Rick Hansen is founder and CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation
It's back to school, and the new year always brings lots of challenges whether you're a student, parent or teacher. There are the traditional challenges of overcoming the lull of summertime inertia and sometimes anxiety and fears. Just the logistics of a new and demanding schedule can seem formidable at the outset.
As a parent to my own children and from my experience as a student, one main key to thriving in the new fall environment is time management. Being able to manage time effectively is truly one of the underlying skills of being a successful and empowered individual. Self-awareness and reflection of one's values, passions and interests also hone choices and priorities. These are necessary steps in building awareness around important issues such as inclusivity and accessibility. That often leads to asking questions and seeking answers in order to push for the changes necessary to build the kind of present and future we all want to live in.
One of the great successes of the Canadian school system is building a sense of social responsibility and connection with youth. By creating opportunities for students to be formally educated and mentored within the school curriculum, through extracurricular leadership activities and in collaboration with external organizations, students are given the tools to serve their community, locally, nationally and globally.
One example of students and educators successfully partnering with external agencies is with my own Rick Hansen Foundation School program. This program is in every territory and province and encourages youth to learn about accessibility and inclusivity for people with disabilities.
Teachers have really done a great job of fostering education and community awareness with positive results.
They have come back and let us know that this increased awareness decreases bullying, improves student perceptions of people with disabilities and brings forward student initiatives to improve classrooms, schools and communities. Together we've proven that not only are kids eager to learn, but they can become better people and identify ways to make direct contributions to their communities.
I'm also superexcited about our collaboration with the good people at WE and their commitment to encourage youth leadership with a focus on being inclusive. Through this partnership, we challenge youth to be innovative and creative in identifying barriers for people with disabilities, breaking down those barriers and finding solutions. This gives youth a real opportunity to make a difference. Whether you care about building schools in Africa, supporting Indigenous communities, increasing awareness about mental-health issues or ensuring the local playground is accessible for all children, we can all think about inclusivity and make sure we don't leave people with disabilities behind.
The great thing about going back to school is that it is a chance to access an academic curriculum and build on knowledge, talent and skills. But it's also a chance to grow as human beings. In becoming self-aware and strengthening our values, we gradually match our actions and time with the work that we do to make a difference, building the Canada we want. It's inspiring to hear the stories of youth from across the country who are seeing this new school year as a chance to unleash their talents as teammates, leaders and supporters of initiatives that can have a massive, positive impact.
This past May, I had the opportunity to meet with 50 youth from across the country at our Youth Leadership Summit, all of whom had demonstrated leadership within their communities. They took part in workshops and met with community leaders from the non-profit, corporate and higher education sectors to focus on accessibility and inclusion for people with physical disabilities.
I was so impressed with their thoughtful approach and input. It shows that philanthropy and social responsibility are alive and well in this country. I see empowered and educated youth getting to a place where they are so talented, motivated and inspired to make a difference, they truly are one of Canada's greatest national treasures.
Let's try and shift the traditional return to school from being "Oh, here we go again" to "I can't wait to get back in the groove!" Let's keep building on that and take it to the next level.
We are all difference makers!