Student Athletes attending the Delta Hockey Academy had the chance to take part in a thoughtful and unique assignment: Operation Canadian Soldier.
Article originally written and posted by Canadian Sport School Hockey League
South Delta Secondary School teacher Jackie Friesen has military running through her veins. Her father immigrated from South Africa to Canada in the 1970s and served with the Royal Canadian Artillery. Her grandfather and his brothers served in WW2. Her great grandfather served in WW1.
“My dad has always ingrained a respect and appreciation for history and our Canadian troops since I was little,” said Friesen. “It wasn’t hard to appreciate the work and sacrifice our Canadian soldiers displayed now and in our country’s past.”
Friesen has used her role as a teacher to do something more than just a worksheet or video for Remembrance Day. She wanted an assignment where her students could connect to the gravity of the sacrifice from years past, but also to those currently serving.
And that’s when Operation Canadian Soldier was born in 2013. Inspired by not only her family ties to the military, but also her brother’s time at the RCMP Depot in Regina. Messages and packages, he received would always put a smile on his face.
The assignment seemed simple on the outside—address your letter, write your letter, close your letter. But it’s so much more than that. Friesen places an emphasis on not only the quality of the students’ letter, but getting them thinking beyond their own personal bubble and have them representing their school, hometown, academy, country, and most importantly, themselves.
“They learn about empathy, emotional intelligence, the power of descriptive language, editing skills, writing skills, WW1 Canadian history, current events, pieces of geography and the fact that they can make an impact on an actual soldier’s life, no matter how small,” said Friesen. “What the students get out of it, besides all the skills they learn while doing it, is that they can give back and the realization that their world, no matter how complicated and stressful they may believe it to be, does not compare one bit to the stress and sacrifice of those abroad who wear the flag on their shoulder. If anything, they gain a sense of pride for their country and those out defending it.”
In 2013, Friesen sent 90 letters overseas. One came back. The next year over 100 letters were sent. An email came back from the Canadian solider that received the package of letters in Lebanon. He sent pictures, thanked Friesen along with the variety of student messages. But one part of that email really stood out to Friesen.
“The Canadian Soldier had handed out all the letters to his international comrades in arms in Lebanon and many international soldiers had commented that they were floored by how awesome Canadian kids were to have written such thoughtful letters and to send them,” said Friesen.
“This moment of course brought me immense pride and of course helps me to reiterate to the kids each year that they represent their country when they send them. Last year, we sent the biggest amount of letters yet from SDSS including letters from DHA students, International students, and even French Immersion students. We received 12 letters back and some were even in French.
“The best part was a letter written to me from the army Chaplain who could not reveal where he was stationed. He emphasized that it was efforts like this from students that gave the soldiers the courage to go on and how we were making our country proud.”
Delta Hockey Academy Elite 15 captain Nick Ardanaz is one of a handful of student athletes that has taking part in this project.
“I think that getting the opportunity to write to a soldier away from home who fights for your country isn’t something you get the chance to do very often,” said Ardanaz. “My goal was to connect with them and bring them back to Canada through my letter.”
A poll recently conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Historica Canada found that the younger generation is leading a resurgence of interest when it comes to attending Remembrance Day ceremonies. Historica Canada says the surge in interest may be the result of increased efforts to share stories in schools.
Teachers like Friesen are paving the way for the resurgence and Ardanaz is a perfect example of that. He admits the project changed his views on just what Soldiers go through.
“This project makes you think about how much these soldiers sacrifice for us so that we can have our freedom back home,” said Ardanaz. “It’s changed my perspective of how much they miss out on while away fighting for our country.”
Needless to say, results like this are why this project that started back in 2013 can be so impactful.
“To see the younger generation show genuine interest and go beyond that with attending Remembrance Day assemblies nationwide makes me quite emotional to be honest,” said Friesen. “The younger generation always seems to get a bad reputation, but then I see my kids writing these thoughtful provoking letters, digging into their own personal family history with the world wars and sharing them with me and my colleagues with pride.
“The worst thing we could possibly do as a country is forget our history and the sacrifices that our parents, grandparents and great grandparents made to fight for our freedom, and to see the younger generation take the initiative to remember gives me faith in humanity and Canada’s future.”