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PHOTOS: Oak Bay recognizes its young exceptional stars with YES Awards

District awards supported by local business, schools celebrate 16 years

Each year Oak Bay recognizes the accomplishments of students in Grades 6 through 10, who live or attend school in Oak Bay and have overcome obstacles to achieve their goals. A panel selects a handful of Young Exceptional Star Awards.

Coun. Hazel Braithwaite created the YES Awards during her first term on council as a way to recognize youth, bring in business to help with that recognition through an event and physical award, and invite the seniors’ group leadership to remind them of good works by youth in the community. The goal is to emphasize a variety of talents, efforts and character beyond athletics and academics.

This year, the 16th annual YES Awards were issued to 14 students in front of family and supporters in the David Foster Foundation Theatre at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel.

Here are the YES Award winners for 2023:

Sophie Strong - Ecole Victor Brodeur

As a teacher of English, Spanish, and French, Elizabeth Rush has been struck many times over the past three years by Sophie Strong’s remarkable love not only for these three languages, but for language accessibility and equity for students of diverse abilities. Rush is overjoyed that an award exists to recognize students who have dedicated themselves to both using their talents and committing themselves to helping others because Sophie does so every single day, and very much deserves recognition for it.

Sophie is in a challenging school and a challenging cohort. Over the past three years, students have faced unprecedented pandemic-related challenges with resilience, determination, and an increasing clarity of vision. Sophie’s vision is about modelling global citizenship through the respect, genuine curiosity, and appreciation she shows for linguistic diversity, and inclusion of students around her with diverse abilities. Within the school, she is engaged and collaborative, supporting others in their learning journey and empowering them to feel good about their own growth.

Sophie does not shy away from the obstacles. For instance, she models an inclusive approach to English, Spanish, and French, showing great attunement to the needs of non-binary, trans, and gender-creative persons in all languages. She takes care to note non-binary pronouns and how they are used in Spanish and French, rather than dismissing them. She affirms the students in the class around her so that everyone feels safe, included, and valued. She shared her thoughts about negotiating the discovery of her Indigenous heritage, and how it factored into her understanding of personal identity, language, and social responsibility.

Saul Lines – Monterey Middle School

Saul Lines impressed teacher Lynn Shlakoff very early on this school year. According to Shlakoff, Saul is a true leader – respectful, attentive and able to skillfully sense the mood of the group and adjusts his leadership style accordingly.

During moments where others are unsure, he notices and invites them in, letting them know with words and actions that they will be safe. He can also rile a group up – bringing the energy of a honeybee in a hive – when the group needs that level of encouragement like at a Terry Fox run, or an intramurals tournament.

Shlakoff says that Saul is always the kid she can rely on. He has a strong sense of self, a deep understanding of personal responsibility and can be counted on to do the right thing. He makes good choices for himself and good decisions involving his peer group. He builds community. For that reason, he received the first Stormwatch award, a Monterey award given each month per class to someone of outstanding values.

Academically Saul is a strong, hardworking student, who knows when he needs to buckle down to focus on his own. Once done though, he is always looking to help another student or encourage them with his words. Communication is a real strength for him.

He also an athlete, playing Admirals hockey three days a week as well as two volleyball teams six days a week (Victoria Volleyball and Monterey’s competitive team). He maintains a job on the weekends refereeing hockey – a job that suits Saul as he is just and fair. He is well respected by his peers.

Regan Chaplin – Oak Bay High

Regan Chaplin plays competitive hockey on the U18A team for the Capital Region Female Minor Hockey Association and serves as an assistant captain.

According to nominator Donna Perman, Chaplin is an outstanding teammate who exemplifies hard work and dedication. She is deeply committed, and a strong and highly skilled player. Regan has an obvious passion for the game, and has proven herself as a mentor for female youth hockey. She is a steadfast teammate and leader. She is extremely committed, never missing a practice, game or other team event. Regan is a solid team player, and a good friend to all her teammates. She is well known for always being polite, friendly and willing to help out wherever she can – all great attributes of a good leader and teammate.

