High schoolers in special program develop ways to improve Canadians' well-being

·3 min read
Theo McTavish, 16, is a high school student from Mission Secondary school in B.C. and one of the participants in the Shad program for Grade 10 and 11 students. The program allows student to expand on their skills in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM), as well as entrepreneurship.  (Sam Juric/CBC - image credit)
Theo McTavish, 16, is a high school student from Mission Secondary school in B.C. and one of the participants in the Shad program for Grade 10 and 11 students. The program allows student to expand on their skills in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM), as well as entrepreneurship. (Sam Juric/CBC - image credit)

For the past month, high school students from across Canada have been thinking about the concept of wellness, what it means to them, how it shapes their lives and how best to ensure people have access to it.

It's part of a highly competitive, month-long experiential program hosted by universities across the country.

Each year, the Shad program receives about 2,000 applications. Half of those Grade 10 and 11 students are accepted into the program for a chance to expand on their skills in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM).

This year, the program, being held in person at 18 campuses, began July 2 and wraps up Friday.

In Sudbury, Ont., Laurentian University first hosted the Shad program in 2021, but it was done virtually because of the pandemic. This year marks the first time the school has welcomed students in person.

Our idea was that we would purchase office space that is unused by companies because of the pandemic and we'd convert those into apartment spaces. - Victoria ZhangLiu, Grade 11 student from Waterloo, Ont. 

"The goal of the program is to take these high-achieving high school students and challenge them for a month," said Thomas Merritt, co-director of the Shad Laurentian Program.

According to Shad Canada's website, the program started in Aurora, Ont., as Shad Valley. Shad Canada now offers a widespread STEAM and entrepreneurship program for Grade 10 and 11 students. A selection process is in place to determine participants each year.

Throughout this month, Merritt said, students have been putting their heads together to come up with business pitches centred on wellness.

"We have things like a urine analysis machine and we have an app on how to be less perfectionist. The spectrum is amazing," he said.

Theo McTavish, 16, is a high school student from Mission Secondary school in B.C. Their group pitched an app for their business idea.

"It's for teens struggling with perfectionism," Theo said. "There was goal setting and a social function where you could talk to people who had similar experiences to you."

Sam Juric/CBC
Sam Juric/CBC

Theo noted that while getting into the program seemed daunting at first, students were glad to have made the leap to apply.

"It was really scary. You had to write, like, four essays. I honestly didn't think I was going to get in."

Victoria ZhangLiu is a Grade 11 student from Waterloo, Ont. Her group focused on improving the well-being of Canadians by tackling Ontario's housing crisis.

"Our idea was that we would purchase office space that is unused by companies because of the pandemic and we'd convert those into apartment spaces where we would rent out for people to live and they can buy those later on if they wish."

Sam Juric/CBC
Sam Juric/CBC

While the Shad program allows students to participate in hands-on learning and skills building, Merritt said that at the heart of the initiative is a desire to coax students out of their shells and realize their potential.

"The most impressive thing is watching these students open up and find a little bit more about who they are, but who the people around them are too and that mutual growth over the course of the month."

Victoria said wrapping up the program has made her excited for the future.

"I feel better in what I'm aspiring to do and I feel more confident that I can definitely achieve it," the teen said.

Sam Juric/CBC
Sam Juric/CBC

In addition to university-level classes and STEAM workshops, students had a chance to build strong friendships and experience dorm life for the first time.

"I've met a lot of people similar to me and I've met a lot of different people, and it's really given me a new perspective on life," Theo said.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting