Symphony Nova Scotia’s Adopt-a-Musician program inspires creativity

Halifax students showcase their newfound skills at We Are the Stars concert.

Students from three Halifax elementary schools and Halifax West High School showed off their skill and smiles at Symphony Nova Scotia’s Adopt-a-Musician program’s final concert on Thursday.

The concert — We Are the Stars — took place at the Halifax Central Library. Symphony Nova Scotia musicians have been “adopting” student musicians for 12 years.

Once a week, for seven weeks, students from Halifax West High School practiced under the direction of one of Symphony Nova Scotia’s violinists, Celeste Jankowski.

“The learning curve was huge,” said Faris Kapra, a Grade 10 student who was part of the high school string ensemble. “It made us become something more than just a high school group.”

 

For the final concert, students performed a piece called Agincourt by Doug Spata. The song depicts a battle scene and was set in a challenging 7/8 time rhythm, which was new to many students in the group.

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Westmount elementary and Grosvenor Wentworth elementary school students get ready to perform their original composition. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

“We learned a lot of skills that professionals would use, in both our technique and our style of learning,” said Kapra.

“We learned to go home, learn everything perfectly there, then come to school to really make the music. That was different from what we had been doing,” he said.

Violist Kerry Kavalo worked with 23 students from Westmount elementary and Grosvenor Wentworth Park elementary schools.

The students learned basic composition skills and how to create through a collaborative process. In the end, they composed and performed an original piece named West-Grove Tune.

St. Catherine’s elementary school’s Grade 5 class created a narrative tale and a percussion arrangement to perform at the concert. They named their story The Dragon Slayer and Hybrid Dragon.

St. Catherine's Elementary School Students (Photo: Rachel Collier)
St. Catherine’s elementary school students show off the instruments that they used. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

When creating their performance, the class practiced math, language and presentation skills.

They also discussed the complex natures of the main characters of their story and practiced working together.

“The program is good because it changes the dynamics of the classroom from what it usually is for academic purposes,” said Susane Lemieux, the Symphony Nova Scotia oboist who guided the class.

Lemieux noticed that students really had to pay attention while working in a new style.

“It was great to see when they started to get ideas and to speak up,” she said.

The program often depends on schools’ administrative support.

“They could be doing other curriculum work, especially this year with all of the snow days. We really had to convince everyone that it’s worth it,” said Lemieux.

Students talk stress management during exam season

Looming deadlines, final exams a source of stress for Halifax’s students.

Exam season has arrived at Canadian universities and colleges, prompting students across the country to take to Twitter to express their frustrations.

John Camardese, a chemistry study coach at Dalhousie University, says exam stress is often linked to past exam performances and lack of preparation.

“The key is to be well prepared and to start early so you can comfortably cover the required material for the exams,” he said.

With final exams and the stress that comes with them still the norm in Canada, one can’t help but wonder: how stressed out are students about exams, and what can be done to minimize those stress levels?

Majority are ‘very’ stressed

Students were asked via Facebook and Twitter how stressed they are about exams. Of the 10 that responded over the past week, six said they were “very” stressed about finals, while none of them said they are “not at all” stressed.

When asked what they do to help relieve stress, most of them said they find exercise, non-academic reading and watching television to be great stress relievers.

“A good stress reliever is lots of exercise,” said University of King’s College student Sam Krueger. “Any chance to get some is fantastic.”

However, it isn’t just exams and final papers that have students stressed out. According to Dalhousie student Michael Kamras, there’s also an added pressure on students to stay healthy over this important period of time.

“There’s a lot of stress to make sure that you’re keeping healthy, which is really difficult to do considering the high stress levels,” he said.

Students: support services losing effectiveness

Universities do provide support services for exam-stressed students, but many are only available for a short period of time. Dalhousie, for example, brings therapy dogs to their school during exam periods to allow students to take a break from their studies.

In addition, universities like Saint Mary’s and Dalhousie provide on-campus counselling services, but according to the Facebook and Twitter respondents, most people who sought counselling to manage their stress were told the wait to see someone would likely be months.

What’s worse is many students often don’t know their schools offer counselling services and workshops.

“I’m sure there are services offered, but I’m not too aware of them,” Krueger said.

“I think there could be a bit more reaching out by the university for students to take advantage of what they’re offering,” Kamras said.

Requests for comment on this story from counsellors at both universities were either not returned or referred to other campus support services for information, but information on managing stress can be found on their website.

Watch the video below to learn more about how stressed out Halifax students are at this time of the year and what they are doing to try and manage that stress.

