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A summer in SOYL: Vancouver youth growing as leaders in their communities

| Categories: Programs, Educational Leadership, Sustainability

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Although summer looks different this year, secondary students in the Vancouver School District are taking full advantage. Over the past several weeks, students from across Vancouver have worked on their leadership skills through the Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership (SOYL) program. 

SOYL is a six-week summer program operated out of Vancouver Technical Secondary and run by Fresh Roots. The program provides secondary students with an entrepreneurial experience where they learn to grow, cook and sell food in their local communities.

"If you pass by the farms at Vancouver Technical and David Thompson, you'll see us hard at work in the boiling sun. Shovelling and weeding yet laughing throughout,” says Gaston Ibarra, a Grade 10 student at Windermere Secondary. 

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the SOYL program structure was modified to meet the requirements outlined by WorkSafeBC to ensure the health and safety of staff and students. 

“This year the size of the crews at SOYL have changed,” says Tathali Urueta-Ortiz, Fresh Roots Youth Curriculum and Empowerment Manager. “Instead of five students in each crew, this year we have three or four.” There are currently 26 students from the Vancouver School District that are involved in the program this year.

Tathali mentions that while some activities in previous years are not part of this year’s curriculum, like cooking with chef educators, getting summer school course credit, and going on field trips, students at SOYL still help Fresh Roots’ food security initiatives thrive. 

“Students are working with the LunchLAB: Chefs for Families program and package meals for Thursday distribution and deliveries,” she adds. In addition, students learn to sell produce at the new Fresh Roots Pop-up Market and tend community gardens at nearby schools. 

Regardless of the current restrictions in the program, student participants still feel very grateful to be outside in safe spaces. 

“My experience at SOYL has helped me learn that the program grows successful and confident people just as well as it grows plants," Gaston says. 

Gaston shares that the SOYL community encourages active learning, leadership and listening as well as helps him grow, both personally and professionally. 

For more information on the SOYL program, go to:

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