Distillery Winter Village and reflections on student life

As we ambled slowly down the picturesque and cobblestoned lanes of the Distillery Winter Village, the supervising teachers and I could almost have forgotten that we were not yet on holiday. Our yearly student-trip to the now-famous Toronto market was going to plan (something I’ve learned never to take for granted). 20+ students properly bundled, fully vaccinated, and happily wandering the enchanting scene with their friends. Only 3 more days till the break. I think we all took a few extra deep breaths, in what feels like the first time in a while. We’re almost there, the halfway mark in what has become the longest year of my career in education.

There were some moments, months ago – maybe I was playing soccer with some kids at High Park, or touring the AGO with our wide-eyed, creative, wonderful students – when this thought slipped into my mind. It went something like, “Holy smokes, things are actually going back to normal!”. I chuckle ruefully in retrospect.

The last week before holidays is usually a time for reflection and good cheer, but this isn’t one of those years. Like many things, the light feelings of this time have been taken from us by COVID, replaced by fear, stress and frustration. Here in Toronto, during the shortest days of the year, positive cases are on the rise once again, and no one knows what the new year will bring.

What gives me hope, and enough energy for the days to come, as always, is the kids. They’ve got it worse, I remind myself. They’re far from their families. They’re pressing to meet assignment deadlines. Heck, some of them have never seen snow before. Every day seems to bring some unexpected new source of anxiety into their lives. And yet here they are, smiling.

We’re doing everything we can to give them the education they deserve. That includes giving them activities and events to enjoy – stuff that will help them exercise, meet friends, see new places, think, eat, listen, move and be, differently. And we have to keep them safe too. It’s been awfully hard to thread that needle. But the teachers have continued to volunteer their time. The students have kept showing up. And, somehow, we’ve made it this far.

It’s not a good time for education. It’s not a good time to be a teenager. But at Braemar we’re all making it better, one day at a time, together. I’m proud of all of us this Christmas. And I’ll be proud again when I watch these students graduate in June. I have no doubt they’ll be smiling then too, despite it all.

-Mike Helsby

Director of Student Experience at Braemar College


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