How two teachers found WE Schools and inspired the next generation of compassionate change-makers.
By Jesse Mintz
It all started over a friendly conversation after a weekly faculty hockey game.
The scene was familiar, teachers and principals from across the Cariboo region school district in British Columbia chatting while unlacing their skates in the locker room. Eventually, banter turned to shop talk with Mike Wilson leading the discussion.
A teacher at the Columneetza Campus at Lake City Secondary, Wilson always had something impressive to report. This week, it was about the latest WE Schools campaign his students were leading and the impact their action would have on the community.
For Kevin McLennan—a new teacher—listening to Wilson’s story was a revelation. “My ears perked right up,” he recalls. Having just started his own leadership group at Mile 108 Elementary School, McLennan was extra attentive while listening to Wilson speak about how the WE Schools program had empowered his students to create change. “I heard what Wilson was doing, and I thought, ‘that sounds perfect.’”
Not long after, Wilson became McLennan’s WE mentor. They talked for hours about social activism, shared ideas to stir student involvement and dreamt up joint projects. As McLennan recalls, “I was hooked, I loved the mindset.”
The passion the WE movement can spark is nothing new for Wilson. In fact, he turned to WE during a period in his school’s history when both students and faculty needed a positive boost.
After the last teachers’ strike in British Columbia, the mood in his school was dark. Introducing WE Schools to Lake City Secondary infused the halls with inspiration and gave everyone an added sense of purpose. “We’ve definitely raised the moral in the school,” asserts Wilson.
The change came gradually, beginning with 10 students in the newly minted WE club. The club’s first impact was an act of kindness; handing out survival kits to teachers. “We passed out cards, chocolate bars and bags of marbles with [a] note, saying, ‘here’s some marbles in case you lose yours,’” Wilson recalls happily.
Today, more than 50 students belong to the club, and like their numbers, their impacts have grown exponentially, too. Each month marks a new WE Schools campaign with students tackling issues including mental health, reconciliation, hunger and the environment.
As the person who brought WE Schools to Lake City Secondary’s Columneetza Campus, Wilson isn’t surprised by the club’s popularity; the way he sees it, its appeal is inherent. “It’s so easy to buy into. People have this innate desire to help others and kids jump at the chance.”
The same can be said about educators; in other words, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Wilson converted more teachers on his hockey team to the WE Schools program. “The hockey rink is always a great place to talk as [a] group of teachers and principals,” he says, adding confidently, “our team of change-makers will grow each season.”
As he recalls about his early relationship with McLennan, “having that time before and after games—even during games on the bench—allowed time for both of us to realize that we have shared ideas and goals for our students.” And together, they have been tackle these social issues ever since.
Being on the ice with his fellow teachers reminds Wilson of the impact teamwork affects. A minor league coach of 13 years, the sport has taught him about leadership and what it means to work together towards a common goal. “[It’s] helped shape who I am as a teacher,” he says of his 20 years on the ice. “When you’re a member of a team, the ME to WE philosophy is so important […]. We are stronger as a unit than as individuals. I try to apply that philosophy to my classroom and school, as well.”
As Wilson and McLennan get ready to head back to the classrooms (and rink), the two are busy mapping out what giving back will look like in the new school year. On the list are joint projects that will see both of the educators’ schools: raise awareness around Indigenous issues, tackle poverty and homelessness, as well as fundraise for education in developing communities.
McLennan is a WE rookie, Wilson is a seasoned WE veteran. Like teachers across the country, both have inspired their students to get involved in their communities. And it all started at an ice rink.