From VIP to VIPE: Investigating the VIP Tradition

Photo: Student presenters at a VIP assembly this Fall.

Coming into high school as a grade 9 student can be a very intimidating experience. Being new, and not to mention, being the youngest, is definitely not easy. At Waterloo Collegiate Institute, welcoming these students with open arms has always been a priority: grade 9 students should not feel out of place coming into a new school, and at WCI, there is a program in place which helps make this transition just a little bit easier.

The Viking Integration Program (or VIP for short) is a unique course which was introduced to the WCI community roughly nine years ago. The goal of the program is for senior students to teach the ninth grade students about becoming a Viking, and to give them tips on entering high school. Mr. Pavey, one of the teachers originally responsible for bringing the program to WCI said, “The overall purpose is to mentor grade 9s and to ease the transition for grade 9s coming into high school.”

When WCI transferred from a non semestered to a semestered timetable for the 2015-2016 school year, the fate of VIP was uncertain. Following such a drastic change, many were not sure how the program could possibly continue. With no period specifically dedicated to the program, it was going to be difficult to incorporate it into the new school timetable.

A committee of WCI staff members, administrators and students decided to modify VIP to fit the scheduling changes, creating a new program called Vikings In Pursuit of Excellence (VIPE). The goals of this program are twofold: to integrate grade 9 students into the WCI community through a modified VIP program and to provide tutorial time for the remaining grade 10, 11 and 12 students.

The most significant change made to VIP is the time allocated towards it. Instead of having one class each week, like VIP in the past, VIPE Days, and subsequently VIP periods, are scheduled to happen eight times over the course of the year. These days cut ten minutes from each period and combine them towards a 40 minute period. Grade 9 students attend VIP sessions while students who are not in grade 9 are provided with a work period and are able to work on outstanding school projects or ask teachers for additional assistance. Although a large portion of the VIP content had to be cut from the program in order to accommodate the shortened periods, for the most part, its goal remains the same.

For some, VIP is viewed as an important contributing factor to WCI’s high participation in extra-curriculars. Mr. Nickel, the Student Activities Director at WCI, stated, “Our Grade 9 participation rates in extracurricular events are the highest in the county (and possibly the province).  It’s hard to know whether that’s all because of VIP, but I believe that it’s definitely a very important contributing factor.” He believes that the grade 9s feel compelled to participate around the school due to the fact that the program encourages involvement, whether it be in clubs, sports teams, or artistic performances.

Mrs. Shortreed, the principal of WCI, shares a similar opinion to Mr. Nickel. She sees the program as one which is not only useful, but necessary for the integration of grade 9s. When asked about the program, she clarified, “As Principal I respond to the needs and culture of the school, and VIP has consistently been identified to me in surveys, committees, and day to day discussions as a program that is/was important to the school and a program that staff, students and parents prioritized as one we needed to keep with the adjustment to semesters.”

Student VIP leader, Jacob T, also believes that the program is in fact very useful for the young students. When asked about the changes made to VIP, he said, ”We had to cut a lot of material out, but it hasn’t been bad. We find our attendance rates to be basically perfect and students seem to be really enjoying the program.”

In previous years, attendance records were inconsistent, especially later in the year. Previously, VIP was scheduled during the first period of every Day 2. With the new program’s integration into the school schedule, between first and second periods, it is more difficult for students to not attend.

Opinions about VIP’s success and importance vary among staff and students. Mr. Bishop, a teacher at WCI, and a VIP supervisor, believes that the program does not deserve all of its praise. He said, “Our school attributes many of our successes to things that may not warrant it.” He believes that the school’s success cannot simply be attributed to one program, and that there are many others which serve an equally important role that go under-appreciated at times. He went on to explain how although VIP can be useful, other programs, such as the strings program, are as well.

Reese S, a grade 9 student, and an active member in the WCI community, stated, “I really enjoy VIP. It’s a good place to collaborate with your peers in a fun and safe work environment.”

Former VIP student, and current VIP mentor Nicole J said, “We play a lot of games where students interact and get to know each other, but I feel like the people that have already been friends stay just as close. It is fairly similar to when I was in grade 9, but I’m still not sure what the point of the program is.”

For many students who took part in VIP in the past, the program was viewed as a way to have fun. In various interviews, some former VIP students said that the program was enjoyable at first, but became repetitive and boring after a few weeks. Kenzie B, a grade 10 student who experienced VIP last year said, “It was good at the start because it was kind of cool to have older kids say hi to you in the halls as a grade 9, but once you got ‘integrated’ into the school it was kind of pointless and a lot of kids just started skipping.”

The course did allow some students to feel as though they were a part of the WCI community, but many were unaware that this was its main purpose. Grade 12 student, Brandon K, said, “To be honest, it was just a way to go play games, and meet a couple new people. I didn’t really feel any difference in coming to school, or being integrated.”

There are many different opinions and views surrounding VIP at WCI. There are those who believe VIP to be a beneficial program and one that integrates grade 9 students well throughout the school. There are also those who believe the program to be focussed on grade 9s playing games and spending time with their friends. As WCI continues to adjust to a new timetable, VIP is a program that may go through various changes that include scheduling and a consideration of how the main goal of grade 9 integration into the school community continues to be communicated and achieved.