National Post – WE Schools fosters a new generation of leaders by helping kids get more engaged

Adam Stanley

September 14, 2018

Every year, Toronto’s St. Jane Frances Catholic School takes part in a friendly rivalry with profound results. It’s a fundraising competition, pitting one class against the other to see which can raise the most money for a chosen cause.

The battle is part of WE Create Change, one of many activities the school runs as a designated WE School – a program run by the WE organization, a family of organizations making doing good doable. Made up of WE Charity, which empowers domestic and international change, ME to WE, a social enterprise that creates socially conscious products and experiences to support the charity, and WE Day, which fills stadiums around the world with the greatest celebrations of social good, WE Schools sees students learning about, and taking action on, local and global issues.

The focus of the students’ fundraising changes each year, depending on need, explains teacher Angela Frydrych, who leads the WE School activities with the help of volunteer student ambassadors. Designed as a fundraiser for goats for families in WE Villages overseas, WE Create Change is a model that is often adapted to raise money for other causes. This year, funds raised by St. Jane Frances will go towards education in Sierra Leone. Other causes they’ve supported in the past include clean water in Haiti and sustainability in Ecuador.

To be sure, student participation is integral to the success of the 12,300 WE Schools in North America and the UK. Along the way, the kids gain an understanding of issues like hunger, poverty and access to education – and participate in local and global activities to help communities in need.

For students earning their way to attend, that activism continues to be inspired at WE Day – an annual event that celebrates “change makers” with the help of world-renowned speakers and performers. “They come back with a rush, feeling positive and empowered,” says Frydrych. “They share what they saw and start collecting money – they want to help.”

Before long, other students at the school – located in Toronto’s Jane and Sheppard neighbourhood – are on board. They give with all their hearts and nothing stops them. “They go above and beyond,” Frydrych says. “It’s a way to channel all that energy for positive change.”

For WE Create Change, the energy at St. Jane Frances kicks off at the Halloween dance and continues until May, each class filling their piggybanks with change. The winning class – announced to the school in May – get to watch a movie of their choice in the gymnasium, free-flowing popcorn at their side. “I’m the resident popcorn-popper,” laughs Frydrych, whose teaching career followed a less satisfying stint in the corporate world. (“I have absolutely no regrets – I love it.”)

The WE Schools program provides educators with educational resources and a full calendar of campaign ideas. As co-title sponsor of WE Schools in over 8,000 schools across Canada, RBC is working with WE to develop curriculum and academic programming that will help students build skills to succeed in the future workforce, including critical thinking, communication, collaboration and financial literacy.

“The goal is to help students be more engaged academically while improving university and workplace readiness – and their commitment to active citizenship,” says Matt McGlynn, vice-president, brand marketing, RBC, who adds that the bank has also co-developed financial literacy teacher resources.

With that kind of support, WE Schools is fostering more engaged kids in a variety of ways. In addition to the international-focused WE Create Change program, Frydrych and her colleagues oversee local WE Schools-inspired initiatives like the Terry Fox Run and WE Scare Hunger, a food drive originally set to coincide with Halloween that now runs throughout the year.

To be sure, being a WE School means extra work for the staff. But it’s worth it. “Sometimes I’m tired, but I do it because I love it – I get so much satisfaction,” says Frydrych, adding that her teaching partners are deeply invested, too. (Rumour has it some get pretty emotional upon winning the WE Create Change yearlong challenge.)

Like every school, life at St. Jane Frances has its own ups-and-downs, Frydrych adds, but the continued commitment to WE Schools makes her and the students proud. “It’s nice to know,” she says, “that sometimes there are positive things in the world that we can be a part of.”

This article was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of RBC.