Simple lessons often have the biggest impact.
Greg Hopps knows this first hand after watching his innovative elementary school after-hours sessions blossom into a full-fledged sanctioned program with the Surrey School District. Sticks and Stars is now offered at four different elementary schools in the district and it recently attracted $25,000 in sponsorship money from the Royal Bank.
"I had no idea it would turn out like this; it's so cool," Hopps marvelled. "It's now becoming what I wanted to be although there are a couple of what I considered to be key components that have been lost a bit. That's all part of growth in turning a small idea into something bigger. It's better now for sure, even if it is different."
In his first year as a vice-principal at Cougar Creek Elementary in Newton in 2010, Hopps and principal Raminder Randhawa put their heads together about ways to reach out to some of the at-risk kids in the school. The two men knew that around the Grade 5 age group, boys were becoming more aware of social trends, peer groups and Internet gaming. They were also picking up on some less desirable trends, including the sort of fancy vehicles favoured by the underground gang culture.
The goal was to reach out to these kids in a way that would strengthen their self-confidence and self-esteem while providing them with solid leadership skills.
Hopps said everything the program aimed to teach could be boiled down to what he told his own son before minor hockey games.
"When I'm tying up my son's skates, I tell him three things: Do your best, have fun, and most importantly, be a good boy," Hopps said. "I tell him that because those are three things he can control. I'm a vice-principal now, and I find a lot of the discipline issues I deal with come down to those three things. And the older the kids get, those three things keep coming up - do your best means have a strong work ethic; have fun now means have a positive attitude; and be a good boy means behave well. So I thought, maybe some of these boys could benefit from lessons like that."
The new program operated on Saturday afternoon and began as a basketball session in the school gym coupled with a leadership lesson each week. Given Canada's hockey-mad culture, it was just a matter of time before the switch was made from the big orange basketballs to the smaller, neon orange missiles used in ball hockey.
The program spread to two schools in 2011 and this year is operating at four locations in Surrey. The cost for participants is free but Hopps admits not all of the kids who sign up have a choice in the matter.
"It's pretty accessible and almost every kid who wants to get in can get in. At the same time, there are several kids at each school where we tell them, 'You have to be in this program. This is such a good program for you and you need to be there.' I'll make the call home and tell the parents that their boy needs to be in this program."
Liane Ricou, the Surrey School District's manager of Business Development Services, helped bring the Royal Bank on board, and now Sticks and Stars has partnered with a number of education enterprises to increase the scope of activities for the students. This year the kids will get to take part in several on-ice hockey sessions with the Pacific Titans Hockey Academy as well as educational components conducted by such groups as HR MacMillan Space Centre, SFU Mechatronics Lab, High-Touch High Tech and Mad Science.
Hopps has moved on to Surrey's Riverdale Elementary this year and has brought the program with him. He is surprised at how quickly the program has grown but said the true reward is seeing how excited the kids are about participating. When he sent out registration forms this week, the contents of the Sticks and Stars schedule created a buzz among the Riverdale boys.
"The schools are getting some new ball hockey equipment and the kids are so pumped about it," Hopps said. "The best thing is there is an academic component to it and the kids really enjoy it."