At school she has a near perfect average (98 per cent) across grades 11 and 12 – she is also in the French immersion program. She is a skating instructor at Oak Bay Rec Centre, teaching kids aged 4 – 12. She has played on the U18A hockey team for the past three years and is currently an assistant captain for the team. In 2022, she was the recipient of the Keeping Girls In Sport Leadership Award – awarded to her for athletics and her volunteer work in female hockey. She has also volunteered for a number of years for First Shirt and Esso Fun Days – programs that introduce girls to hockey for the first time.

Parker Story – Monterey Middle School

Josh Elsdon has known Parker Story for three years in his role as coach, teacher and club leader at Monterey Middle School. In this time, Parker made a considerable impression. His positive attitude, grateful nature, and diligent hard work distinguish him as a special young person.

Parker is a talented and hardworking student. He puts his best effort into every assignment and project, and his results are outstanding, consistently receiving “extending” assessments (the highest possible) on his report cards. He has also taken on the challenge of doing an accelerated math program this year.

Parker’s love for learning extends beyond the classroom. At 9, he asked for Mandarin language lessons and since then, his love of language has only deepened. He is currently taking Italian by correspondence and is already working on the Grade 10 curriculum.

Parker is also a gifted athlete. He is a member of the Bay Nation Elite U14 selects program – one of the top club basketball clubs in the province and he only started playing last year. His determination, work ethic, and exemplary teamwork have made him an indispensable member of the club. Parker is also an integral contributor to the Monterey rugby team.

Parker also is a member of the school’s jazz band, an avid outdoorsman who loves hiking and fishing, and has completed a course on wilderness kayaking.

Most remarkable to Elsdon is Parker’s earnest, can-do approach to life. He has many accomplishments and gifts to be proud of, however, Parker remains humble. He is an excellent sportsman, and always has kind, encouraging words for those who need it.

Megan Cairns – Monterey Middle School

Grade 8 teacher at Monterey Middle School Axel Robinson, was thrilled to put forward Megan Cairns for consideration of this year’s YES Awards. She says that Megan is an exceptional student in all capacities in class. She is a gifted writer and a strong math and science student. She leads by example in terms of her effort and commitment in the classroom.

Megan contributes to the school and is actively involved in the school spirit council leadership team. She is involved in helping inform and motivate her peers to participate in fun school spirit activities.

Megan is an aspiring dancer and actress, and this year was chosen for a major role in the Nutcracker performed in the Royal Theatre this winter.

Megan has her hopes set high on entering one of the major ballet schools in Canada. Despite her active participation in dance and fine arts she still demonstrates academic successes at school.

Megan has a brilliant and supportive attitude with her peers and is a role model for citizenship. She has both an uplifting and calming demeanour and has earned the respect of her classmates and teacher. Her commitment to her craft, and wonderful demeanour with her peers is outstanding.

Luc Hodkinson– Monterey Middle School

It was with great pleasure that Josh Elsdon nominated Luc Hodkinson – a brilliant young man with many talents that distinguish him amongst his peers.

Luc is part of the Oak Bay competitive tennis program, and is one of the top players on Vancouver Island in his age category. To achieve this level of play, Luc has dedicated 15 to 20 hours per week over the past five years working on his game. Even with the pressures this puts on his time, Luc has also mentors younger players to develop his leadership skills and give back to the sport.

At school, Luc is one of Monterey’s top students and is involved in many extracurricular activities. He has taken the challenge of a self-paced math program and has completed Math 8, but also nearly finished the Math 9 curriculum.

He plays alto saxophone in the Monterey jazz band, plays on the school badminton team, and was the founding member of Monterey’s Magic the Gathering Club. Amid these commitments, Luc found the time to be a part of Oak Bay Rec’s Junior Lifeguard program.

All of these accomplishments are enough to earn Luc recognition, but it is his friendly, down to earth personality that is truly the icing on the cake.

Liam Pope-Lau – St. Michael’s University School

Teacher George Floyd says Liam Pope-Lau has demonstrated initiative and excellence in both humanities and STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), with both provincial and national level recognition.

In 2022 Liam was named Innovator of the Year and won the People’s Choice Award from the Science Fair Foundation of B.C. in the Youth Innovation Showcase for the LifeHeat: The Self-Heating Lifejacket innovation.

