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We're With You All the Way!

Lasting Friendships
Posted on 01/23/2019

Three young ladies who have spent the vast majority of their lives together say the foundation of their friendship and their academic success is rooted in the life lessons they were taught in local Catholic schools.

Hannah Mills, Mikalya Oliver and Alexis O’Neil all started kindergarten together at St. Christopher Catholic Elementary School. They remained best friends through to their Grade 12 graduation from Assumption College Catholic High School.

They all enjoyed a positive learning experience that helped them become successful, young women. For the first time since they were five years old, they have taken their education in different directions. Mills is attending the University of Waterloo in the Arts and Business program, Oliver is at the University of Toronto in the Humanities program and O’Neil is in the Biomedical Sciences program at the University of Ottawa.

They agree that the values and education they received at their elementary and secondary schools played a pivotal role in shaping them today and setting them up for success after graduation.

“The teachers worked hard to instill values in students,” said Mills. “It was often the simple things like treating others how you would like to be treated, working to the best of your ability and treating others with fairness and respect.”

Looking back, she fondly recalls Miss Cooper and Mrs. Azar as her favourite teachers.

“I had Miss Cooper in Grades 1 and 2. She was really encouraging of all students and made me enjoy going to school.”

O’Neil also fondly recalls Mrs. Azar as one of her best teachers.

“She would push me to go above and beyond what I thought I was capable of,” she said. “She constantly challenged me to do my absolute best and was the first teacher who inspired me to become dedicated to my academics. Mrs. Azar’s passion for teaching was shown everyday through her enthusiasm and excitement and willingness to help us succeed. I still go out of my way to visit her when I can because she was just so amazing.”

Oliver and O’Neil both cite Mr. Conlon as their favourite high school teacher.

“He was an amazing teacher who could engage students. He made students eager to learn and personally it helped me discover my love of history, reading and writing. His enthusiasm pushed me to work harder,” said Oliver.

O’Neil had Mr. Conlon for three years and recalls that he made class exciting and entertaining.

“Mr. Conlon made sure each of our opinions were heard in class discussions and always helped us out when we got stuck,” she said. “Both of these teachers have inspired me to consider teaching as my future profession because their passion has had a lasting impact on my education and I would love to pass that on to a future generation one day.”

When she reflects on her experiences in elementary and secondary school, she is grateful for the advantages a Catholic education provided about learning about different religions.

“It really opened my eyes to different perspectives, cultures and beliefs and broadened my scope for sure.”

Like her friends, O’Neil found the lessons taught in the Bible to be invaluable.

“I was taught respect and love and compassion and how to truly care for the people around me through various parables and stories found in the Bible,” she said. “This has carried through to my young adult years as I have been able to form meaningful friendships with the people I have met in high school and now university.”

One of the highlights for all three women was the exposure and interaction with people from different cultures.

“Assumption is a very ethnically diverse school,” said Mills. “It really benefited me. I saw first-hand that it doesn’t matter your religion or your race, we can all co-exist.”

O’Neil is also grateful for attending a school with vast diversity.

“The most valuable experience I had in high school was the world religions course,” she said. “For my entire life, I had only been exposed to Catholicism and only knew the bare minimum about other faiths, which was unfortunate because we celebrate the fact that Windsor is such a culturally diverse city. Taking world religions gave me a greater appreciation and broader understanding of the different cultures and practices around me allowing me to become more open minded and globally aware moving forward.”

Although the women have different career paths, they know that the foundations formed at their Catholic elementary and secondary schools will make them life-long friends.

Their academic motivations helped them to encourage one another throughout the years. In addition, they have been friends for such a long time they understand the value of true friendship.

“I gained so many valuable experiences and memories through volunteering and being so involved at school with Hannah and Mikayla,” O’Neil said. “I could not imagine my school experience without them. We also made it through some pretty rough times together, especially in high school. Having such a great support system was amazing. I would not be the person I am today if I did not have them by my side.”

Educational experiences highlighted by these three women are not unique at the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board. Teachers recognize values are paramount inside and outside of the classroom and make a concerted effort to understand and get to know each student to better promote their intellectual, spiritual, emotional and physical well-being. Learning environments are created to be positive, welcoming and safe where every child can achieve success.

This article originally appeared in Windsor Life magazine.

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