In a recent development, the National Post reported last week universities in Alberta and Ontario are considering giving less weight to exams or eventually eliminating them altogether because of the popular belief that “high-stress exams give a false picture of a student’s abilities.”

Until Canadian universities and colleges decide to do away with the final exam once and for all, students will have to continue finding ways to manage exam-related stress.

Visit this website, provided by Dalhousie’s Student Academic Success Services for more information on exam preparation and time management.

And for more information on stress and how it can be managed, check out the Canadian Mental Health Association’s website, which features tips as well as links to community support services.

Summer on a patio: Employment advice from a bar manager

Brad Harris, general manager at the Lower Deck, addresses concerns and gives advice on securing a summer job in the food and beverage industry.

“Now is the time to apply,” says Brad Harris, general manager of the Lower Deck in Halifax.

With the winter semester coming to an end and exam season well under way, students are frantically trying to lock down a summer job.

The four months of summer are a limited but good opportunity for students to gain valuable work experience, and, more importantly, earn money to help pay for the continually rising tuition fees. But competition can be stiff, and according to Statistics Canada, tens of thousands of students descend on the job market at the same time every year.

“If I post for a server slash bartender [on a job listing], on average I will get about 100 resumes by the next day,” says Harris.

The employment rate for students during the academic year hovers between 35 to 40 per cent of all postsecondary students, while the summer employment rate for full-time students consistently averages around 70 per cent.

According to statistics, female students are far more likely than males to obtain a summer job, in part because of better job opportunities in the retail, accommodation and food service sectors, where females are more likely to work.

The restaurant and bar scene is an active part of the community in Halifax, and the food and beverage industry provides jobs for hundreds of students and locals every summer.

An industry ‘like no other’

Harris says the food and beverage industry is “one like no other.”

Job requirements include late hours of work, long shifts and customer-service scenarios that differ extremely from any other job a student typically has. Members of the industry say it’s more of a lifestyle than just a job, and many servers use the hashtag #serverproblems or #serverlife to describe common struggles other servers can relate to.

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A deeper issue

Despite the jokes, the service industry has been largely criticized for stereotypical and even misogynistic tendencies. Historically a female occupation, the industry has come a long way in shifting its policies to create a safer and more accessible work environment for all students, but a 2010 census data conducted by Service Canada shows that almost 76 per cent of the positions in this occupation are still held by women. No data is available for non-binary students in the industry.

Hannah Wilson, a female university student and recent employee at the Alehouse located in downtown Halifax, has “strong opinions” on this particular issue.

Wilson got offered her job while out drinking one night with friends at the Alehouse.

“Experience is not the biggest of their concern,” says Wilson. “It is mostly just young, attractive girls they want working there.”

This issue, which Wilson calls “the culture of looking appealing” in the service industry, has appeared in more than just a few restaurants and bars in Halifax.

Collin Kelly, a male student who worked as a busboy at one of Halifax’s major clubs last summer, noticed this issue as well. Kelly wishes his place of employment to remain unnamed.

“Women were definitely hired and promoted much quicker than males, especially if they were good looking,” says Kelly. “And I think that’s the case at most bars.”

But not all restaurants or bars in the city endorse these stereotypes. Harris has been the general manager of the Lower Deck for four years and has been in the industry for longer than 20, and he says that primarily his hiring will always be “experience based.”

The only exception to Harris’s rule is always whether or not potential employees will get along and work well with his core staff.

“I’ve hired the ‘super server,’ the one that looks absolutely amazing on paper. But those individuals more often than not have too much confidence in their service and abilities… They come in and start ruffling the feathers of my core staff, and that generally doesn’t go over well,” says Harris.

Harris says he first conducts an informal interview to see how the potential candidate will fit with his other staff. New employees that will get along with and respect their coworkers will, in turn, receive coaching from more experienced staff and produce a more efficient team overall.

Harris says he hires hardworking and approachable, personable individuals above everything else.

Getting hired in Halifax

Halifax has the luxury of being situated right on the coast, which not only gives the summer months a vibrant patio-season culture, but means one thing that is especially crucial to the food and beverage industry: tourists.

Halifax sees about 1.8 million overnight visitors every year, and more than half of them visit during the summer months, according to the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency.

Harris says the Lower Deck increases its staff by 30 to 40 per cent during the summer months in order to support the city’s booming tourism industry. When the patio opens the restaurant’s capacity increases by another 260 people.

Harris typically starts his hiring process at the beginning of spring, and he likes to have his final staff sorted by May 1 in preparation to open the patio for the May long weekend. So if you’re an experienced server and sticking around for the summer, it’s time to start applying.

