When I was 13, I wrote a short book called The Twelfth Year – an insight into my reflections on living for a year in Toronto, Canada as a 12-year-old in the previous year.
The book is dedicated: “For Mum and Dad: If you hadn’t taken me there, I wouldn’t be writing this.”
This post includes some extracts from that book.
School in Canada
While I was in Canada in 1990, I attended half a year at Glen Ames Junior High School for Form Two (Grade 8)and half a year at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute (Grade 9). Marc Garneau was the first Canadian in space. The two schools were completely different.
There were a lot of differences to New Zealand schools and I had many experiences there which I won’t forget. To give you an idea of how the school was: there was no school uniform at either of the schools, gum and hats were allowed in one of the schools, you could go wherever you wanted in your lunch hour, jewelry etc were permitted. None of these are permitted in most N.Z. schools.
As soon as I arrived at Glen Ames, I was asked to hand over around $3.50 for a locker padlock. I was then given a locker close to my form class. In here I was allowed to keep anything. My form teacher was to be Mr. Lyttle. I entered the class and minutes later, I had the whole class around my desk and they were all asking me to say something to them. They were very intrigued by my strong kiwi accent. Boy, was I really embarrassed!!! This lasted the first week – then the class realized they would be hearing from me every day. They asked me if I knew what a swear word was, whether I lived in a hut or not back home, and how long it took to drive to Australia.
One day in Science, the teacher asked our class who had lawns. I thought this was a strange question. I said I did have one. To my surprise, no-one else had one apart from me! Later I found out that most people in Toronto lived in apartments that sometimes were 40 floors high.
There is a different attitude to school work in Canada, I found. Over in New Zealand, the thing is, “Do it or I’ll give you a detention.” In Canada, it is, “Do it or you’ll lose marks”. Marks are the key thing. Marks for assignments, tests, anything and everything, and they all add up to your final mark. Here are some examples of things I’ve heard:
“Sir, if I hand in my assignment early, can I get bonus marks?”
“Sir, how many marks is this worth?”
“Can I do a retest to improve my mark?”
Every week a list was put up in my math class which showed where in the class you were coming. All of the students wanted to know where they were coming.
The highlight of the half year at Glen Ames would have to be graduation.
At the end of every year in Canada, you HAD to pass to go up to the next grade. So, at the end of the year (up to high-school) you had your “evaluation”. For the younger kids, e.g. Grade 1 (J1) kids, I might add that they are 6 years old when you start school; they are only given a tick/cross if they can perform certain things. But, for the older ones – like me – you were given a percentage for every subject.
When you pass Grade 8, this could be when you are 13-16 years old, you attend a graduation. At the graduation. you were given a certificate of achievement. I would this would be fine, then I found out there was more to graduation than that.
Strapless, tight black dresses… Tuxedos… Ballroom gowns… Suits with tails… Limousine entry… the list could go on!!
WOW! I was really, really amazed. It was a BIG occasion for most of the students and their parents. So, of course, I couldn’t be the odd one out. Mum made me a dress which was quite nice and was certainly acceptable. Even though I didn’t come in a stretched limo, I still really enjoyed myself.
It was the big night. We were all given a spray of flowers and help to put them on. Inside the hall were anxious parents, outside were all these glamorous people as nervous as anything. We were all lined up for the grand entry…
We heard the music started to be played. Then the teachers told us to go inside the hall. All the parents were standing. My heart began to thump as loud as an elephant running.
As we sat in our seats waiting for the speeches to end and your name to be read out, I turned around in my seat. I imagined there were about 900 people in the hall. Cameras whirred, camcorders buzzed with proud parents behind them. I caught a glimpse of mum and dad then I realized it was our class’ turn.
As my name was read out and I was walking up to get my certificate, I felt really proud – not embarrassed as I had imagined I would be.
When our class was all read out, we went and stood in our places like we had practiced so many times. Then the parents could come out and take as many pictures as they wanted of the class. I felt like a movie start – all I could see was flashing white lights in front of my eyes. Then I was the familiar face of my mum who was also taking pictures. I smiled at her.
After the speeches and awards etc had all been done, there was a big supper for everyone. Parents got individual photos of their child and their teacher.
Kids had been talking about that night for weeks, what they would wear, what not to wear, what it would be like, what you are and aren’t meant to do.
And then it was all over in a moment.