SHSM (Specialist High Skills Major) programs allow students to gain extra credits towards their Ontario Secondary School Diploma, while providing opportunities for students to connect with like-minded individuals and gain access to special certifications and experiences. Students are able to get involved in their school’s SHSMs from grades 11 to 12, and a total of 13 different programs range across the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board with specializations ranging from Business to Health and Wellness.
Nepean offers an Environmental SHSM program organized by Ms. Topping and Ms. Moons, with a student-run social media presence. Though the program’s ability to run field trips and outings was inhibited in COVID, students and staff alike have been working to increase involvement from NHS’s student body. Charlotte Daze, a student at NHS, recalled how Nepean’s SHSM program has helped her to form unexpected friendships; “It’s good to have hands-on experiences, and to hang out with people you probably wouldn't have hung out with if it weren't for SHSM and other programs like this”.
Most recently, a group of Nepean’s Environmental SHSM students attended a full-day field trip on November 24th at the Bill Mason Centre to earn their “Project WILD” certifications; an interdisciplinary certification focusing on environmental education, facilitated through the Canadian Wildlife Federation. Led by outdoor education instructors Christine Bull and David Deyette, students spent the day gaining skills such as hazard identification, effective communication, and organizing outdoor activities. Project WILD is a helpful tool for educators and students alike, providing new insights they can apply to outdoor education in the future.
In addition to these skills, students enjoyed nature walks, games, and lunch by a campfire. The field trip proved to be an excellent opportunity for students to connect, get outside, and learn valuable skills. Project WILD is just one of many field trips to come for Nepean’s SHSM students this year; students will be able to earn certifications in habitat restoration, species ID, and first aid. Ms. Topping, one of the teachers involved in organizing these activities, commented on the importance of these hands-on experiences for students; “We need to be more connected to nature so that we know what we’re losing and we know what to protect. I also l think that opportunities to be in the forest are critical for young peoples’ mental health. There’s lots of research showing that as we grow more and more disconnected from nature, our mental health plummets. Spending today feeding chickadees, hearing birds, and breathing fresh air, I've seen nothing but smiles and giggles. I know that experiences like this are positive for our mental health”. This year, SHSM will continue to spread this message of nature connectivity, and work to involve more students in similar opportunities.