After capsizing into the icy ocean water while dinghy sailing at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, Liam created the idea for a self-heating lifejacket innovation to prevent hypothermia. The project built on an ocean battery project in 2020 and a microplastics testing project in 2019.

Liam also completed a project on Jimmy Chicken Island in 2019 on Indigenous Reconciliation in the regional and provincial Heritage Fairs at the Royal BC Museum. The project won several awards and was heralded as one of the top three entries in the South Vancouver Island Regional Heritage Fair.

Liam is also an accomplished multi-sport athlete (basketball, rugby, waterpolo and sailing) who has demonstrated excellence at the provincial level.

Kylee Trumble – Oak Bay High

Nominator Donna Perman feels Kylee Trumble is one of the hardest working and committed players Capital Region Female Minor Hockey Association U18A female team. She is friendly, positive and makes huge contributions to the team.

Kylee’s accomplishments include volunteering for the First Shift Program, helping ease kids in hockey as well as organizing kids activities in the summer at the Shawnigan Lake Recreation Association. Kylee, in Grade 11, is also the captain for the Oak Bay High girls snowboarding team.

She currently has two jobs. One of her jobs is working as a cashier at the Fairway Market on Oak Bay Avenue where she loves serving the older people who frequently shop there. For her other job she works at Oak Bay Recreation Centre teaching skating lessons at the preschool level.

She is a very conscientious student, achieves straight As and next year plans to be a chemistry teacher’s assistant.

She has shown a large commitment to community through all of the things she is involved in.

Ben Herrick – Monterey Middle School

Upon meeting Ben Herrick, one would be immediately drawn to his kind, engaging personality, his positive spirit, and his great taste in shoes, according to teacher nominator Dean Anderson.

Ben connects well with his peers and can work with anyone; is strong academically; and a thoughtful, confident contributor to class discussions. He is also quite witty and a bit sarcastic, which Anderson appreciates.

Ben is a leader who ensures all the people in his group get a chance to speak. He is also the one in PE, who will make our large group of boisterous athletic boys chill out when his teacher calls for attention. Other teachers notice this too – often, the Grade 8 class shares the gym with Grade 6 class and the teacher noticed Ben encourages the students in her class.

Volunteering and helping others are like second nature to Ben. Once a week, he helps deliver the ‘fun foods’ to class – there is an assigned person for this, but Ben just took it upon himself to help. If there is equipment to put away, chrome books to return, or an extra chair to stack, he’s on it without complaint.

Ben is a natural athlete, playing on multiple teams at school and in the community as well. He has been a part of Monterey basketball where his coach has noted he ‘always works hard and encourages his teammates to do so as well’. He is also on the school volleyball team. Outside of school he plays basketball with the Bays Nation Elite and is a member of the Victoria Golf club. Ben also has grown up playing and refereeing hockey, and it this arena his leadership skills have once again been accredited. Once his coach got to know him, he acknowledged that despite there being a captain already on the team, Ben is like a ‘captain without the C’.

Anderson says that it has been a pleasure teaching Ben and watching him grow. He goes on to say that he feels Ben is an excellent candidate as a Young Exceptional Star. His continued achievements allow others to achieve as well.

Ava O’Connor – St. Michael’s University School

Nominator Jen Graham feels lucky to have worked with such a positive force; an ambitious, determined, light-hearted, and quick-witted young adult as Ava O’Connor. Ava consistently displays a tremendous zest for life, full of tenacity and grit. She is selfless and accepting of others, committed to community, filled with ability to inspire, and has an innate capacity to overcome obstacles.

As co-head of the outdoor council, Ava has taken courses in wilderness first aid and taught her peers about fire building and knot tying, as well as how to use an avalanche beaker. She is a natural leader with a strong ability to motivate and encourage others.

Graham was never more impressed than watching Ava navigate an extremely tough Grade 11 year. Ava suffered a concussion which left her experiencing seizures, as well as language and memory disruption. What could have been a devastating setback for anyone else, only became fuel for Ava’s fire. Displaying tremendous inner strength, she learned to adapt quickly and use her situation as an opportunity for growth. She embraced things like coaching to continue participating in the sports she loved, and learning about neuroscience; working with her condition, rather than against it.

