Oak Bay High principal Dave Thomson says this generation of students is the most caring and philanthropic that he has ever seen.
“I see it every day at Oak Bay, but it’s not just something here, it’s a generational thing,” said Thomson.
He feels it’s important to balance the recent press coverage that has focused negatively on young people in the wake of the highly publicized suicide of Port Coquitlam teen Amanda Todd, whose death is linked to bullying.
“Of course it was a tragedy, and I was deeply saddened by it, and of course there were some young people involved and that needs to be addressed,” he said. “But it’s an anomaly that was triggered by the actions of an adult online and might never have happened except for that trigger.”
Thomson feels that it’s unfair to characterize young people through tragedies of this kind. “In general, that’s not who they are – not at all,” he said.
Judy Harrison, the principle of Monterey Middle School, agrees. “The list of giving projects that the kids, even at middle school levels, get involved in is phenomenal. And you can acknowledge the Internet as one of the reasons for that as well,” she said. “It’s given the kids a worldliness that allows them to look at serious issues through a new lens at a very young age.
“We had a Me to We rally here where kids were more enthusiastic than anyone would have imagined. They get it.”
The rally involved a multimedia presentation and awareness campaign for an ongoing movement to raise funds to fight poverty world-wide.
Thomson also credits the internet for engaging young people in an unprecedented way. “It’s live and real. They see the tears in the eyes of disaster victims and see the needs in real time,” he said. As an example, he pointed to the fact that the day after hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard, students were already mobilizing relief initiatives at his school.
Last year, Oak Bay High students spearheaded a host of projects that managed to raise about $300,000. “They didn’t do that going door-to-door in Oak Bay asking for donations,” said Thomson. “It was done through bottle drives, car washes, by going to corporations and by getting business donations for silent auctions. The list was innovative and nearly endless.”
Thomson added that his students don’t view fundraising as a competition but as a cause. “It’s adults who want to make it a competition,” he said with a laugh.
“Reynolds (Secondary School) raised $103,000 for Cops for Cancer last year and our kids had a lot of irons in the fire, but still raised about $50,000. They weren’t upset at that – they cheered Reynolds on and felt great about it,” he added.
Students also gave of themselves in more direct ways. Last year 30 students paid their own way to Mexico with teacher Brent Garraway to help with a project called hero holiday. “They raised all the money for materials for two houses here ($24,000) and went down and actually built the houses for two families. They did the construction, lived with the families, played with their children and discovered what it was all about,” said Garraway.
In another project students raised money for a hospital and school in Africa.
But not every cause has an earth shaking impact. “We have a student here, Maria (Talalaeva) who started a tennis program so that high school kids could mentor kids at Monterey and teach them how to play tennis,” said Thomson. “They got the equipment and organized it and made it happen. She didn’t need to do that. She saw the need and just did it.”
Thomson feels that the infectious energy and philanthropy of young people is the “great untold truth of today.”
He added that it’s why he’s stayed in education after 40 years.
“There are some paycheques that have nothing to do with money,” said Thomson. “The benefit for me is that I get to work with these kids, and I get the vibe and the energy. That contact makes my life richer than you could imagine.”