Three Sands Secondary seniors were among 34 men and women honoured at the ninth annual Delta Rotary Youth Awards this month.
Sonum Rana, Yajya Rishi and Leah Wong were awarded the Linda Ottho Leadership Award — also known as the Service Above Self Award — for their work in creating IDEAS (inclusivity, determination, encouragement and altruism), an after-school program at Sands that attracts anywhere from 30 to 80 students every Friday afternoon.
Rana, Rishi and Wong were also among the dozen youth awarded this year’s Compassion and Empathy Award.
“We were … very proud to represent Sands and be representatives of Delta,” Rana said. “Sitting through the ceremony, there were so many students from all across Delta that had done great things for the community and were very involved, so it was such a surprise and an honour to be recognized for IDEAS.”
IDEAS came about after Sands principle Aaron Akune decided to fill a hole in the three students’ timetables by assigning them to “independent directed studies” and issuing them a challenge: come up with a problem you’d like to solve and tackle it together.
“Eventually they, with a little bit of guidance, landed on the frustration of there’s so many of our classmates that are capable of doing so much more and they don’t realize how important [school] is, they don’t value their education enough,” Akune told the Reporter in December. “Then the question was, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?’”
The program’s strength is it’s ability to bridge the gap between students of all ages, grades and interests. In fact, all three seniors see some variation of that as their fondest memories of IDEAS.
“I really liked when we played the outside activities like capture the flag and all the kids got together, all different grades,” Wong said. “Mostly if we played inside games then they’d stay in their groups, but usually when we play outside…we’d see older grades talking to younger grades and them working together.”
For Rishi, the inclusivity went beyond social groups to “seeing how our entire school worked together,” Rishi said.
“Like our foods class, once or twice a month they prepared food for us…and we had all the teachers promoting it, and it was kind of like the entire school community was working together and making sure that everyone took part in this new project.”
At the end of the year, the three student leaders created a goodbye video and interviewed people in the program. Two students said they met through IDEAS.
“It was a surprise to me because seeing them in school, seeing them in IDEAS and outside of school and stuff like that, they had such a close relationship that I thought they’d been friends for so long,” Rana said. “But they’d actually met through our program. So that was something that was really special to me.”
Since it started in the fall of 2016, the program has helped Rana, Rishi and Wong grow as individuals. All three of them are graduating this year — Rishi and Wong are studying biology at UBC in the fall, while Rana is heading to SFU to pursue a degree in kinesiology — which leaves the future of IDEAS up in the air.
“I think one of the challenges of that was finding people who are creative and have the same goals as us but are still different enough to take IDEAS to a new level and help it grow even more,” Rana said. The three seniors chose students to run the program next year.
“We had a meeting with them, and we made it clear about not just how they can make it better, but also to always remember the purpose behind it and to never lose the meaning,” Rishi added, “why we created it and what our reasoning was, which basically sets a background for doing new things and exploring and taking it in different directions.”
Rana, Rishi and Wong aren’t leaving the program all to the new leaders; they hope to stay involved with IDEAS and help its next group of leaders achieve some of the goals that remained just of reach in year one.
“I think moving forward in the next couple of years, I think we’d all like to see it expand beyond our school…to other high schools, and elementary schools even, or even just a similar type of program with the same kind of values happening at a local rec centre or somewhere that’s really just more accessible to more students,” Rana said.
“We really wanted to engage the younger students from the elementary schools nearby and get them involved, and maybe the grade sevens would have an easier transition from elementary to high school,” Rishi said. “We wanted to incorporate them within our program but we didn’t have a chance to so we’re leaving that for the students who are taking care of it next year.”