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Developing leadership

Education Plus High School has been open and teaching students for the past 23 years. During that time, the school has never closed for any reason. Our hearty students make their way to school through rain, sleet, snow and, yes, freezing rain.

Inexplicably, our power stays on during all minor and major power outages. During Quebec’s massive ice storm of 1998, we offered hot food and a warm environment for our students and their families.

If you ask any of our students about our two overriding rules, they will tell you that they are: Be here. Do the work. Our graduates will tell you that these two principles have served them extremely well in their lives beyond high school. In fact, many have adopted these two rules as guidelines for their lives.

On Tuesday this week, Montreal schools chose to stay open, despite freezing rain warnings. This provoked some parents to complain and to accuse school boards of negligence and of endangering the lives of their children.

However, their efforts to position themselves as heroic defenders of their children’s safety rings hollow. What parent abdicates their responsibility to make choices for their own child’s safety? If a parent felt that their child’s well-being was truly in jeopardy, could they not make the decision to keep him or her home regardless of the decision made by a school or school board? (If the schools had closed, there would have been another set of parents who would have insisted that schools should always stay open!) The proof that school attendance was not fraught with danger was that the boards announced that all of their students arrived at school and returned home without incident.

Schools teach a lot more than the core subjects of English, French, math, history and science. Teachers also model desirable character traits like courage, determination and tenacity. If we want our students to develop into strong, daring leaders, we need to teach them to overcome obstacles and to practise perseverance. We are in danger of creating a nation of wimps if we encourage our young people to opt out every time they encounter a physical, social or, in this case, environmental speed bump.

Eventually, the city dispatched trucks to spread sand and salt — grit to improve traction. If we listen to those who are complaining you would think that we, as Canadians, have lost our grit — that resolve that is required to endure hardship and to move forward in the face of adversity.

Our country continues to be built by entrepreneurs who take risks and who are willing to face the possibility of failure. We put our nation’s progress in peril when we protect our young people from every possible disappointment and introduce fear when we should be teaching them to assess dangerous situations and showing them how to proceed with caution. Tuesday’s weather event was either a teachable moment or an opportunity lost, depending whether the student ventured into the world or hid at home.

On Tuesday, our students were scheduled to write their final science exam at 9 a.m. In keeping with our reputation, our school was open. Not one parent complained. The Ministry of Education advised us to permit students to write the exam even if they were late. Our students showed up, more or less on time, and wrote their exams. They each told a story of the adventure that they had experienced on their way to school — traffic, sliding cars, slippery sidewalks and a few near misses.

They were extremely proud of themselves for having battled the elements and for being true warriors. I am very proud of them and I am certain that this victory will buttress their resolve the next time they are confronted with any type of life challenge.

James Watts is principal of Education Plus High School in St-Laurent.

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