Canada Reads

Edmonton junior high students get a crash course in radio production and share their own stories

Canada Reads 2019 author Winnie Yeung brought a few of her students to CBC for a crash course in storytelling and radio production.
Highlands Junior High School students Claire Kalk-Manuel, Rachel Dromarsky and Rhianna Gordon, with teacher and Homes co-author Winnie Yeung. (Chris Martin, CBC)

Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung met as student and teacher at Highlands Junior High School in Edmonton when al Rabeeah and his family came to Canada as refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.

After hearing some of al Rabeeah's story, Yeung felt it should be shared with as many Canadians as possible. Together they wrote the memoir Homes, which was the runner-up in Canada Reads 2019, where it was defended by Simple Plan drummer Chuck Comeau.

In early June, current students from Highlands's book club — where Yeung still teaches — got a chance to visit CBC Edmonton where they learned how to record and edit audio from CBC producer Chris Martin.

Taking inspiration from al Rabeeah and Yeung, Rhianna Gordon, Claire Kalk-Manuel and Rachel Dromarsky wrote and recorded their own short stories — one of grief, one of adventure and one of being a newcomer — and shared some of the feelings they experienced. 

Rhianna's story about her first day at school

Going to a new school can be a nerve-wracking experience for any kid. Rhianna Gordon wrote about the anxiety and excitement she felt on her first day at Highlands Junior High School.

Rhianna says: "I was inspired to write this story as a way to show people the challenge and joy of new experiences. You're going to be scared, especially in a new environment and you may not know what to expect, but just take charge of that situation. I learned a lot about writing and I especially love the lesson about how you have to give the readers a full sense of what a situation is like. I used a lot of imagery, and even added in some suspenseful and dramatic moments because that is just what junior high is like!"

Listen to Rhianna tell her story: 

Edmonton teenager Rhianna Gordon shared a story about the anxiety and excitement she felt on her first day at Highlands Junior School. 3:19
Highlands Junior High School students get a crash course in radio production at CBC Edmonton. (Chris Martin, CBC)

Claire's story about her grandmother

Highlands student Claire Kalk-Manuel shared the story of her grandmother Hope Manuel, who took a job in the 1960s as a teacher on a floating logging camp in the B.C. wilderness. 

Claire says: "I was encouraged by Ms. Yeung to write and I knew immediately that I wanted to write about my grandmother, Hope Manuel. This story is about my grandmother's experience as a young woman teaching in a summer logging camp in B.C. This experience meant a lot to my grandmother. She is so very proud and delighted that it now gets to be shared. It portrays how no matter what background, skin tone or accent, we are all people, we are all the same and nothing can change that because we are in this together." 

Listen to Claire tell her story:

Highlands student Claire Kalk-Manuel shared the story of her grandmother Hope Manuel, who in the 1960s took a job as a teacher on a floating logging camp in the B.C. wilderness. 3:42
Highlands Junior High School students Rhianna Gordon, Rachel Dromarsky and Claire Kalk-Manuel wrote and recorded their own short stories at CBC Edmonton. (Chris Martin, CBC)

Rachel's story about losing a loved one

Rachel Dromarsky shares the heart-wrenching story of slowly losing a loved one to Alzheimer's and the grief and confusion Rachel and her cousins felt following her aunt's death. 

Rachel says: "On Easter weekend, my very close aunt died from a sudden brain aneurysm. I didn't really know how to get the pain out. The following day, I was given an assignment to write about someone who inspires you. I intended to write about my aunt, but instead I made a story based on how my cousins and I felt at the hospital. The words poured out. As I wrote, I kept thinking how you want to make sure every moment is savoured and that you have to cherish your family, because you have no idea how much you'll miss them if they were gone."

Listen to Rachel tell her story:

Rachel Dromarsky paints the heart-wrenching picture of losing a loved one to illness. 7:24

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