Leadership is a critical life skill.
Strong leaders can spark powerful conversations and impactful change. They can initiate action that enriches their community, and the world beyond it. Leaders can inspire the people around them, and help others achieve their best.
When students nurture their leadership skills, they empower themselves to pursue their goals. But we don’t need to tell the students at Sir Winston Churchill this; they already know.
“Resilience, creativity, discipline, confidence – these are the kinds of skills that we believe students need to achieve success,” said Sarah Chan, a Grade 11 student at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School. “It’s important to learn these skills now so they can help us be successful in the future, and we wanted to help the students at Sir Winston foster them.”
By we, Sarah means herself and her fellow Grade 11’s Leah Tang and Heeral Parikh. They wanted to help, so they did – they brought the Believe Initiative to their school. Started by Canadian Olympian Sarah Wells, the program engages students in building essential leadership skills and helps them recognize the power of believing in themselves through virtual workshops and lessons.
Sarah, Leah, and Heeral took the initiative to turn the program into the Believe Leadership Club at Sir Winston, giving any student at the school the opportunity to benefit. With support from Sir Winston staff and the Believe Initiative, the trio led the club. “We have a lot of big decisions to make at our age. ‘What will you do with your life? Will I go to university or college?’ Decisions like that require the skills that we’re teaching our peers,” said Leah.
A central part of how students applied what they learned in the club focused on launching a passion project of their own. Students were challenged to choose an issue that resonated with them, and used one of their passions to come up with a strategy that helped address it in their local community.
“Learning curriculum is really important for us to be successful, and so is learning the soft skills that you can gain outside of school. Our club has given us even more exposure to what’s out there. We’re helping our communities, and we were able to motivate and grow with each other along the way,” said Sarah.
Sir Winston’s club had 34 student members and 21 passion projects. Out of 250 passion projects submitted across North America, the Believe Initiative selected four winning projects, and three of them were awarded to Sir Winston Churchill students!
Sisters Madey and Katey Crawford created Knitting for Niagara, a program that collects knitted and crocheted squares to make blankets for shelters in the region. The Human Initiative, thought up by students Nabiha Ghafoor and Teju Oladipo, provides education on international humanitarian issues using social media, while fundraising for organizations that aid communities around the world.
The first-place project went to another student-sister pair, Mona and Noor Elyass’ Memorial Map. Mona and Noor’s innovative program creates digital landmarked memorials, where family and friends who have lost a loved one can share memories. By taking the top spot, Mona and Noor were given a $2,000 grant to keep their initiative moving forward.
“Community is such a big part of any person, and we wanted to bring the Believe Leadership Club and the passion projects to Sir Winston because we have a lot of resources that so many people don’t have, and we wanted to take our knowledge and apply it back to our communities to make a real impact,” said Heeral. “We also wanted to create a space for students to get together and share ideas at our school too, which we think has helped a lot during COVID.”
Simply because students took the initiative to further their education and grow their leadership skills, the passion projects between Canada and the United States reached over 200,000 people on social media. With projects that are dedicated to influencing positive change and helping others, that’s an inspiring impact.
“We’re the most technologically advanced we’ve ever been and are connected to all this potential, ideas, information and resources, and we think we should be taking advantage of that to do something for the greater good. I know it sounds cliché, but why shouldn’t we be doing something that’s bigger than us? And with our club, we’ve been able to help in our communities and help each other too,” said Leah.
“It’s important for people to be leaders in their own communities and take individual action, no matter how small, because it really does create a ripple of positive change. We got to see that happen in Niagara this year,” said Sarah. “We wanted to teach other students to embrace their passions and motivate them to be who they really want to be.”
DSBN students have passionate, influential voices. We’re proud that we get to hear them, and to have a part in educating so many future leaders.