BRACEBRIDGE — Deer, snow, rock and a whole lot of new friends are the Muskoka memories that a group of visiting students have taken back to Manitoba with them.
Students from Monck Public School in Bracebridge take their ‘twins’ from MacGregor Elementary School in MacGregor, Manitoba to the parliaments buildings in Toronto for an educational tour of Ontario’s legislature. MPP Norm Miller joined the group for a photo.
Photo courtesy of the Office of Norm Miller, MPP
Twenty-three mostly Grade 8 students from MacGregor Elementary School in MacGregor, Manitoba recently paid a visit to Muskoka on a weeklong exchange with Monck Public School students in Bracebridge. The group arrived on Feb. 29 and returned to their Manitoba farming town last week, on March 7.
The exchange was made possible through SEVEC (Society for Educational Visits and Exchanges in Canada) Youth Exchanges Canada, which pays all transportation costs.
MacGregor is a small town in Manitoba with a population of approximately 1,000, located 130 kilometres west of Winnipeg. MacGregor Elementary School has been sending their Grade 8 students on an annual exchange as far away as Prince Edward Island for 11 years now, said principal Tony Griffiths, who accompanied this year’s group to Muskoka.
“You get into it once and then you see the successes of it and the lifelong possibilities of it,” he explained, adding he knows of kids that still keep in touch with friends made on exchange many years ago.
This particular group of kids melded together very well, agreed both Griffiths and Monck teacher Gerry Reisenburg, who did the organizing on the Muskoka end.
“This is the first time I’ve seen kids gel so quickly,” said Reisenburg, who noted the past four exchanges he has organized at Monck involved French students, so there was a language barrier. However, Griffiths said even with the English-to-English exchanges he’s done, that gelling doesn’t always happen.
While in Muskoka, the Manitoba students and their Monck counterparts spent time downhill skiing and snowboarding at Hidden Valley, tubing at Rock Ridge Recreation Park, learning the history of Muskoka at the Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre, enjoying a dance with Grade 7 and 8 students from other local schools, and a potluck dinner on their last evening here.
They were also able to see a little more of Ontario with tree-top trekking at Horseshoe Valley, a day of shopping at Georgian Mall in Barrie and a visit to Toronto.
“It was just really fun to see,” said Holly Doerksen, 13, from MacGregor, who enjoyed the trip to Toronto the best. “We went to the Hockey Hall of Fame and the parliament buildings and we went to Kensington Market and a Raptors game.”
For Tianna Bodie, also a 13-year-old MacGregor student, it was the wildlife in Muskoka that made an impression.
“I actually love how there’s deer here and I love just hanging out with my (Monck) twin and meeting all the people from here,” she said. Although there are deer in Manitoba, she added “yours are, like, everywhere.”
As a prairie province that received relatively little snow this year, the amount of snow and the rocky terrain in Muskoka were also differences the Manitoba students noticed.
The Monck students are looking forward to their return visit to MacGregor in June to see the flatlands for themselves and to learn a little about how life differs in Manitoba.
According to Griffiths, while in Manitoba, the Monck students will spend a day with Hutterites, visit the Winnipeg forts and the legislature, explore the Morden dinosaur dig and the desert-like Spruce Woods Provincial Park, and may even get to do a little camping.
However, for the students, the main attraction of the exchange will be renewing their new friendships.
“They’re from a different place, from Manitoba, and it’s just great because it’s a big world,” said Caleb Hilton, 13, from Bracebridge. “There’s so many people and someone from that far away gets to come and hang out with us.”
“I made a lot of new friends,” agreed Madison Denstedt, who was Holly’s billet in Muskoka and will stay with her on the return trip.
The trip is both fun and educational, but though the kids don’t realize it, the biggest thing they’ll get out of it is maturity, said Reisenburg.
“To be able to adapt to somebody new staying at your house, to be able to go into a situation you’re unfamiliar with and having to cope with maybe feeling uncomfortable, that’s huge. You see so much growth from the program,” he said. “Some kids don’t get much out of it, but that’s very few.… It’s all about attitude. You give the experience; what the kids do with the experience is up to them.”
“I would encourage people to look into it,” added Griffiths. “It’s a lot of work … but the reward is at the end.”