Many restaurants in the city that have a large patio and draw a younger crowd, like the Lower Deck, typically hire students as the majority of their staff for the summer months.

“A lot of university students don’t work during the school year, so when the summer comes around they are more than happy to work full-time plus and make as much money as they can, which is great for me,” says Harris.

But older restaurants, such as Split Crow and The Old Triangle, tend to have a smaller turnover in the summer and tend to employ more mature servers all year round. So the key to being a successful server and obtaining a solid restaurant or bar job in Halifax is knowing where to apply.

The catch of the industry is that it is hard to break into if you don’t have any experience. Many wonder how someone can gain experience if no one will ever give them the chance.

In the industry, Harris says these people are referred to as “green servers.” It is not common for a green server to get hired and do well, so the best way for someone wishing to break into the industry is to start off as a hostess or a food runner. If they do well then managers will slowly integrate them into serving.

Harris says he sometimes takes a risk because he feels like he has a duty to pay it back.

“Someone gave me a shot once, awhile ago, so I feel like I should do that as well,” says Harris.

 

All in all, anyone who has ever worked in the industry will give you the same piece of advice: you need to work for it.

“I was one of the few at my job who was given full time hours,” says Kelly. “If you want to get full-time in this city you need to be a hard worker.”

Wilson says that the job is a lot of work in a short period of time.

“The only way to really learn is to do,” she says.

Harris agrees, stating those that work hard and show an absolute interest to learn and improve will be the ones rewarded with more hours, better hours and even a promotion.

Tax tips for students

A chartered accountant and the Canadian Revenue Agency offer tips for students on how to tackle their taxes this season.

Tax season is upon us, and for many this is a stressful time of year. Students are finishing up classes for the semester and are getting ready to take exams. Unfortunately for students, tax season waits for no one. The deadline for individuals filing a tax return this year is April 30.

Many students don’t file their own tax return, with some handing things over to their parents and others to the professionals. But for the eager and strong-hearted who want to tackle this alone, here are a few tips.

What you need

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) As a student filing a tax return, you will need to provide certain documents, such as a T4 slip. These slips show employment income and payroll deductions.

It is important to keep all documentation when filing for a tax return for at least six years. Your return may be selected for review, therefore you should keep an organized file of all of your documents.

You will need to have information on all of your income.

According to CRA the most common types of student income are:

  • Employment income
  • Tips and occasional earnings
  • Scholarships, fellowships, bursaries, and study grants (some of these may be excluded)

Michael Casey, a chartered accountant and chartered business valuator in Halifax, says “students should make sure they check carefully to see if scholarships are tax exempt because most are.”

Casey says students need to claim their tuition and book expenses. In order to claim your tuition, education and textbook amounts, you need to receive your T2202A form. This is usually available online. If you have not received this you will need to contact your school.

For textbooks, full-time students can claim $65 a month and part-time students can claim $20 a month.

Some things eligible tuition fees do not include are:

  • Social activities
  • Medical expenses
  • Transportation and parking

As stated by CRA, one important thing to remember is courses taken as academic upgrading in order to attend certain university or college programs, may not be claimed towards the tuition tax credit because they are not considered a part of post-secondary education.

Once you have calculated the amount you will need to reduce your own tax owing, if there is any remaining amount, you may choose to transfer it to a parent of grandparent.  You can transfer an amount equal to $5,000 minus the amount you used to reduce your own tax payable. All the student needs to do is sign the tax certificate and provide a copy to the recipient.

Casey says you can earn up to about $10,000 tax free, but you should still file.

“The T4 income, such as wages, earns you the potential for a future RRSP deduction when you begin to work and earn the big bucks,” he says.

“If you are 19, you will get the HST rebate which is received 4 times a year tax free. If you don’t file, you are out of luck.”

Small stores stay open during storms

While many stores decided to close for the day during Sunday’s snowstorm, Jubilee Junction and Triple A convenience stores chose to stay open for those in need of supplies and snacks.

As a winter snowstorm rages and the snow continues to pile up outside, Elias Habib welcomes customers at his store in south-end Halifax.

“It’s just a regular work day,” ​said Habib, owner of Jubilee Junction, a dairy bar and convenience store on Jubilee Road.

Halifax suffered another snowstorm on Sunday, adding 15 to 30 centimetres to the remaining ice and snow from previous storms this winter. Because of the dangerous driving conditions, many businesses shut down for the day, including the Halifax Shopping Centre and the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market. But many small business owners like Habib chose to stay open.

