From Ideas to Action: An inspiring student initiative

Kara McDonald
Director of Learning

At York House School, we aim to enable students to understand and act on issues that matter to them and the world. To do that, we meet students where they are. We connect with them and listen to their kernels of ideas or wonderings. We guide students to identify an issue of interest, to find out more about it and to seek out diverse perspectives on the issue in order to take informed and ethical action. These dimensions are part of a learning framework that guides our design of learning experiences across the Little, Junior, and Senior Schools at YHS. Through experiences like these, students develop knowledge, life skills, and attitudes that help them thrive in, and shape, the world. 

Amy (Grade 12) shared with me her journey of taking an idea to action and how she engaged with students at YHS. 

Ms. McDonald: Amy, tell us about the initiative you started, Seniors for Seniors.
Amy: “Seniors for Seniors” is a volunteer program that connects YHS Senior School students with elders in the community. For the last year, I’ve led two student volunteer teams to play board games with elders at two local seniors’ residences. The program aims to encourage intergenerational connection.

Ms. McDonald: How did you get started with this project?
Amy: The truth is, this all started because I missed an opportunity to volunteer for another community organization. You reached out to me and we sat and talked about my interests. I was interested in connecting with elderly people, but it’s hard to get out there and volunteer all by yourself.

You shared a flyer calling for volunteers to visit with seniors at a local seniors’ residence and asked if I wanted to make it a schoolwide volunteer opportunity. You let me know that if I had trouble finding an outside volunteer opportunity then there must be other students who felt the same. You mentioned that you knew of teens from another school playing board games with seniors and asked if I might be interested to lead a student team to do the same. Acknowledging that I had something worth pursuing gave me the confidence I needed to move forward. 

Ms. McDonald: What inspired you to connect with seniors?
Amy: This is really personal for me. I was inspired by what I saw, experienced, and wondered about. My godfather lives in Hong Kong, and he’s lonely. Additionally, my grandparents live in Shaanxi, China, and feel lonely in their own way too. Even at this late stage of their life, they have to take care of their grandchildren while their own children are off at work. They don’t often have the opportunity to make interpersonal connections. I don’t see them very often because they live so far away and always wished I could see them more. Living in Vancouver, I noticed that a lot of seniors live away from their families and the rest of the community. In North America and Asia, elderly people seem invisible and often lonely. This didn’t feel right to me and as I got involved with this, it has become more clear to me why this matters to me. 

Ms. McDonald: So, why is intergenerational connection so important to you?
Amy: I want to build intergenerational connections between York House students and the elderly. Everyone needs personal connections. That is how we live a happy life. Seniors can be lonely and they have so much to share while teens need connection too. As humans, we naturally want to connect but often don’t always know how to do that. 

Ms. McDonald: What steps did you take to develop your program?
Once I realized I had an idea worth pursuing, Dr. Lesk offered to be a teacher sponsor as she had participated in something like this before, so she was a great support. I emailed the seniors’ residences, explored possibilities, and they said a games activity session was possible. I put in an announcement calling for student volunteers and at the YHS Volunteer Fest I had a booth to explain the idea to students and invite their participation. Dr. Lesk joined us every week at the seniors’ residence and provided me with comfort and support throughout the year. She always seemed confident in the program and that things would run smoothly, which in turn made me believe in the program even more (despite definitely having my moments of doubt). I think overall, Dr. Lesk’s confident and calm demeanour was integral to keeping me that way too and never giving up on what the program had to offer. 

What strengths have you discovered about yourself through this process?
I’ve discovered that I am a leader. I didn’t realize that I had leadership skills until I had the opportunity to develop this idea and try things out. 

My heart feels so full and warm after each session. This feeling inspires me to continue to improve this program and prompts me to ask: Who else can I involve? Who else can I help and with what impact? The whole process has brought on a lot of self-reflection for me. It is one of the things that makes me proud to be me. I can see the impact I’m having on people. I’ve created not only volunteer opportunities but also connection opportunities for all age ranges within my school community and the elderly community in our city. I’ve developed communication skills and learned to be on top of my emails. I held the responsibility of communicating with the seniors’ residence to arrange visits along with sending reminder emails to students before every session. Strong communication and a commitment to showing up for the seniors has given me confidence in my own program and in setting boundaries where needed. 

How can York House support other students taking an idea to action?
At YHS, if you have an idea, people support you. That’s so important. In Grades 8-10, the Counselling Department and Peer Listening clubs helped me to learn about mental health and advocacy. In Grade 10, the Outdoor Education trip to Garibaldi took me way out of my comfort zone. I gained confidence through those experiences and then I was ready to take on a leadership role in Grade 11.

