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My High School Experience:
Hey friends, my name is Kai. I’m a grade 12 student at Earl Haig Secondary School, and I will be sharing the experiences I’ve had during my three years in high school so far.
My school, Earl Haig SS, has an integrated arts program known as Claude Watson. The program, which is split into five disciplines (visual arts, music, drama, film arts, dance), is intended to help students explore and develop skills in their respective disciplines. When I was in grade 8, I had a keen interest in visual arts, and thus decided to prepare personal projects and portfolios in anticipation for the Claude Watson Visual Arts audition. Two of my close friends from my middle school auditioned for this program as well. While I was blessed with a spot in the program, my friends, unfortunately, were not. As a result, I started my first year in this program with no friends.
Grade 9 was certainly the most challenging year for me, as is the case with many students. Although I had a few close friends from my middle school at Earl Haig, the way the Claude Watson program is designed limited the number of classes I had with my friends; I had to take two visual art courses, which were exclusively for visual art majors, one (non-visual arts) arts elective course, and a social science course during my lunch time, in an effort to get all the credits I needed.
Another issue I faced was getting to know the ins and outs of the school. Earl Haig is an enormous school, not only in terms of building size, but also student body, containing over 2000 students. Being a quiet kid did not facilitate this process. It took me almost 2 years to develop an interest in getting involved with school clubs and organizations, which was a critical mistake, because these are the best chances to meet like-minded people and develop meaningful relationships.
In grade 10, I still encountered much of the same challenges. Fortunately, in the process of stepping out of my comfort zone, I made two very close friends, who were both talented art students. As much as I wanted to cling onto my old middle school friends, I believe opening up to these new people was an amazing decision. In retrospect, these friendships also motivated me to improve myself academically and socially.
Halfway through my grade 10 year, the workload began to increase significantly due to the nature of the fast-paced art program. At this point, art homework was consuming large amounts of time. Some of the extracurricular activities I had going on, such as piano lessons, math lessons, and weekly sports, chipped away more time out of my day. So, I began to question if it was really worth staying in the program. Firstly, I did not wish to take on an arts related career in the future. Having to spend grueling nights finishing art projects discouraged me from that idea. Secondly, I was not able to focus on some of my personal interests.
Thus, in grade 11, I decided to leave the program, which was undoubtedly a tough decision. I still remained in the same school, Earl Haig SS, but I was now a “collegiate” student, taking regular classes. That year was much easier for me. I had significantly more time in my schedule and a full lunch period of an hour and a half, which was a luxury for art students. To keep myself busy, I acquired a tutoring job, which demanded several hours a week. I also began to participate in extracurricular activities that I was genuinely interested in, such as competing in HOSA. I also probed around for clubs I could join and make an impact in. Up until March break, my year was going very well. I was highly productive, became more active in the school community, and had plenty of time set aside for my hobbies.
However as many of you know, this year’s March break came around and lasted for about half a year. Being at home decreased my productivity drastically. During the remote learning days, I had nothing to do other than some homework assigned from school, and for some time, I slacked off much more than I should have. I started using my time wiser once summer break started. I fast tracked most of the grade 12 courses I was going to take, and spent a lot of time learning computing programming, which was an interest I always had. In August, the workload came back again. I took a summer school course (a grade 12 bird course), while having to grind daily for my ARCT piano exam.
It was during this time that I got into working on large coding projects with my friends, which was certainly the highlight of my summer. Unfortunately, this did not last long as the summer quickly came to an end, bringing us to the start of a new school year, which in my case is grade 12. Reflecting back on this year, I realized that I could have spent my spring/summer break more effectively. Despite all the free days off this year, I didn’t appreciate the amount of time I had to work on things until the last moment.
This sums up my three years of high school so far. Based on these experiences, I have a few tips to offer to current or upcoming high school students. Firstly, be proactive. Reach out and seize opportunities, and try to not dwell in your comfort zone. Secondly, don’t be afraid to make sacrifices. You will be busy in high school, and certain sacrifices will be inevitable. In my case, art was something I loved growing up, and the art program has been a great blessing for me, but I came to realize that I needed to allocate more time to pursue the things I felt were more important. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, talk to people more. Your group of 2-3 friends from middle school may not be enough to sustain you for the rest of high school. Keeping good company will help you come a long way.
My Walk with God: Up until I started high school, my family and I attended the Chinese church in Toronto. Having grown up knowing many of the saints at this church, I had many close connections here. Another church I frequented was the Church in Toronto, which delivered English messages. I enjoyed going to this church weekly because it had an expansive youth group, and because this church was close to my school many of my schoolmates went there. Another reason I liked this church was because it hosted many seasonal events and summer camps annually. Thus, when my family decided to switch over to the church in Markham, I was dispirited and reluctant to leave. Fortunately, this church had a welcoming English-speaking small group, which allowed me to get comfortable with the church quite quickly. Until this point, I considered myself an average church-goer because I felt like I did not invest myself enough into my faith. I would still read the Bible and do daily prayers, but my relationship with the Lord remained more or less the same. The following year, I volunteered in a Christian summer camp as a “leader in training”. This was an enlightening experience for me as there were kids my age who gave impressive and inspiring testimonies about their faith. One of the speakers, who was a friend of mine, shared a message that resonated with me. He had a unique church experience in the sense that he was always on the move from one church to another. As a result, he felt like his faith was always “resetting” from time to time as he felt alienated from his churches. After some time, he concluded that his relationship with the Lord shouldn’t depend on the people around him. He told us that if we don't want to be stagnant in faith, we must pull our own weight - by being eager to seek the Lord ourselves.
For me, this meant seizing every opportunity available to get to know the Lord better. Around this time, my family got in touch with the church in Mississauga, and I got to familiarize myself with some of the saints there. At the end of each week, my sister and I decided to attend the young people meetings arranged by the church. Later on, we also participated in a faith perfecting training, where we learned skills such as pray-reading. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before the pandemic struck, forcing us to take things virtual. Luckily for us, daily bible studies began online. During the summer time, the young people arranged a bible study group that went on every morning, each week. This was a great experience for me not only because we covered many books quickly and effectively, but we established a consistent schedule to get us into Bible reading. In fact, thanks to the diligent brothers we continue calling weekly to this day. Earlier this year, my family also started hosting weekly meetings on Saturdays/Sundays for Bible study and mentorship. In this group, our reading was more thorough and we often focused on the applications of the various ideas presented in the Bible, which taught me to read the Bible through a different lens. These activities have helped nurture my relationship with the Lord, and encouraged me to pursue the Lord even more day-by-day. However, such spiritual growth would not have been possible without the helpful brothers and sisters of the churches, nor would it have happened without my own willingness to seek out the Lord. Although my journey with God is far from complete, one important tip I have for you readers is to be enthusiastic about your faith, and strive to build a good relationship with the Lord every day. This may sound challenging - as it was initially for me - but it’s nothing you can’t pray about! Saying a simple prayer, such as, “Lord, make yourself more appealing to me…Let me be more attracted to you”, will help open yourself up to the Lord, who in turn will help you anchor your faith.
That is it for me, I wish you all the best this school year!
Thanks for your time,