Habib standing behind the counter at Jubilee Junction waiting for customers. (Photo: Teri Boates)
Habib standing behind the counter at Jubilee Junction waiting for customers. (Photo: Teri Boates)

“If you live close enough and can open, open,” he said.

Habib says that how busy his store gets during storms depends on how quickly the roads and sidewalks are cleared, and until people are able to drive safely, the store only receives foot traffic.

“You’re going to get busy from people that live right next door to you because they don’t really want to go too far, but for anybody to hop in their vehicle … if it’s not safe for them to be on the road, it’s better just to stay home,” said Habib.

Habib drives himself to work every day from his downtown Dartmouth home in a 4×4 vehicle in order to get to work on time regardless of the weather.

Also located and open on Jubilee Road is Triple A, a family-owned convenience store, pizzeria and mini-bakery frequented by students living in the nearby area who use walking as their main mode of transportation.

“We know what students go through,” said Rita Amyoony, owner of Triple A Convenience. “Most students don’t have a car, they all walk. So for them we remain open.”

Jubilee Junction open and ready for business during Halifax's snowstorm on Sunday. (Photo: Teri Boates)
Jubilee Junction open and ready for business during Halifax’s snowstorm on Sunday. (Photo: Teri Boates)

Both stores were open during their regular hours through Sunday’s storm (Jubilee Junction: 8:30am-12:00am, Triple A: 9:00am-12:00am) so that people within walking distance could purchase supplies and snack foods, a bestseller during snowstorms. “Chips and pop,” said Habib. “We sell more snacks.”

Jubilee Junction and Triple A are open every day and plan on staying open even if Halifax is hit with another major storm before the winter is over.

Amyoony recognizes that there are many students living in the neighbourhood by her store, and being the mother of four students herself, she says that she likes knowing that they are being taken care of.

As long as the students are happy and satisfied,” said Amyoony. “It’s called a convenience store, right?”

5 days for the homeless: Commerce students face cold nights to raise awareness

Six Dalhousie University commerce students have spent the last five nights sleeping outside on a tarp-covered layer of cardboard. The group is raising money to spread awareness of homelessness.

Six Dalhousie University commerce students have spent the last five nights sleeping outside on a tarp-covered layer of cardboard. The group is raising money as part of a national initiative to spread awareness of homelessness, called 5 Days for the Homeless.

Twenty-four schools across Canada are participating in the event, but Dalhousie is the only participant east of Montreal.

This is Dalhousie’s second year participating in the event. Last year students raised just under $4,000, and this year their goal is to raise $12,500, said Hima Merdan, a fourth-year commerce student and one of the six participants sleeping outside at Dalhousie.

“But it’s more than just the dollar value. It’s about spreading awareness of [homelessness] and the fact that this could happen to anyone,” said Merdan.

All proceeds from this event are going to Phoenix Youth, a Halifax not-for-profit that provides housing and job counselling for struggling youth between the ages of 11 and 24.

“The first night was terrible, it was uncomfortable, it was cold,” said fourth-year commerce student Maddie Toohey, who is participating in the fundraiser for the first time. She said sleeping was easier the second night due to sheer exhaustion.

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The participants must follow several rules:

  • They may only eat and drink things that are donated to them.
  • They may not shower and can only use campus washrooms when they are open during the day.
  • They are allowed one pillow and one sleeping bag.
  • They are not allowed to use their cellphones or social media unless it is in promotion of the fundraiser or an emergency.
  • They must also attend all of their classes.

Toohey said it’s worth it, though. “What we’re doing isn’t that big a deal, compared to what people have to deal with every day. It’s great for us that we have an end in the future. We can see Friday and we can be like, ‘OK, only a little bit further,’ but the people that we’re doing this for can’t.”

Melanie Sturk, acting director of development at Phoenix Youth, said the Halifax-based organization helps more than 1,000 youths a year and it would be impossible to do that without third-party fundraisers like 5 Days for the Homeless.

“Not only are they raising money, but they’re also helping to raise awareness of Phoenix and homelessness,” said Sturk.

Mel Boutilier’s Metro Care and Share seeks charity status

Boutilier’s mission is to raise funds to help talented students in pursuit of secondary education.

The warehouse is filled with furniture and household items, and every day there are people dropping off more. For Mel Boutilier, accepting donations is the easy part. The real challenge has been to re-register Metro Care and Share as an official charity.

Boutilier, head of the resurrected charity, says they’ve been working with the Canada Revenue Agency since August to try to get all of the paperwork sorted out.

