Creative SHSM Students Bring Innovation to Wentworth Heights

The Town Hall in The Village of Wentworth Heights is hive of activity on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-November. Several groups of high school students have been touring the Village all day alongside team members and residents to learn about health and wellness in the world of seniors living. Now they’re in the final stages of preparing to present their ideas for innovation in Village life.

Students gather around a table to listen and learn from a retirement home resident.The students are from St. Jean de Brébeuf Catholic Secondary School, not far from Wentworth Heights, and they’re part of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board’s revitalization of several Specialist High School Major (SHSM) programs in the region.

A SHSM is a specialized program aimed at inspiring students to focus their learning on a specific sector, such as health and wellness, hospitality and tourism or information technology. Through an immersive experience, students have the opportunity to hone in on skills specific to the sector and potentially complete several sector-specific certifications.

This day at Wentworth Heights, and others the Village has hosted for other schools, helps satisfy a component of the broader SHSM programs focused on Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship. Normally this is taught in the classroom, but Schlegel Villages was eager to build connections with the School Board and hopefully develop full program opportunities for the future. Through this new connection, these innovation days emerged and the success is quickly apparent.

As a teacher, Kala Peric is impressed as she looks around the hall at the students finalizing their presentations as Village residents file in to take their seats as the eager audience. She says the engagement she’s seen between the generations has been exceptional and many young eyes have been opened to the possibilities that exist for careers supporting older adults in long-term care or retirement living. 

“A number of my students have said they didn’t know retirement living could look like this,” Kala says. Many had in mind the false impression that residents in seniors’ homes lived boring, lonely and isolated lives, and they were pleasantly surprised by the energy they walked into at Wentworth Heights, she says.

“I jumped on this opportunity because it’s a chance for the students to get out and see and really connect with the employers,” Kala says.

As the groups begins sharing their creativity, the Village and Support Office team members and leaders in the room are impressed with the ideas that emerge.  

Each of the groups speaks of some variation on volunteer opportunities to help share knowledge and connect the generations, pointing out that knowledge sharing can be reciprocal: young people can learn from their elders when it comes to managing stress as they look to the future, and young people might support with technology education. Others speak of celebrating cultural diversity, as there are students and residents who come from all over the world and bridging the generations through cultural celebrations could be impactful for all involved.

Barbara is one of the residents who helped guide the students through the day, and she says it was a “delightful” experience.

“We learned a little bit about them and they about us, which is always a good thing,” says Barbara, who moved into the retirement neighbourhoods in June of 2023, but began volunteering in the LTC part of the Village in 2021. She says she’s well aware of the importance of inspiring new generations to consider a career path in health and wellness for older adults, and she spent some time earlier in the day explaining the role she played volunteering in palliative care supporting people at end of life.

“I’ve never forgotten most of the people I was with,” Barb says. “A few of the students were touched by that and one of them shed a few tears when we were talking this morning, and that was kind of touching.”

To be open to the idea of a possible career path in health and wellness that goes far beyond nursing and clinical support is the goal behind this day. As the students offer their gratitude and say goodbye to their gracious hosts, it’s fair to say it has been a success.

For more information on SHSM of any other student opportunities at Schlegel Villages, please contact