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If you are a first-year student at Pearson College UWC, you probably know – or at least suspect – that the metaphorical avalanche is about to get a little more intense as the campus rumbles towards the end of the academic year in May.

“They’re trying to say goodbye to people, they’re trying to finish exams, we’re all trying to plan for the new (school) year ahead,” said Vice-President Education and Programming Heather Gross. “It’s an emotional time!”

Alleviating some of that last-minute, end-of-the-academic year pressure and rushing is the thinking behind establishing a collective “capstone-type” programming experience for first-year students, added Gross.

“Many students have said they’d like more time. They feel like the end of year is rushed and there are too many things happening at that time.”

In educational parlance, a capstone experience or unit is essentially a culminating experience at the end of an academic program (like the first year at a UWC college) designed to encourage students to solve challenging problems and develop skills. For Pearson, the idea is to make time and space for first-year students to reflect on their experience, build on skills that align with UWC and College values and help further build skills for the student cohort who are expected to accept greater leadership and changemaker roles and responsibilities as “senior” students on campus.

Pearson has its own unique take on end-of-year programming for first-years. Gross, her Education and Programming team, together with others on campus, have been developing and plotting out what a brand-new, five-day program would look like for first-year students this spring.

It is still a work in progress, with plenty of whiteboarding of thoughts and sticky-note workshopping of ideas already completed with some yet to come. But, the bones of what the five days of year-end programming between 21 and 25 May – after “graduating” second-years leave campus — are being fleshed out to include individual and small-group, interest-based opportunities.

“What this week allows is for Year 44 to gather together as a group,” said Gross. “They can do some decompressing, some resting, some connecting with each other. They can do some reflection on the year past.

“And importantly, they can do some tone-setting for the year ahead.”

Gross, crediting President and Head of College Désirée McGraw with advocating for a year-end program for returning students, suggested the stars aligned when year-end programming was booked at nearby Camp Thunderbird, a YM-YWCA Vancouver Island-operated wilderness facility rented to groups like Pearson who run their own customized programs.

“This offers us a rich way to partner with Camp Thunderbird. They’re a local camp that’s been doing really great, innovative wilderness-based programming. They’re a wonderful place to start hikes and activities from – they have a small lake with waterfront activities as well.”

While the timing of a five-day (the Monday is penciled in as a rest and restorative day!) program after second-year’s leave campus over the 19-21 May (in Canada, long) weekend is new, some of the planned skill-building sessions and activities have previously been built into mid-May or the August Orientation Week in past years.

“But critically, in many different areas, there are things students need to do to be effective leaders the following year,” said Gross who emphasized that everyone on campus recognizes and honours the first-year students who have already demonstrated leadership and similar skills.

“We hope to re-invigorate everyone’s values and their ability to act, so we’ll be doing skills and leadership training which may include things like some of the self-management skills that come from PSYL, even some of the project-based skills (that can include how to have effective and respectful difficult conversations).”

Again, while specific program may not necessarily be finalized yet, Gross wraps the year-end programming concept in a fiercely Pearsonian-type analogy. First-year students may learn to kayak in their initial year. At the end of that, there is a consolidation activity when they earn their certification to be kayak instructors for, among others, incoming first-year students.

“The consolidation activity is skill development so that they’re able to lead next year’s program.”

Stay tuned as year-end programming details are solidified and shared.