Students can be great models for students. I’ve discovered that my actions have inspired students to take up their own initiatives. Through me, students see that YHS really supports you with tackling an issue you care about and trying to make a difference. Other students have come and asked me how they can get started with their own initiatives. They have ideas and they need help to get started. 

Ms. McDonald: What have you and your peers learned from being present with seniors?
Amy: As a young person I’ve gained so much with every visit. We learn so much by hearing seniors share their life stories as they have so many insights. Being with them teaches us to be open-minded and compassionate towards all people. It teaches us that we have so much to learn from each other. 

When I first started connecting with seniors, I met people who could not talk. I wondered, how can I still connect with this person? With one resident, I started trying to play a board game with her, later realizing she was not able to play the game, so I needed to do something else. From the experience, I decided to make a change to the program. We would no longer solely play board games but colouring, reading, or simply just chatting was introduced as well. One day, I noticed that a resident couldn’t speak or move so I told her stories of my day. She looked at my ring, I put my hand forward, and we ended up holding hands. As I told her stories, she squeezed my hand when something resonated. I realized, “I can feel connection now.” That was a lovely moment. 

Being with seniors helps us as teenagers learn to connect with people from all walks of life. One of my classmates joined the program because she regretted not spending more time with her grandfather before he passed away. My grandparents are in China. Even though we can’t connect with our own grandparents, we can do that with someone else’s grandparents. 

Ms. McDonald: Any final thoughts?
Amy: This program is about making connections between students, YHS staff, and elders: intergenerational, intergrade, and student/staff connections. I try to mix up the grades when I make up teams to visit the seniors’ residences. I think this makes stronger connections in our school community when students in Grades 8 or 9 feel seen by students in Grades 11 and 12.  The importance of this has become more and more clear to me as I’ve started the project. A few weeks ago, I asked for staff chaperones to support the program this year. It was heartwarming to see how many faculty and staff offered to help. Someone new to our community from the Finance department as well as staff from Counselling and Student Services signed up! What a great way to connect with people! Everybody needs to be seen and connected with. No matter who you are and where you live. 

Ms. McDonald: Thank you, Amy. You are an inspiration to our community.

Senior Tigers Update: October 24, 2019

Volleyball Update:

The Senior Tigers travelled to Rundle College in Calgary, Alberta this past week for the 48th Western Canadian Independent Schools Championship (WCISVC). Eight teams from across Western Canada take part. This year the Tigers dominated round-robin play going 8-0 and winning 16 sets while losing just one. On Saturday, the playoff round began with YHS defeating Strathcona-Tweedsmuir 2-0 before facing off vs host Rundle in the final. Rundle had a large, loud crowd but the Tigers silenced them in Game 1. Game 2 was intense with Rundle battling back from two deficits to tie the game at 18 then again at 22. However, the more talented and composed Tigers Team took care of business winning 2-0 to claim the WCISVC title and break Rundle’s 4-year championship run. Tigers took home several tournament awards as well including:

  • Best Hitter: Akash, Grade 12
  • Best Passer: Maggie, Grade 12 
  • Best Setter: Chloe, Grade 10
  • Team MVP through round-robin play: Natalie, Grade 12 
  • Tournament Championships MVP: Emily, Grade 12 
Senior Volleyball wins WCISVC

The Junior Tigers travelled to St. Michaels University School in Victoria this past week to defend their ISA Championship title. The tournament included 16 ISA teams from around BC. The Tigers cruised through round-robin play and defeated West Point Grey in the semi-finals. In the finals, YHS faced our rival Crofton House (CHS). YHS defeated CHS in the ISAs last season but CHS got the upper hand on Saturday defeating YHS. The Tigers settle for silver. However, it is another great result for a young team and provides motivation to work hard in the coming days to prepare for playoffs.

Junior Volleyball wins Silver at ISAs

The Grade 8 Tigers travelled to Southpointe Academy in Tsawwassen this past week for the ISA Championships. The Tigers dominated their competition, winning the pool and defeating Crofton House in the final to take the championship.  Our Grade 8 Tigers have now won three consecutive Grade 8 ISA titles. Congrats to the girls and coaches.

