LAWRENCETOWN, NS - Four girls sit in a classroom at Lawrencetown Education Centre. Three of them admit that if they weren’t at the alternative school they wouldn’t be in school at all. The fourth said she might still be in school but she’d being hating it.
They’re Hannah, Mykala, Chayley, and Aylissa.
All four agree the school has dramatically changed their lives and their futures. They can breathe. They’re not anxious all the time. They feel equal. There’s a mutual respect between teachers and students they say makes them feel valued, worthy – and worth something. They’re building confidence and they are all becoming mighty women.
They speak from a place of wisdom that belies their ages. And they speak eloquently, honestly, and frankly.
“I was never a bad student. I was just never given the opportunity to be a good student.”
All four are part of the self-defense course the school offers for the girls.
“It’s called Kickass and our Tae Kwon Do instructor Steve (Baxter) has been teaching some of us for like a year now,” said Mykala from Aylesford. “So we’ve had a chance to do that once a week roughly.”
The school’s motto is ‘Challenge for Growth’ and the students live that motto every day. Some of them were interviewed by commissioners involved in writing a report on inclusive education released March 26. These girls impressed the commission so much that commissioner Monica Williams said she remembers their actual comments. The report calls for 12 additional alternative learning programs in the province by September.
It was LEC student Hannah from Nictaux who said “I was never a bad student. I was just never given the opportunity to be a good student.”
The self-defense course is sort of a metaphor for the school itself.
“It definitely helps you to challenge yourself and prove to yourself that you can do it and go beyond what you thought you could do before,” said Hannah about Kickass. “You’re in a classroom with a bunch of girls and you become closer. You’re a family. Just being there and knowing the support you have behind you when you’re out on the mat with your competitor – you’re out there and you know you have four or five girls behind you and you know they’re there to support you – it just feels awesome.”
Chayley from Annapolis Royal agreed.
“The instructor boosts your confidence,” she said. “You know that you’re capable of doing things that other people aren’t.”
“When I first came to LEC I went to the first Kickass class and I thought it was really good. I felt exercised after,” said Aylissa from Greenwood. “Refreshed – knowing that you just accomplished something and that you’re going to be up there in front of people sparring with other people, but you also have this whole group that’s on your side – your supporters, your fans, your cheerleaders.”
Teacher Janice Beaver said the self-defense course started six or eight years ago. One student in particular approached LEC principal Jamie Peppard and he found a way to make it happen.
“Some years I’ve had up to nine girls. Some years I’ve had one girl,” Beaver said. “It just depends on interest and the group, but whether it’s one or nine the impact is always huge. This year’s pretty special because as you know it’s the first year that they reached the level, and they were mentally and physical ready, to take on the challenge of a tournament and they went out and did that together. It’s pretty special.”
She said the girls are at LEC for various reasons. Some of them have had hardships in their lives.
“Who does it not help to become bigger, stronger, and be able to protect yourself in any situation?” Beaver said. “Who does that not help? So a lot of the girls really took to that from some of their challenges in their past and some of the challenges they might approach as they go to university or different things. They’re aware of what the world’s like today and it can only help them. So it’s been very good that way.”
The Tae Kwon Do tournament recently in Greenwood was cause for nerves and anxiety at first. There were more than 100 participants, but the longer the LEC girls stayed, the more comfortable they felt.
“I kept seeing everyone practice their kicks and like they were all doing what we were doing,” said Mykala. “We were all there for the same reason.”
“I find that it can help with a lot of different things – your anxiety, your anger is a big thing, just to take it out,” said Hannah. One of the other girls described it as stress relief.
“It definitely is,” said Hannah. “And it feels often -- after you’re done you bow to you instructors -- you feel accomplished.”
One of the girls said winning or losing you feel good because you did it. You pushed yourself to do something.
Beaver said self-defense is part of Girls Group, something she started years ago.
“It’s open to all girls and I ask every LEC female to try it at least once,” she said, “and at least 80 per cent of them stick with it. They develop each term and they become better and better.”
As part of Girls Group they do everything from clothing swaps to talks one-on-one about serious matters, to group talks, to girls canoeing trips. “You name it we’ve done a lot of different things,” she said. “Mental health, first aid, fishing, fly fishing trips.”
Now they’re having alumni come back to mentor the girls, doing the alumni snowshoe team, and they go to Kickass class once in a while. Former student Lisa Hannam described the group as their tribe.
“It is truly,” said Beaver. “We stick up for each other. It’s an authentic thing and it lasts for a lifetime.”
“When you really buy into what the LEC blueprint is, and has to offer, it creates a really amazing, strong female self-identity,” said Beaver. “They’re pretty special. They’re one in a million. There’s a picture out front. I have my alumni team – three girls that graduated and I have my three girls this year. It’s just a perfect example of the past and the present coming together to support each other.”
While Girls Group and Kickass are just components of the alternative school in Lawrencetown, these four girls can see the value of similar programs like the report on inclusion recommended.
“I think there would be a lot of positive feedback if there was,” said Mykala. “There’d be a lot more kids going to school, bettering themselves. I know it’s helped me a lot and I can only hope that the next people that come in here it helps too. I really do believe in this program.”
“I actually spoke to the people who came in talking about the alternative schools,” said Hannah. “I think it would be a positive, positive thing for us to have more schools like this because there are kids out there … they’re struggling and they need help and I feel that’s a good opportunity for them to have.”
“I think it’s an incredible idea for sure,” said Chayley. “Like Hannah said, there are students out there that need the help, need their education to have a future, to have a family or whatever – who aren’t getting it because there aren’t programs like this for them to go to.”
“This is definitely a life saver”
“This is definitely a life saver,” said Mykala about LEC. All four girls said they were thankful for the opportunity.
Part of History
Beaver said she’s excited about the inclusion report and the priority it set on alternative programming.
“If I teach them anything I teach them that hard work and putting in that positive mindset and working for that positivity – you know if you put it in you get it out – and they don’t even understand how large that announcement is yet,” she said. “Their efforts at that tournament on Saturday, their effort on their words to speak to the inclusion committee or to other districts on starting alternative schools. They don’t even know the positive impact that has had yet on opening other schools – they are truly a part of history because their efforts have put this program on the map. They made this program what it is. They are four of 40 students that have done so. They’re partly responsible for changing education in the province. I don’t know if that’s sunk in yet.”