Back to school came super early this year for eight Prince Edward Island teenagers.
This July, they and almost 500 of the nation’s brightest Grades 10-12 high school students participated in the award-winning Shad Valley program.
They lived a month in residence at one of 10 host universities across the country where they focused their keen teen attention on innovation, entrepreneurship, science and technology.
Hilary Hardwick of Morell summed up her summer with three words.
“It was awesome!” says this 16-year old, who spent a month at Carlton University in Ottawa, Ont., with other Shad Valley participants, attending a non-stop series of lectures, workshops and team-building activities, all of which are designed to give Shad Valley participants a strong advantage when applying to university and in their future careers.
“It was probably the best month of my life. It was awesome how I got to learn about all this math and science and business, but probably the best thing was just the people there because everyone was just so different. And it was cool knowing everyone from all across Canada,” adds this Grade 11 Morell Regional High student.
For more than 30 years, Shad Valley, which is a non-profit organization, has exposed students to science and innovation in a fun, team-based environment.
Participants pay a program fee of $3,850, which on P.E.I. is offset by a $1,000 scholarship from the province. The students also pay for their travel costs.
A typical day at Shad Valley can include workshops, seminars, staff and guest lectures, recreation time and group projects. Students also participate in off-campus day trips, based on the region’s attractions.
Every year, the program is given a project theme, which this year was how to prevent or reduce obesity in North American youth.
Students at each campus were divided into house groups, which then collaborated to simulate a start-up venture, based around a product or service that addressed the theme.
They also came up with marketing plans, an external resources plan and more.
Hilary’s team of 11 devised the concept of a wristband that connects to a social media site that sends data via Bluetooth of what and how many exercises the wearer had completed.
“It has an accelerometer and a gyrometer to tell what you’re doing and then it would match your exercises up with those of your friends. So you could kind of exercise with people, the idea being that you’d want to exercise together so you’d have more motivation,” she says.
Hilary’s team members presented their project to a panel of judges from the university and local business community.
They placed first on campus and can now complete at the annual Shad Valley Entrepreneurship Cup Awards in Waterloo, Ont., this fall.
Beyond the learning for Hilary there was a roughing-it two-day camping stint on the first weekend to put a little outdoor spin on the Shad Valley adventure and fun on-campus toga parties and dances to wrap up their daily intake of information.
“I was just amazed at how talented everyone was and how much they knew,” she says.
“There was one guy who knew all about these crazy (details) about science and gravity and physics, but then he could also play the piano. It was breathtaking.”
Hilary was leaning toward a career in the medical field, but a Shad Valley workshop in bio-engineering really opened her mind to new opportunities.
“Mostly because it was so interesting. I’ve never really heard about people doing that before so I liked learning about it,” she says.
Grace McCarville of Cornwall had no idea the program existed until last year when her biology teacher at Bluefield High School in Hampshire suggested she apply.
“I was very excited (when I was accepted) because I really didn’t expect to get in. I had heard so many things about how competitive it was. And it’s usually for more science-oriented students and I find myself more of an arts-oriented student,” says the 17-year-old Grade 12 student, who spent her month-long adventure at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
There were daily morning lectures on topics ranging from technology and stem cell research to astronomy.
“It was very extensive. It opened your eyes to a lot of different fields,” says Grace, whose team project to address obesity in children was a child-oriented meal assembly service.
Families sign up online, choose their meal and then go to the location of service to assemble it.
“You can come into this location and all the ingredients for these meals are bought, chopped, washed and prepared, you don’t have to do that. So you can assemble these meals with your family in a child-friendly and -oriented way,” Grace explains.
“We say if these children learn and are taught how to eat nutritional meals from a young age then that will carry on in the future.”
The UBC team also included an onsite gymboree in the business model to include the exercise aspect.
“It’s like a play place so we’re wanting to cause the Happy Meal effect where kids want to come back because it’s fun. So it’s a new place for kids to go to get nutritional meals. It’s combining eating habits and recreation,” says Grace, whose team placed first in their campus competition and can move on to the Shad Valley Cup.
Not only did Grace make loads of great friends she will keep in touch with for a long time, another unexpected bonus came from her Shad Valley summer
“You never know what’s going to go on from day to day, so we find out at eight o’clock that we’re going camping for two days or hiking up a mountain the next day. I’ve learned to think on my feet and just go with the flow.”
For the past number of years, a student from Kinkora Regional High School has participated in the Shad Valley program, so word of it flowed over to the incoming prospects. One of those was Jacob Greenan of Newton, 17, who spent the month of July at the University of Waterloo.
“It was my first time in any sort of camp program and it was the longest I’d been away from home, so that was a new experience, too,” he says.
Being with 47 other like-minded Canadian students in the Shad Valley setting was an interesting experience for Jacob.
“It was awesome because I got challenged. Here it’s not as challenging because there are varying levels, but there, everyone (pretty much) had the same degree of outlook on education and how they wanted to learn,” says Jason, who is now in Grade 12 at Kinkora High.
In the first week, they learned about the W-model, which was a step-by-step design system that was being test-run on the Waterloo campus, and then they were given the obesity business design challenge.
“The first part was brainstorming ideas, just brainstorming anything,” Jacob says.
“We say, ‘How might we solve or reduce obesity in North American youth?’ and you just throw out everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s the craziest idea ever . . . .”
They separated that stockpile of 200 ideas into various categories and then pared them down even more by examining their good and bad qualities when compared to the original question of preventing or reducing obesity in North American youth.
They focused on a recreational program that would be available to youth in low socio-economic circumstances.
“The big part was brainstorming and not censoring ourselves because at school you’re taught to give the right answer and not to be creative; at Shad Waterloo it was all about throwing out any idea possible and just whittling it down using that W(-model) process,” Jacob says.
“It was learning that you just can’t rely on the right answer; sometimes you have to go with creative to get a better right answer because sometimes you would get information from your creative answer that helps out your new answer.”
Jacob’s team of four designed a four-week cyclic program that rotates to focus on areas such as cardio and strength activities on different days to fit more easily into a youth’s busy schedule.
“It’s supposed to be a community program — everyone got together — and then with the program there was a reward system. So every time you participated and tried your best you got points, and with those points you’d get rewards,” Jacob explains.
“So you’d level up and get different T-shirts to represent (where) you are, kind of like the karate (belt system).”
His team placed second in the end-of-the-Shad-month competition.
“I learned tons during the whole month,” Jacob says enthusiastically.
“It doesn’t feel like school when you’re there. It’s not like studying; it’s different. It’s just learning. It’s not really just having to study and do tests. There’s no pressure on you, even with the design project there’s no pressure. You’re just working, having fun at learning things. It was amazing.”