Connection and real-world context hallmarks of Blues Degree

The innovative Blues Degree is giving this year’s graduating class a chance to bond, learn valuable skills, and gain insights into life beyond UCC.
Chef Laura’s tattooed arms flash across the screen as she deftly pulverizes a Roma tomato with her box grater. Instantly, she’s peppered with questions from the 21 Year 12 students cooking along online: “What happens if some of the skin gets into the bowl?” “Do you keep the seeds and the juice, or just the pulp?” “How many tomatoes should I be using?”
 
Welcome to the Blues Degree, a four-week online program for the Class of 2020. Says Head of the Upper School Naheed Bardai, “It’s providing students a through line to connect them with the past, present and future.” 
 
With traditional graduation commemoration postponed until the fall, the Blues Degree offers Year 12 students a chance to remain part of a strong community while continuing to learn and enjoy the final month of their secondary school career – the goals of a planning committee comprising administrators, faculty, the Parents’ Organization and three student representatives. 
 
“The principal, head of school and senior leadership saw this as an important priority and took it to heart,” says Sarah Morgenstern, president of the Parents’ Organization. “They did a great job making this happen and parents are very appreciative of that.”
 
The Blues Degree agenda is varied and compelling. Mondays are full of practical lessons, such as cooking and budgeting, preparing students for life after Lonsdale Road. Tuesdays are called Fast Forward, giving students a taste of university classrooms with both the Harvard University justice course, run by Fiona Marshall, assistant head of the Upper School for student life, and Western University’s Ivey Academy, a series of business modules taught by Ivey faculty that includes negotiation and accounting and can lead to a certificate. In addition, there’s a coding class. Alumni are also taking part, talking to the students about their areas of specialty, such as real estate and entrepreneurship.
 
“The Ivey course really caught my attention,” says Jordan Kim, Year 12 student and Blues Degree planning committee member. “I’m thankful to be given these resources and I realize that I’ll be one step ahead of my peers in knowing what a university course is like.”
 
On Wednesdays, it’s the First-Year Survival Guide, with opportunities to talk to alumni who are currently attending university. “I’ve made connections with some of the Old Boys who are attending Queen’s, where I’ll be going, so that’s great,” says Troy Boydell, social steward and planning committee member. “I’ll also feel more confident about living on my own and managing my personal finances.”
 
Thursdays feature a speaker series, allowing students to gain insight and inspiration from prominent people such as Jordan Banks, president of Rogers Media, former Toronto Maple Leaf Doug Gilmour and Mark Shapiro, president of the Toronto Blue Jays. And Fridays are for cutting loose and having fun. The past two weeks have featured trivia contests featuring categories such as Identify the Teacher (in baby photos), Student Facts and Are You Smarter than a Year 1?
 
“It’s all laughs, and it gets competitive, too,” says student planning committee member James Moffat.
 
The Blues Degree will culminate in a Leaving Class virtual event on May 22, organized by Marshall to include remarks by Principal Sam McKinney and Bardai, as well as the announcement of the class valedictorian. 
 
“I’ve been surprised at how engaged a lot of the boys have been,” says Moffat. “They have been standing up to help. I’m so happy we did this.”
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