The students travelled as part of the YMCA youth exchange program. The Caledonia students were the first to travel, going to Toronto from May 1-7. There were many things for them to take in, from the CN Tower to a Blue Jays game. They also took part in a multi-cultural festival the school was hosting. For many of the students, it was the first time on an airplane or taking the subway.
The school in Toronto then came down to Caledonia on May 22, and stayed until May 27.
Here they got to experience camping at Kejimkujik National Park, canoeing on the lakes, visiting the Rossignol Cultural Centre and taking the historic waterfront of Shelburne.
There were many firsts for those students as well. The first time roasting hot dogs and s'mores over the fire; the first time camping; and the first time seeing the stars in such detail at Keji's Dark Sky preserve.
There is a volunteer component of the program as well. The students from Caledonia worked with a special needs class in Toronto, while the Toronto students did readings with the younger students in the North Queens School.
Both sets of students said there were many differences between the two areas, from the lifestyle to the quality of the air. However they both enjoyed the experience.
Fourteen of the Caledonia students went to Toronto, and it was nearly the entire Grade 11 class. In return, 13 students from Toronto came to Caledonia. It was a bit of a shock on both sides when visiting the schools. Caledonia has 240 students from Grade Primary to Grade 12. The Toronto school has nearly 1,000 from Grade 9-12.
On May 24, they were at the Mersey Tobeatic Wilderness Institute in the morning after their reading sessions, to weed gardens, plant trees and learn about work that goes on at the facility.
The YMCA youth exchange program is funded by through a Canadian Heritage grant from the federal government. The aim is to give youth ages 12-17 from across the country an opportunity to visit another part of the country they might not otherwise get to see. Primarily it focuses on the multicultural and rural communities.
The program pays for all the travel expenses, while the school need to fundraise to host the students. Each time, the students were hosted by families in the community.