For many students at Rosthern Junior College (RJC High School), ALSO Week is one of the most memorable and meaningful experiences of their school year.
ALSO stands for Alternative Learning and Service Opportunities. Each spring during ALSO Week, students leave campus for a variety of destinations to learn about and serve vulnerable people in those communities.
This year, students were scheduled to go to Calgary, Toronto, and Oliver, B.C. But students left campus in mid-March due to COVID-19. With all students either at home or in home-stays with other families, and with the school delivering education remotely, ALSO Week seemed like it might be another dream dashed by the pandemic.
But the first word in the ALSO acronym is “alternative,” so teachers came up with a creative alternative to the usual off-campus learning experience.
The theme chosen for this year’s ALSO Week, which was held from May 4 to 8, was Matthew 5:14: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.”
“ALSO is integral to our Christian ethics programming,” principal Ryan Wood says. “The core reason [for the program] is to create opportunities to serve.” Wood and his teaching staff realized that they could still do this within the parameters of physical distancing and remote learning.
So they encouraged students to engage in random acts of kindness and to pick up trash for an hour or two in order to make their world a more beautiful place.
The students, says Wood, embraced the opportunity. Many collected garbage. Some helped their parents with various tasks. One student baked cookies and delivered them to her neighbours’ doorsteps. Another painted a cheerful picture in her living room window for passersby to enjoy. Still another helped with her church’s bottle drive to raise funds for Mennonite Central Committee.
But ALSO Week wasn’t just about doing random acts of kindness. Students also participated in online seminars to learn about the themes they would have explored on their planned trips.
One seminar, led by teacher David Epp, focused on food security. Working with information from the Gleaners and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, students created a word bubble to help express what they learned.
Another seminar addressed the issue of homelessness. Pete Olsen of Mennonite Central Committee Ontario shared pictures and stories with the students about how COVID-19 is affecting homeless people in Toronto. In turn, students shared how homeless people are affected in their cities. These included stories from Hong Kong, South Korea and Thailand.
The final day focused on servant leadership. Teachers used that day to encourage students planning to return in the fall to consider serving one another on either the student representative council or the student community council.
Each day, students were also asked to reflect on the day’s theme in their journals.
Wood stresses that student participation in this year’s ALSO Week was completely voluntary. “They [didn’t] have to be there,” he says. “They’ve all been given their credits.” In spite of this, there was a “high level of engagement” from most students.
“They asked questions, were prepared, and reflected in their journals,” he says. “Even that was an act of volunteerism or service in itself. I was very touched by the [number] of students that got involved.”
“There’s a big appetite right now for good news stories,” says Wood, who thinks that students “wanted to be part of something that was [about] letting their light shine.”
Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Saskatchewan? Send it to Donna Schulz at email@example.com.
Wendell Manuzon, a Grade 10 student at RJC High School, picks up trash in his neighbourhood as part of his ALSO experience. (Photo courtesy of Rosthern Junior College)
Josie Hogan, left, a Grade 10 student at RJC High School, delivers cookies to her neighbour’s doorstep as part of her ALSO experience. (Photo courtesy of Rosthern Junior College)
Tianna Bartsch, a Grade 11 student at RJC High School, makes her world more beautiful by painting her living room window as part of the school’s ALSO Week activities. (Photo courtesy of Rosthern Junior College)