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Rocky View Schools Learning Academy keeping students connected with Project ROAR

"The impact of ROAR on the students that are running it RVLA and also the kids that are participating in it has been way bigger than any of us could have imagined," Toby said.

ROCKY VIEW— Showcasing students leading the way in Rocky View Schools, student leaders showcased Project ROAR an initiative designed to keep youth connected during COVID-19.

Rocky View Leadership Academy members Bow Valley High School Grade 11 student Toby Carter, Chestermere High School Grade 12 student Rylie Dolhan and WH Croxford High School Grade 11 student Kaisha Snyder were on hand to explain how COVID-19 has transformed their experience with the Leadership Academy and the creation of Project ROAR (Reach out and Rreconnect) at the Rocky View Schools board of trustees meeting Thursday (March 4). 

Rocky View School Leadership Academy is a district-wide program that allows student leaders to meet, collaborate and learn from each other, Toby said. This involves hands-on sessions and working with the community.

"We want to deepen our sense of self and broaden our network of connections," Toby said. "I've met tons of new people, even Kaisha and Riley, that I would never have met without RVLA."

The Academy is made up of a three-year sequence. Year One has a strong sense of leading self, Year Two is focussed on leading as a team and Year Three is focussed on leading the community.

Typically, in Year Two the young leaders would host and plan a Middle School Student Leadership Conference— This has not been possible during COVID-19.

"We had to adapt our approach this year and we certainly drew on the strengths of students and their creativity and ingenuity," said teacher Lauren Curry. "We can shift our mindset about this restriction, this restricted circumstance we are facing and say, 'We can't because of COVID, but we can if.'"

The Year Two students rallied together to develop a new form of Rocky View Leadership Academy, she said, and found creative ways to enhance their social and emotional learning during the pandemic.

Students managed to stay connected by moving online for monthly sessions with students, Rylie said, through the creation of Project ROAR.

The meetings include small groups of students and played a major role in combating the disconnect and isolation many were feeling during online schooling.

There are currently about 20 students in Year Two of the Academy and together they form groups of up to five leaders who then lead elementary or middle school students in activities. 

A decision was made that instead of having one student leader working with multiple grades, groups of three to five were formed because of the unpredictability of COVID-19, Curry said.

"We have learned that this is such an unpredictable year," Curry said. "There are times when we've had a student have to step away for a variety of reasons— It has really, truly been a team effort in making these sessions come alive."

The leaders meet monthly with students and prepare through collaborations with fellow students, Rylie said. She added while most sessions follow the same general format, leaders can adapt planned activities to the grade they are engaging with.

"It's pretty important that we have it personalized because we're all dealing with different grade levels," Rylie said. "The activities just can't be the same for every group."

A typical session is formed by Rocky View Leadership Academy leaders working with different grade levels. Together the leaders create program sessions and plan activities around a special theme, Kaisha said. These actions in turn generate conversation and discussions between students.

"We're trying to fit as much fun as we can into a 45-minute window," Kaisha said. "Not only do we want to have fun with the kids but we also still want to make an impression on them and teach them a little about what we're learning as well."

The biggest challenge they faced has been using online platforms and plugging into sessions while ensuring engagement with participating students, Kaisha said. Rocky View Learning Academy members learned to use many new online platforms and incorporate them into sessions. They have also set up Google Classrooms, Noodle Software and email to stay connected between sessions.

"The impact of ROAR on the students that are running it, RVLA and also the kids that are participating in it, has been way bigger than any of us could have imagined," Toby said. "When you finish the sessions, they're always asking for more time or to meet for more sessions in a month— It's so fulfilling because it provides these connections and this fun that we always get as much when you're in an online setting."

It was impressive to see how the students have adapted to COVID-19 and created Project Roar, said superintendent Greg Luterbach.

He added Project ROAR is special because it is the product of passionate students and teachers working together to make the Rocky View Schools the best culture possible.

"People dust themselves off and say, OK here's the challenge how are we going to do this," Luterbach said. "They're meeting a need and providing leadership opportunities to students."

Trustee Judi Hunter praised the Academy and the opportunities it will create for students as they grow older.

The program has taught the student leaders interesting and useful tools while providing the opportunity to problem solve in unique ways, she said. She noted the online tools they used are also interesting and will have a lasting impact.

"That mind shift is really an important facet of what we are living to," Hunter said. "There is nothing that can be an obstacle if you can think of it differently."


Chelsea Kemp

About the Author: Chelsea Kemp

Chelsea Kemp joined the Cochrane Eagle in 2020 as editor, bringing with her experience as a reporter and photojournalist. She writes about politics, health care, arts and entertainment and Indigenous stories.
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