A diverse student body is one of the hallmarks of Hampstead School. Children come from many cultures and backgrounds. The school also makes a great effort to welcome and integrate students with special needs. But that diversity brings challenges, such as finding a way to help students accept and appreciate each other’s differences. So last year, principal Marcia Kennedy-Gaul decided to address issues of peace and tolerance at the school. For help, she turned to Dynamix Adventures, a local company that offers courses and workshops designed to give kids skills in leadership, team building and working cooperatively.
Over several weeks, the Dynamix team came and met with the children, talking to them about how they could help their school become more peaceful. They would talk about values such as honesty, respect, kindness, responsibility, patience and conflict resolution and then the children were encouraged to promote these values in a tangible way.
For example, each child was given a bracelet and, when a student was seen doing something respectful to others like commenting on what other children wore in a positive way, they were given a bead that had one of the letters of the word “peace” on it. When they collected the five letters needed to spell “peace”, they traded in the beads for a larger bead. When they got three big beads, they got a prize.
“It was very motivating for the students,” Kennedy-Gaul said. “It was very concrete; the beads were proof (that they did something nice.)”
Dynamix Adventures is owned and operated by Montrealers Corey Szwarcok and Mitch Zeltzer. The company offers a variety of programs and workshops for both elementary and high school students. Programs focus on building skills through activities that get kids talking, moving, sharing and listening.
“Our programs are very hands on,” Szwarcok says. “We use experiential-based learning to actively engage the students and teach them teambuilding and leadership skills.” He adds that students who take a course are often so enthusiastic that they become role models for their peers. “Their enthusiasm and their skills have an impact on the whole student body.”
Dynamix also offers a leadership program at the high school level where students learn not only vital leadership skills but also gain a stronger sense of being united as a school community. Dynamix has recently adapted the program to meet the needs of elementary level students and have been offering it to children in Grades 5 and 6 since January.
The company also does birthday parties using many of the same co-operative methods of team building and leadership found in their school programs. The games are age specific, and designed so that boys and girls can participate together. Called ‘Kidvivor’ after the Survivor television series and suitable for children ages 6 to 12, the children are divided into teams (or tribes) and then compete against each other in a series of challenging competitions. The focus in on non-stop action with everyone participating. It takes co-operation from all members to work together and figure out the challenge before the other group.
“It’s a lot of fun for the kids,” Szwarcok says. “They don’t even realize that they’re team building, they’re just having a good time.”
Szwarcok, 31 and Zeltzer, 29, are childhood friends and have been in business together for five years. They have both worked with children for a good part of their lives at summer camps and with youth groups. While Szwarcok studied applied human science at Concordia, Zeltzer studied computer science, which comes in handy now since he developed the company’s computer software. They never thought they would end up in business together but the mix seems to work.
“We’re very happy with what we’re doing,” Szwarcok says. “I have a lot of successful friends, but I would say they don’t necessary love what they do. I love it. Overall it’s motivating, stimulating, a constant work in progress always trying to build and do better.”