Students compete in the annual Skills Canada competition. Photo: Sophia Liu

Students compete in the annual Skills Canada competition. Photo: Sophia Liu

This year, The Reckoner decided to take a closer look at three specialized programs the school has to offer: TOPS, BSAP, and SHSM. Each program is catered towards a different group of students, each unique in their respective ways. We sought to explore more about each program, and discovered the unique history behind them.

The Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program first became available to Garneau students in 2009.

SHSM is offered in many high schools across Ontario. In most schools, the program begins in Grade 11. Students who complete the program graduate with a High School Diploma embossed with a SHSM seal. These diplomas are widely recognized in post-secondary institutions across Ontario. There are nine required courses to graduate:

  •       4 Major credits in technology – two Grade 11 and two Grade 12 credits
  •       1 Math credit in Grade 11
  •       1 English Credit in Grade 12
  •       1 Art, business, or science credit in either Grade 11 or 12
  •       2 Co-op credits in Grade 11 or 12

SHSM seeks to equip students with the skills, knowledge, and experience to help them thrive in post-secondary institutions, apprenticeships, or the workplace. There currently exist nineteen sectors within SHSM, including Agriculture, Forestry, Hospitality and Tourism, and Transportation.

The focus at MGCI is on information communications technology (ICT). This sector gives students the skills to effectively process information using electronic systems. They are taught critical concepts pertaining to design and development, sales and marketing, security, and presentation skills.

Aside from the high school credit courses, SHSM contains other components, including:

  •    Sector-recognized certification and training
  •    Reach ahead activities
  •    Dual credits
  •    Competitions

In most schools across Ontario, SHSM is only open to Grade 11 and 12 students. However, MGCI received special permission from the Ministry of Education to allow Grade 9 and 10 students to participate in the SHSM program. When the students enter Grade 11, they become SHSM students. Everything pertaining to SHSM that is accomplished in Grade 9 and 10 will be entered on their Grade 11 SHSM records. This allows students to fast-track courses, opening up more spaces on their timetables for elective courses to be taken.

In addition to the required courses, students must also complete six sector-recognized certification and training programs. Three are compulsory: CPR Level A, Standard First Aid, and a WHMIS course. On top of these three standardized certifications, MGCI offers five other training programs, of which students must complete three.

Each certification is paid for by the Ministry of Education, allowing full accessibility to everyone. The CPR course is offered to students as a day-long activity during Winterfest. The rest are completed throughout the school year.

Reach Ahead is offered specifically to SHSM students. Students are taken on tours of universities and colleges in the GTA. The trips are held throughout the year, and run on a first-come-first-serve basis. Typically, there are 46 spots open per trip. Students tour the facilities and classrooms of the universities and colleges. Throughout the years, MGCI has visited Ryerson University, OCAD, Sheridan, and Centennial College.

SHSM students also have the opportunity to study in a college level course. This is done while the student is taking co-op. One day out of every week is spent attending class, rather than working in their co-op placement. In their first year of post-secondary education,  students can then skip the respective course, saving a substantial amount of money. This gives students an advantage when applying for university or college. By having a college credit with a good mark on the credit counseling sheet, students are effectively showing the universities their experience and competence.

Students in older grades are encouraged to participate in skills competitions. This year, MGCI hosted the Skills Canada Competition, inviting several schools to participate. Garneau performed well, with gold awards in three categories, silver in two, bronze in one, and an honourable mention for high scores in one.

Though these competitions are targeted towards SHSM students, any Garneau student who has taken a technology course in the respective area of competition can participate.

Ultimately, students who participate in SHSM benefit from the hands-on experience they obtain. While high school is a place for students to gain knowledge and understanding of concepts, it often lacks in providing the opportunity to apply knowledge in practical ways. SHSM teaches students how to present their ideas with professionalism. It helps them use media screens, websites, and print effectively, skills that are applicable in almost any career.

Mr. Welch, a teacher at Marc Garneau, is the lead teacher who currently runs the program, with assistance from Mr. Seenath, Mr. Jan, and Ms. Warren. Before the SHSM program existed at the school, Mr. Welch and Mr. Seenath were approached by the Ministry of Education. The Board had approached the two teachers in hopes of starting up the ICT sector in the school. Both teachers have had substantial experience in the field; Mr. Welch has twenty-five years of experience in advertising, and Mr. Seenath has thirty in printing.

One student graduated from the SHSM program in 2009, the first year it began. Since then, the numbers have increased significantly, with nine, sixteen, and ten graduates respectively in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

One of the fundamental values behind the program is its openness to students. To register, students must simply speak to a Guidance or Technology teacher to acknowledge that they would like to participate in the program. This ensures that everybody has an equal opportunity to participate in a specialized program.

As such, the program is open to all Garneau students, including those in TOPS or BSAP. However, due to the demanding nature of the TOPS program, it is extremely difficult for students to complete the required courses in order to graduate from both programs. Only one student, Anna Xu, has completed both programs.

Though SHSM is one of the three specialized programs available in Garneau, it is arguably one of the least well known programs. The advertising tends to be limited to students who are taking technology classes. Each year, Mr. Welch also visits Valley Park, the feeder middle school across from MGCI, to promote the program to Grade 8 students.

One of the difficulties involved with participating in the program is the large time commitment involved. Unfortunately, failure to complete just one of the requirements for SHSM disallows students to graduate with the red seal. To remedy this issue, Mr. Welch came up with the Red Ribbon. This acknowledges students that completed a substantial part of the program, but was just shy of graduating with the necessary requirements.

Although SHSM has the potential to expand at Garneau, it is unlikely to do so in the near future. Organizing such a program requires a great deal of time commitment from teachers and administration.

Students who are in SHSM sign up for various reasons. Gabeena Ahmad, a Grade 10 student, said that she joined because it would give her an advantage in her future academic career. Furthermore, she would recommend the program to other students because “it gives you many opportunities to shine and helps you stand out from the crowd”.

Another Grade 10 SHSM student, Zaid Baig, said that he first heard about the program from a guidance counselor. Since joining, he has “mastered many skills in Media arts”, which has allowed him to be more creative. He commented, “My favourite aspect of the program is that it allows you to have a real hands-on experience…It helps us develop to have a better understanding on many different aspects of the media industry.”

The SHSM program allows any MGCI student to be in a special program that sets them above the crowd when applying for post-secondary institutions, apprenticeships or the workplace.