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Sparking a Passion for Welding at Cameron Heights

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Soveigh Brasseur’s passion for welding began with a spark in Shaun Chandler’s welding shop and classroom at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute (CHCI) in Kitchener. Brasseur is now a student at Conestoga College and had the chance to return to her old classroom to give back in early 2022.

“It started here, at this school. I had a lot of experience in Chandler’s two welding classes that I took here,” said Brasseur. “This is something that I want to do for the rest of my life.” 


Along with Jameson Payton, also a Conestoga student and CHCI graduate, and their professor Josh Hyde, they offered a demonstration of some advanced welding techniques and brought a donation of welding supplies and equipment on behalf of the Canadian Welding Bureau (CWB) Association Conestoga College Student Chapter in partnership with The CWB Foundation.

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The donation from the CWB Association was in recognition of the Ministry of Education’s approval of a Manufacturing Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program at CHCI. Becky Zettl, the SHSM lead for the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB), explained how SHSM programs offer enhanced experiences and experiential learning opportunities for students. 


Secondary schools throughout the WRDSB offer a range of SHSM programs, from agriculture to information and communication technology, to help prepare students for the next steps in their learning and career journey. It’s just one of the many ways that WRDSB students are supported in being successful on the path to graduation and beyond. Zettl explained that this designation helps to unlock additional provincial funding, offering enhanced opportunities for students.


“The funding that comes with SHSM is going to allow this teacher and the students in this program to do a lot more experiential learning,” said Zettl. “Specialist High Skills Major is designed to expose students to experiences that help them understand their options in that potential pathway.”

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Asher McDougall, a Grade 11 student at CHCI, is one of those students exploring their options. Previously in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, he explained that the skills he learns in the welding shop help him feel successful, and prepare for the future. 


“I was in the IB program up until this semester, and I took these [welding] courses,” said McDougall. “I really enjoy being in the welding shop and actually seeing improvement, because that was one thing that lacked in my other courses. You’re getting these test marks, but where does it really fit into what you’re going to do later in your life?” 


McDougall’s experience is emblematic of students across the WRDSB, who take the reins of their education as they follow their passion for learning towards a rewarding career pathway. McDougall had the opportunity to reach beyond the IB program to try his hand at welding, opening up new options for his future, using his voice to direct his learning journey. 


While McDougall is still working to decide on his post-secondary pathway, he is leaning towards robotics, with a welding focus, at Conestoga College. This would allow him to combine his interests in technology and computers, with his growing skills. He’s grateful to have had the opportunity to get his start at school. 


“When I was a kid I never thought that I’d be in a welding shop, combining metal together. Thinking back on it, it’s really cool to be able to do this,” said McDougall.

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For Shaun Chandler, the welding teacher at CHCI, this is exactly the kind of wonder and passion he aims to inspire in students. With a history as a professional welder-fitter before becoming a teacher, Chandler always had an interest in helping those who were new to manufacturing and welding. 


“I always wanted to share my experiences as a tradesperson,” said Chandler. “It’s a great trade. It’s a lot of fun and I think the kids get to see that early on - that’s fantastic.”


The chance to provide his students with an experiential learning opportunity, and to reconnect with former students was too good to pass up. Chandler’s innovative approach 


“Soveigh and Jameson were students that I have great memories of. They’re both really hard working students,” said Chandler. “It feels great to see them come back, and to hear how important this was to them when they were here.”


The students that take his classes are on a variety of pathways, he explained. Some see the skill of welding as integral to their planned career, and for others, it’s a skill they want to have as a hobby. Either way, for anyone who is interested in taking one of Chandler’s courses, he explains there is no downside. 


“You can go anywhere with this,” said Chandler. “This is a stepping stone to move you somewhere else.”

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Payton knows this well. He got his start with welding in the same classroom at CHCI as Brasseur. Thinking back, the opportunities he had by taking this welding class helped him decide on his post-secondary pathway. 


“Getting out there, getting all that different experience really helped with making that decision,” said Payton. 


While coming back to his former high school offered feelings of nostalgia, it was really the chance to inspire a passion for welding in other students that he enjoyed. 


“It’s a good feeling being able to come back and put that spark into people’s eyes, the same spark that I had back when I was here,” said Payton.

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As the SHSM programs build for the future, Zettl explained how new, innovative technologies are playing a larger supportive role, helping students to be prepared for the next step on their pathway, whether it’s the workplace, post-secondary education, or an apprenticeship. 


“We’ve got a platform where students can come in and do micro-credentials and earn these certificates and certifications asynchronously, and that’s something unique to our school board,” said Zettl. 


Employing online platforms for this purpose makes it easier than ever before for students to ensure they have the skills and certifications necessary to hit the ground running in their chosen next steps after high school.


For any students or families who are considering an SHSM program, Zettl encourages you to think about how much of a positive change it could have. 


“It allows students to explore their future and therefore construct an identity that makes them feel special and engaged. I consider SHSM a transformational program.” 


Specialist High Skills Majors (SHSM) in the WRDSB

The Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program offers students in Grades 11 and 12 the opportunity to explore a specific career area that interests you while you earn your high school diploma. No matter what education you plan to pursue after high school - apprenticeship, college, university or workplace training - the SHSM program can help you focus your future career. 

Visit the Specialist High Skills Majors (SHSM) website.

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