Can you describe the “a-ha” moment that led to the development of the Discover Year program? Why do you think a Discover Year is more relevant than ever for young students in Canada?
As the story often goes, I was lying in bed one night trying to sleep when my mind was taken hostage by a storm of ideas. These ideas had to do with the current state of career and educational transitions in our society. I had thoughts about what young people need as well as how my own unique talents and interests could be of use in helping them make more positive and purposeful transitions. The epiphany was rooted in my own personal experiences in education as well as my recent professional experience working with young adults in both the secondary and post-secondary setting.
I had spent the last 3 years working at a large university where I recruited high school students through university fairs and high school presentations. I was heartbroken by the conversations I had with these students. Mostly, I found it hard to digest the way they explained their decision-making process and the factors they were weighing in their journey. They too often spoke of choosing programs that were “practical” or “secure” or - worst of all - “where they could make a lot of money.” I so badly wanted them to maintain the youthful energy, curiosity and enthusiasm they displayed when they told me about their lives and interests outside of the classroom. But by the time we got around to talking about school, they were often drained of these positive emotions. These 12,000 conversations left me very uncomfortable. I had also begun reading a lot about career development, human motivation and the state of education in the modern economy. The confluence of these experiences created the spark for the program, which was further developed over the next two years as I had transitioned into a job at the CO-OP program within the same university, and simultaneously began a master’s degree in educational counselling. My experience working with university students and their employers through the CO-OP office enabled me to synthesize the needs of the students with the needs of the labour market – most notably the “soft” skills like collaboration, problem-solving and effective interpersonal communication.
The Discover Year is a semi-structured program wherein students are supported in taking meaningful action, are surrounded by open-minded adults and peers, and are coached to help them better understand their authentic selves. Through experiential learning, explicit skill development and self-discovery, they build their confidence, self-awareness, motivation and adaptability.
While purposeful gap years have always been a valuable tool to help young adults make positive transitions (Harvard University has officially been recommending them since 1973), programs such as ours are more important now than ever before.
Today’s high school environment is a far cry from that of 25 years ago. Advancements in technology, globalization and the proliferation of post-secondary education have rendered high school a highly-pressurized environment. Students have access to infinite information and resources, and require adaptability – a construct made up of creativity, critical thinking, interpersonal skills and resilience – to navigate this information effectively and make good decisions. While these skills are meant to be learned through secondary education, the nature of the environment dictates that most students focus on grades rather than these character skills. In short, there is too little time and too much academic pressure to develop these traits properly within the secondary school structure.