high school and use a lot in my professional life now. I build strong mentoring relationships with teachers outside of the classroom that served me well. I often think that the academics and Christ-centred focus provided me with a solid foundation - but the extracurriculars were an essential part of the development of my whole self.
Ten years ago, I think the student body looked different at HDCH, and I'm grateful for the positive changes I see at HDCH with its student body. I've seen growth in student body enrollment numbers and I'm grateful for the positive change this makes at HDCH. Hamilton District Christian High has a lot of schools that feed into it - and you could see different groups of students being more drawn to each other. City kids would often hang with other city kids, and rural kids tended to be drawn to other rural kids. What I appreciated about HDCH was the way classes and extracurriculars would draw us out of our small groups, enabling us to create relationships across the whole grade and the whole school. I appreciated how students genuinely wanted to interact and collaborate.
I remember my time at HDCH really fondly. I found I was encouraged to be my whole self at school and to bring all my gifts to the classroom and to extracurriculars. I appreciated the ways in which teachers challenged me to look at something differently, and I appreciated the ground it was for deepening much of my faith. I think there were numerous teachers, staff, and students who cared about cultivating a culture of care at HDCH - and I found this really shone through. I found students were engaged with the coursework and teachers, and overall, students had a positive experience. I think the more you engaged with your passion at school - whether that was academics or extracurriculars, what I appreciated most about HDCH was how they created a place for each individual student to thrive.
For me, building community at HDCH always seemed to start on Grade 9 day - a day in the first week of school where all the Grade 9 students were invited to be at the school with Student Council and their teachers for a day of fun icebreakers and activities around Hamilton, including serving in the city, bowling, go-karting, and a barbeque back at the school for the end of the day. That sense of community continued after I graduated as well. Through highs and lows, I've watched the HDCH community come together to celebrate and grieve. I always appreciated how parents were invited to be involved, including seeing parents at sports games, assemblies, and theatre productions. I do not currently live in Ontario, but I keep up with some classmates and have appreciated the way administrators have kept me engaged with the HDCH community.
The school building was a great learning space, and I loved the school’s new placement on a lot of land. I know the area around HDCH has developed a lot over the last 10 years, which I’m sure has provided more options of where to go. There was a lot within driving distance of the school and a little bit within walking distance of the school.
As a student alum, my mom handled all admissions. I know as a student, I wasn't interviewed or questioned. What I do remember is that the administration as a whole took great care to ensure all incoming students were oriented to the school in a strong way. One unique thing HDCH did back in the day was Grade 8 day - a day in November before we were students, when all prospective incoming students would visit the school. We would go to an assembly, be taken through the school by senior students, play some ice breaker games, & hear directly from students & teachers about what our grade 9 year would look like, including specifics about course options. I remember so looking forward to my Grade 9 year after that day because I felt like I learned the school, I learned specifics of what my Grade 9 year would look like, & I met a few new friends.
I remember the university counselling program starting in my Grade 10 Careers class, giving me great guidance to think about post-secondary -- and a lot of the research I did with that course informed how I approached my future with course planning. In my Grade 12 year, I attended various visits from universities, made use of whatever resources the guidance department gave us, and had a seamless application and acceptance process. I did find throughout the process that I was a bit of a unique university case for the school - I was the only person from my graduating class going into a journalism program and one of a few people going to Toronto for school. More HDCH support for the program or school I was going to - or even HDCH alumni in the city - could have strengthened an already great process. I was grateful to be accepted to all the post-secondary programs I applied to, including two top journalism schools in Canada and am very grateful for the support I received to make that happen.