It was incredibly inspiring to watch her take control of her life and make a full recovery; ending her field hockey season this year as a provincial champion and achieving stellar academic results.

Amelia Liebel – Oak Bay High

This is a second YES Award for Amelia Liebel, who also received one in 2020.

Nominated by Donna Perman, Amelia plays competitive hockey on the U18A team in the Capital Region Female Minor Hockey Association, serves as the team’s assistant captain and is highly regarded by her coaches. She is one of the hardest working and committed players on the team.

She gives 100 per cent every time she’s on the ice, is passionate about the game and values her team-mates. Perman says Amelia strikes her as a determined and independent young woman, always smiling, polite and treats her fellow teammates and opponents with respect.

Amelia has been involved in many volunteer activities, including being a member of Children’s International Summer Villages since 2017. She was selected to represent Canada as a Junior Counsellor to a monthlong international camp in Toronto this year. She also participates in local charity activities and, since 2019, volunteers at Esso Fun Days and First Shift Hockey Program introducing kids to hockey.

She has played hockey at the competitive level for five years, three as assistant captain – travelling throughout B.C. and Alberta. She also plays lacrosse and softball and still finds the time to referee recreational and competitive hockey. She is also a skating instructor and camp leader at Oak Bay Rec.


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Ewan MacKenzie and Molly van Zoolingen – Monterey Middle School

Ewan MacKenzie and Molly van Zoolingen are the first duo to earn YES Awards, nominated by teacher Matthew Heim for their community service and citizenship.

As a teacher, Heim can only hope that he is able to affect change and positivity in his students. But he also admits that he has as much or more to learn from them as they do from him. Simply, he says, Molly and Ewan are beautiful souls and amazing human beings.

Molly and Ewan are steadfast friends, and this friendship radiates throughout the classroom, always setting a tone of positivity and kindness for others to follow.

In Grade 6, a time when most students are quietly acclimatizing themselves to the increased demands of middle school, they both took a leadership role in a climate summit and continue to advocate for climate change awareness in their school community.

This year, both are active participants and leaders in the Grade 8 Spirit Council, helping plan and execute school-wide events that promote the greatest ideals of STORM (keep safe, think team, own your own actions, show respect and make a difference) – part of the school code of conduct that furthers development of students’ personal and social responsibility.

They also both take music, requiring further diligence and sacrifice of time to maintain excellent academics. This has not stopped them from wanting to make a difference. When they heard about the tragic loss of life in Syria and Turkey, both spoke to principal Ken Andrews about fundraising for those in need.

Ewan and Molly are also involved with advocacy for mental health awareness, refereeing sports on weekends, speaking at Remembrance Day ceremonies and more. Both have been distinguished at the classroom and school levels, but Heim felt they deserved a YES Award based on all they do in the community, and for their incredible positivity, dedicated work ethic and insatiable desire to be the change they want to see.

Keira Leibel – Monterey Middle School

Lynn Shlakoff had heard of Keira Leibel long before she met her so expectations were high in September when Keira came through the classroom door. This exceptional student has not disappointed her, but rather gained another fan.

The kindness Keira exudes to her peers is one of her many special qualities. She is thoughtful, careful with her words, and inclusive. She is gentle and considerate with all of her classmates.

Often she has to miss a large amount of school to attend afternoon classes at Inspire gymnastics. She knows the level of commitment to her sport demands sacrifices — field trips not taken, afternoon social time with friends missed, committing to work through the school assignments on her own. Shlakoff re-adjusts the schedule of the class’s activities for her – only because Keira is so appreciative.

Keira is at the top academically across all subject areas and despite her intense schedule, made it a mission at the beginning of this year to ensure she was part of the Monterey school culture. She volunteers when she can with school events through Athletic Leadership.

While there were far too many gymnastics awards to list, when asked which one she is most proud of, Keira said that last year she was on Team BC and won second place at nationals.

About the Author: Oak Bay News Staff

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