Grade 8 Volleyball wins Gold at ISAs

Field Hockey Update:

The Varsity Field Hockey team competed among some of BCs best field hockey teams and the rain this past weekend at ISAs. The Tigers easily defeated Glenlyon-Norfolk and Brentwood College but were forced to face the clear number one team in BC, Collingwood, in pool play. The Tigers lost to Collingwood which put them in the bronze medal game vs league rival Crofton House. The YHS vs CHS battle was epic, going to double overtime before CHS claims the title. YHS settles for 4th place and this week prepares for our zone championships.

Varsity Field Hockey at ISAs

The Junior and Senior Field Hockey Teams travelled to Shawnigan Lake for an ISA tournament for Junior and second Senior Teams. Both teams fought tough, wet conditions. The Senior Tigers cruised through the weekend undefeated, posting four wins over St. Michaels University School, Shawnigan Lake, and Brentwood College.  Meanwhile, our very young Junior Team faced Collingwood for bronze, losing 4-3. Many YHS Junior aged players play for our YHS Senior Team which makes it a true test of character for our YHS Juniors at this event. However, our philosophy of team structure is best for our local league and for overall player development. So big congratulations go out to our Senior and Junior Tigers.


  • October 24-25: Varsity Field Hockey Vancouver Sea to Sky Zone Championships
    Thursday games at Crofton House. Times: 8:00 am and TBD
    Friday games at Eric Hamber. Time: TBD
  • October 24-25: Senior Volleyball at ISA Championships
    Games Friday & Saturday at Crofton House
  • October 24-25: Junior Volleyball at Senior ISA Championships
    Games Friday & Saturday at Crofton House
  • October 29: Swim Team Vancouver Sea to Sky Zone Championships at Watermania

TIGERS FYI: Playing Time & Communication
Parents, please be familiar with our Athletic Department playing time guidelines and communication protocol. As our fall season sports approach playoffs, we begin the most competitive phase of our season. During this most competitive phase, coaches are making decisions that are in the best interests of the entire team. Those decisions may not match the expectations of each player or every parent. This is a reality that everyone involved in team sports must understand.

All athletes participate on their team in practice, off-court physical and social activities, and in games. Parents often only see games. Playing time in games is often a sensitive issue for everyone involved. Playing time is determined by a student-athlete’s attendance, ability, ‘coachability’, understanding and execution of the team’s offensive and defensive systems, player positions, commitment to team goals, and work ethic as well as the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.

Below is an overview of what to expect for Senior School athletics:

  • Bantam Teams (Grade 8): The focus is on development to prepare student-athletes, through an appropriate level of competition, for future participation at YHS. Playing time is determined by the coach and is consistent with our philosophy of development.  Coaches almost always get all players into each game, though the amount of time will differ. During the most competitive phase of the season (playoffs/finals), playing time may vary significantly.
  • Junior Teams (Grades 9-10): Our junior teams are to prepare student-athletes, through an appropriate level of competition, for future participation in our program at YHS. Playing time is determined by the coaches and there is no guaranteed playing time for any student in each game at this level. However, consistent with our philosophy of development, coaches will try to get all players into each game, though the amount of time will differ. During the most competitive phase of the season (playoffs/finals), playing time may vary significantly.
  • Senior Teams (Grades 10-12): Playing time is determined by the coaches and there is no guaranteed playing time for any student in each game at this level. However, consistent with our philosophy of development and success, coaches will try to get all players into each game, though the amount of time will differ significantly. During the most competitive phase of the season (playoffs/zones/finals), playing time may vary significantly.

There may be times when things do not go as you or your daughter wish. As teachers and coaches, we care about your daughter, our teams, our program, and our school. 

In the Senior School (Grade 8-12), if you/your daughter are unclear about coaches decisions (i.e. their role on the team, playing time), the player should speak to the Head Coach directly. Please encourage her to communicate. As Athletics Director, I can also help facilitate this communication.

There are some situations that may require a meeting between coach, player, and parent. Direct communication is encouraged as most issues are solved with proper communication protocol below.

  • 1st step: Athlete and Coach
  • 2nd step: Athlete, Parent, and Coach
  • 3rd step: Athlete, Parent, Coach, and Athletic Director
  • Finally, 4th step: Athlete, Parent, Coach, Athletic Director, and Administration

Avoid discussing concerns with a coach immediately before or following a game/practice unless urgent action is required. These are difficult times for both the parent and a coach and meetings at these times does not promote a resolution.

24-HOUR RULE: Everyone must honour the 24-hour rule. After a situation, wait, reflect before communicating. A phone call or meeting is preferable to email. 

David Prissinotti
Senior Athletics Director