Plenty of studies have shown that music increases productivity, and that may just be the case for Aspengrove student Aujin Li, who starts every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday bright and early with jazz band practice. It’s the beginning of a packed day for the Grade 10 student who also participates on student council, is a member of the school’s Magic Club (a card game club), is co-captain of the school’s ultimate team, and plays and referees hockey outside of school. And, of course, he also plays alto saxophone in the school’s jazz and senior concert bands.
Aujin’s active involvement in extra-curricular activities supplements his top-of-the-class academic standings in Aspengrove’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program with a balanced blend of arts, sports, and fun. It’s a mix that has given Aujin the opportunity to expand his horizons through travel, community involvement, and competition.
“Aujin is a bit like corn, he’s in everything,” says Mike Vincent, who teaches history and psychology at Aspengrove. “He was athlete of the month last month, he’s a top student, he gets top marks; Aujin is very impressive. He’s unique because he is in everything and he’s very dedicated. Aujin is always there, he’s reliable and dependent.”
Aujin’s dedication is matched by that of his teachers at Aspengrove, many of whom participate alongside him in music, sports, and clubs. “The unique community at Aspengrove is very interesting as a teacher,” says Mr. Vincent, who plays saxophone alongside Aujin in the jazz band, and who also started the Magic Club. “Students see their teachers more as friends because we spend time doing things together, like jazz band. We go as participants and do trips together. We’re going to go play downtown and we’re all going to play paintball after that. The teachers are truly role models and parents recognize and appreciate that. And the students feel like they have a real community and people they’re connected with.”
“What I love about Aspengrove is that the students want to learn,” Mr. Vincent continues. “They come to class with enthusiasm. They enjoy solving a problem. We have small classes and we get to know each kid, so we can help each student in every class. We give a lot of frequent assessments with quick quizzes, and I have time to mark them all because I’m marking 10 and not 60.”
Aspengrove’s unique focus on preparing students for higher level success means grade 10 classes introduce the research and inquiry-based activities undertaken in grades 11 and 12, and then in university. “We do a lot more research-based activities in this high school,” says David Reindl, who teaches science, math and physics, plays in the jazz band with Aujin, and coaches the ultimate frisbee team.
“In grade 10 there is a lot of focus on lab work: writing lab reports and analyzing data,” Reindl explains. “In 11 and 12 they do one big lab, which is 20% of their grade. In grade 10 they prepare for that. In grade 10 math, we don’t only do testing, we also do investigation; looking at patterns in mathematical formulas. In history we do a lot of analyses and research. It’s training for their grade 11 and 12 years so we can set them up for success.”
Aujin feels that the sense of community and the opportunities it has afforded him to explore a wide variety of interests, building skills that will serve him well as he prepares to enter the Diploma Program portion of the IB in grade 11 are what has kept him at Aspengrove since grade one.
A Day in the Life
Here’s a typical Thursday for this grade 10 student in his own words.
7:30 a.m.: Thursdays start early with jazz band practice. It’s a band made up of grade 8 to 12 students and staff. I play alto sax in the jazz band, and also the senior concert band, which practices Wednesday and Friday mornings. We do performances in the school and a variety show.
8:25 a.m.: First block starts with Math class. Normally we do coursework but today we wrote a math contest. We do this every couple of months. Today we did the Caribou math contest, through the University of Waterloo. It’s a good challenge for the students, and something you can put on a university application if you place in the top 25.
9:25 a.m.: Second block is French class. We’re divided into two groups based on our French skills. I’m in the upper French group, and we do advanced grammar, reading comprehension, and listening tests. Today we worked on vocabulary from a book passage. I’ve been taking French since I got here in grade 1, but it wasn’t really serious until grade 7.
10:20 – 10:30 a.m.: Snack break. We usually eat at a lunch table, socialize, or meet with teachers. It’s a free period. Sometimes I use that time to eat and then change for PE.
10:30 a.m.: Third block is PE. In the IB program, grade 10 is the last year for PE. As a class we organized an event for the grade 4s. We designed a scavenger hunt for them on campus. We just came off a kickball unit and today we intro’ed a new unit. We spent the last half of class playing team games. If we were doing a football unit, like we did at the beginning of the year, we would spend class time developing skills.
11:35 a.m.: Fourth block is English. We just started a novel study of Things Fall Apart, an African novel. We also have an acting assignment and we’re working on a script. It’s just a fun thing, to test our understanding of the novel. To finish the novel study we have an essay assignment and a discussion on the book in class.
12:30 – 1:15 p.m.: Lunch time. Typically students have lunch and go outside and play basketball or socialize with peers. Thursday is also blocked for student council. This is my third year on council. We meet every Thursday at lunch and we organize events in the school. For example, I led the organization for jeans day, which is today. We also organize school parties and fun things for the students.
1:15 p.m.: Fifth block is Planning class. We just started an annual budget unit. We were all given occupations and a salary, and we have to budget how we spend that money. We also did a nutrition unit and made a meal plan. And we did a presentation on a university of our choice; I presented on MIT. It’s my dream destination. I’m interested in electrical engineering, among other things.
2:15 p.m.: Sixth block is science. In grade 10, we cover a bit of biology, chemistry, and physics that introduces what we could do if we pick one. For physics we just did heat and today we’re starting fission and fusion.
After school: Aspengrove offers a lot of extracurriculars, and Thursdays is a card game club: we’re playing Magic the Gathering. Our history teacher is a gaming enthusiast and introduced it to school. I’ve been playing since grade 7.
“My favourite thing about Aspengrove that’s kept me here for 10 years is the sense of community,” Aujin concludes. “People sometimes look at the small school size as a negative. But you get to know everyone better and there’s more interaction between teachers and students.”
“And the level of work ethic expected here — you don’t see that in other schools. The work load and level of expectation really does prepare you for university.”
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