Coming into high school as a grade nine student can be a very intimidating experience. Being new, and not to mention, being the youngest, is definitely not easy. At Waterloo Collegiate Institute, welcoming these students with open arms has always been a priority. Grade nine students should not feel out of place coming into a new school, and at WCI, there is a program in place which helps make this transition just a little bit easier.
The Viking Integration Program (or VIP for short) is a unique course which was introduced to the WCI community roughly nine years ago. The goal of the program is for senior students to teach the ninth grade students about becoming a Viking, and to give them tips on entering high school. Mr. Pavey, one of the teachers originally responsible for bringing the program to WCI stated, “The overall purpose is to mentor grade nines and to ease the transition for grade nines coming into high school.” But does the program really achieve its purpose? This is a question which has been long debated since its arrival at WCI. Some say that it can be a wonderful tool for new students to meet their peers and establish relationships, but others argue that it is pointless, and a waste of time.
When WCI transferred from non semestered to semestered in 2015, the fate of VIP was uncertain. Following such drastic change, many were not sure how the course could possibly continue. With no period specifically dedicated to the program, it was going to be difficult to incorporate it into the new school system.
After much consideration, a committee of WCI staff members decided to modify VIP to fit these changes, creating a new program called Vikings In Pursuit of Excellence (VIPE). The goal of this program is the same; to integrate grade nine students into the WCI community. The most significant change made to the course is the time allocated towards it. Instead of having one class each week, like VIP in the past, VIPE is scheduled to happen only eight times over the course of the year. VIPE days are a part of the school schedule for all students, not just the grade nines. These days cut ten minutes off of each period and combine them towards a 40 minute period, VIPE. Students who are not in grade nine are provided with a work period and are able to work on outstanding school projects or ask teachers questions. Although a large portion of the content had to be cut from the program in order to accommodate the shortened periods, for the most part, it remains the same.
For the majority of students who took part in the old VIP, the program was simply a way for them to have fun. The general opinion of former VIP students is that the program was enjoyable at first, but became repetitive and boring after a few weeks. Kenzie B, a grade 10 student who experienced VIP only last year said, “It was good at the start because it was kind of cool to have older kids say hi to you in the halls as a grade nine, but once you got “integrated” into the school it was kind of pointless and a lot of kids just started skipping.” The course did allow some students to feel as though they were a part of the WCI community, but for the most part, many were unaware that this was its main purpose. Grade 12 student, Brandon K, shared a similar opinion to his grade 10 counterpart. He mentioned, “To be honest it was just a way to go play games, and meet a couple new people. I didn’t really feel any difference in coming to school, or being integrated.” The period which was filled with games and activities may have been fun, but it is evident that students questioned its value. VIP was a highly debated program, will this hold true for VIPE?
To some, the new program is viewed as an important contributing factor to WCI’s constant excellence in extra-curriculars. Mr. Nickel, the teacher who currently runs VIPE, had nothing but positive feedback about the program when interviewed. Nickel stated, “Our Grade 9 participation rates in extracurricular events are the highest in the county (and possibly the province). It’s hard to know whether that’s all because of VIP but I believe that it’s definitely a very important contributing factor.” He believes that the grade nines feel compelled to participate around the school due to the fact that the program encourages involvement, whether it be clubs, sports teams, or artistic performances. Student VIPE leader, Jacob T shares the same opinion as Mr. Nickel, and believes that the program is infact very useful for the young students. When asked about the changes made to create VIPE, he said, ”We had to cut a lot of material out, but it hasn’t been bad, we find our attendance rates to be basically perfect and students seem to be really enjoying the program.” In previous years, with VIP, attendance records were inconsistent. With the new program’s integration into the school schedule it is difficult for students to not attend. But does this mean that students are enjoying the program? Or does it simply mean that it is a challenge to skip?
The general opinion of individuals such as Jacob T and Mr. Nickel are not shared by every member of the WCI community however. Mr. Bishop, a teacher at WCI, and a VIPE supervisor, believes that the course does not deserve all of its praise. He revealed, “Our school attributes many of our successes to things that may not warrant it.” He believes that the school’s success cannot simply be attributed to one program, and that there are many others which serve an equally important role that go underappreciated. He went on to explain how although VIPE can be useful, other programs, such as the strings program, are just the same.
The opinions of staff and students associated with VIPE vary, but how do the current mentors and grade nine students themselves feel about VIPE? Reese S, a grade nine student, and an active member in the WCI community stated, “I really enjoy VIPE. It’s a good place to collaborate with your peers in a fun, and safe work environment.” The general consensus amongst grade nines, is that it is a fun program, but many were unaware that the main goal is integration. With that being said, it is quite evident that the main purpose of the program is not shining through. VIPE should make grade nine students feel included in the WCI community. It should allow them to feel comfortable and unintimidated by the new school. Former VIP student, and current VIPE mentor Nicole J. said, “We play a lot of games where students interact and get to know each other, but I feel like the people that have already been friends stay just as close. It is fairly similar to when I was in grade 9, but I’m still not sure what the point of the program is.” If the mentors are unable to see the value of VIPE, how will the students? This is where many questions arise. Of course the program has nothing but good intentions, but at the end of the day the goal of the program is yet to be seen.
There are many different opinions and views surrounding VIP/VIPE. There are those who believe VIPE to be a great program and, one that integrates grade nine students throughout the school. However, there are also certain individuals who believe the program to be a waste of time, and simply an excuse for grade nines to play games and spend time with their friends. With that being said, it is up to the VIPE committee, and other staff, to decide whether VIPE will continue in future years and what direction it will head.
Article by: Mark M and Melanie S