Reaching their full potential

Karen Robock
From the new Wellbeing issue of UCC's Old Times alumni magazine, the Richard Wernham and Julia West Centre for Learning is a support system like no other. 
For nearly two decades, the Wernham West Centre for Learning (CfL) has been helping UCC students better understand themselves as learners, capitalize on their strengths and embrace the notion that there are many individualized methods to navigate study and success.

"It's a highly personalized environment where the College's values of learning, wellbeing, pluralism, community and service coalesce," says Academic Dean Julia Kinnear. "The CfL helps students understand learning as a journey and supports a growth mindset that says that, just because I can't do something on Day One, it doesn't mean it isn't achievable. At the heart of the CfL's work is the honouring of diverse learning styles. And the strong and supportive connections between students, teachers and mentors are a core part of the countless positive and productive experiences that make the Centre so special."

The CfL has recently earned glowing commendations for its commitment to fostering effective executive functioning skills, great study habits and a robust growth mindset from a peer evaluation through the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) organization. The positive feelings echo across campus from the students themselves. 

A place to thrive

When Year 12 student James Liao started at UCC three years ago, he was working hard to improve his English.

"I was born in China and lived there until the age of 12, when we moved to Canada and my family settled down in Montreal," he says. "Mandarin is my first language and French is my second." As a new ELL (English Language Learner) student, he soon found himself struggling, especially in his history and English classes.

Liao first visited the CfL during the New to Blue orientation, on a day that was reserved for ELL  students. Liao jumped at the chance to access whatever support systems he could. 

"On that day I had a chance to learn about different ways in which I could receive help, including test accommodations, individual tutoring sessions and the homework club," he says. Before long he was visiting the CfL at least once a week and discovered it was a place where he could focus on his written assignments, which steadily improved over the school year. "It helped me gain confidence in my ability to thrive in an English environment."

Visiting the CfL after school is pretty common - and not just for ELL students. In the halls after classes let out, you'll often hear students casually talking about dropping by, just as they would if they were headed to an athletic team practice or club meeting, "There really is no stigma about it, because they understand that it's a place where all boys can go," says CfL Director Kathryn Barnes. "What made it really unique at the time it launched was that it was about more than just helping students who weren't doing as well." 

The CfL has a mandate to work with classroom teachers. "It was Richard and Julia's big vision for the school that we be there to help equip teachers with best practices," says Barnes. That means keeping up on the latest research - and doing research themselves - to ensure the CfL and UCC are at the forefront of the latest trends in education. "We know so much more now about the brain and how boys learn, so it's important to help teachers see how they can better connect those two things," says Barnes.

A chance to give back

When he was in Year 9, Toni Agbaje-Ojo started frequenting the CfL as a tutor for the Year 5 homework club. He has been working with the same group of boys for the past two years and says it's been a positive experience for them all. 

"Meeting with the younger boys twice a week after school has become a permanent fixture in my routine and acts as a sort of mental break for me during the hectic weeks at school," says Agbaje-Ojo, now a Year 11 student. "I like to think of myself as a big brother figure to the boys, giving them my advice based on my perspective and experiences."

Not only does he have the opportunity to impart some wisdom as a senior student, but he's learned a lot about learning, too. "I understand that it can be as hard to make the first step and acknowledge that you need help, but I've learned that it's not a sign of weakness; instead, it's a sign of strength," he says. "And as a tutor, I've learned the virtue of patience and the value of communication."

A space to grow

The CfL's Interim Director and Year 8 Coordinator Barbara Kawasoe is always delighted to hear the tenets of the Centre resonating in UCC's daily life. Kawasoe says, "At the beginning of the year, two Prep students were talking in their classroom. One of the boys told his classmate, 'I can't do that.' To which his classmate responded, 'You can't do that yet.' It was inspiring and heartening. At the CfL, boys are shaping great habits that will carry them well beyond UCC."
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