“We have a great committee that is anxious to do big things and they have plans that depend a lot on when we get our charity number,” said Boutilier.

Metro Care and Share includes a thrift store on Agricola Street in Halifax’s north end. The store was opened to the public on Jan. 29, Boutilier’s 87th birthday. The goal is to raise money for the Halifax Scholars Program and send talented students to post-secondary institutions who cannot afford it themselves.

The program will help cover tuition expenses and assign a mentor to help guide the students through all aspects of their educational experience. These mentors will be paired with students based on their interests or experience to make sure that they are a good fit for the student.

“The financial aid will cover tuition, books, everything. Not just funds for paying for school but also all the other necessities that go along with it. If you’re going to throw them into it, you have to be able to support them,” said Solitha Shortte, the program’s marketing co-ordinator.

Boutilier and his team are anxious to get started on selecting students, but they still don’t know how many students they will be able to help without first registering officially with the Canada Revenue Agency.

The charity status will allow Metro Care and Share to provide tax receipts for donations they receive, to reduce their property tax, and will make them eligible for government grants.

“Depending on how successful we are with fundraisers is how many (students) we’ll be able to support. We’ll make that determination once we get our tax number, but there is a lot of red tape when it comes to working with the government,” said Shortte.

Until then, the planning continues and the thrift store is still accepting donations.

“It’s exciting to see the interest that the community has and the way they’ve been donating items that we can re-sell to generate funds,” said Boutilier.

Boutilier is optimistic. He says they’ll announce a big fundraising plan once they get their tax number and will celebrate with a grand opening event for the public.

“Great things are happening,” he said with a smile.

CS Day encourages students to consider a degree in computer science

The Dalhousie Computer Science department opens its doors to junior high and high school students for a full-day of workshops and speeches in hopes of encouraging them to consider a degree in computer sciences.

A large group of students from across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick gather at the Goldberg Computer Science Building with one question lingering in each of their minds: do I want to be a computer scientist?

“Anyone who signed up for the GEM Lab, we’re going to the Mona Campbell building, so you’ll be following me,” shouted a volunteer to the group. About a quarter of the group stands up and follows the volunteer, hoping that the lab would get them one step closer to the answer that brought them here today.

Students and their parents trying on Oculus Rifts, a virtual reality headset. (Photo: Teri Boates)
Students and their parents trying on Oculus Rifts, a virtual reality headset. (Photo: Teri Boates)

The Dalhousie Computer Science department held its annual Computer Science Day, or CS Day, on Feb.28. CS Day is a free event open to junior high and high school students who are interested in computer sciences. The event allows students to explore different aspects of a degree in computer science and gives their parents the opportunity to hear from alumni and academic advisers.

“CS Day is kind of our initiative to get in touch with the high school students,” said André Tremblay, a fourth-year computer science student and volunteer.

“We try to get them interested in computer science and show them what we do here as a degree, what we do in the program and see if that’s something that would interest them and give them a chance to ask us some questions.”

Upon registration, students were able to sign up for two out of the four available workshops including:

  • a visit to the GEM Lab which allowed students hands-on experience with interactive computers and devices
  • a session on network security
  • a scavenger hunt engaging students with smartphones and augmented reality
  • a robotics lab where students had the opportunity to learn how to fly a drone.

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“It gives them the opportunity to go into different research labs and see what [computer science students] actually do,” Michael Shepherd, the dean of computer science, said.

“Too many young people have the idea that in computer science you’re just a programmer. You sit in a cubicle and you push code all day and that’s absolutely not the case.”

Approximately 60 students and 25 parents registered for the event. Along with the workshops, attendees were able to hear speeches from alumni, professors and the dean. Attendees were also taken on a campus tour and ate at residence meal halls.

“We look at it as an opportunity to promote the field of computer science and our two degrees: computer science and informatics, and really help parents understand what its all about,” said Allison Kinecade, alumni communications officer in charge of enrollment and recruitment.

“It’s an opportunity to try out a couple sessions and see whether it may match a passion that they have.”

Kinecade said that the robotics session continues to be a favourite among the students, because of the variety of different robots made available each year. CS Day tries to offer at least one session involving human interaction every year, but this year students who registered to visit the GEM Lab were taken to the Mona Campbell Building to see many different demonstrations of human-computer interaction. This year was also the first year to feature a scavenger hunt.

“It’s definitely a growing field and it’s definitely interesting,” said Tremblay.

“The goal is just to encourage people to take a look at it, even if they don’t come to Dalhousie; to make them consider looking into it a bit more, or even consider it to be fun.”