A School Worth Supporting by Beth McLean Wiest
I am trained as a teacher. I have taught grade two through twelve with the majority of my teaching being grades 4 – 12. When we were in the Winnipeg area, I was very eager to go and visit the school of a lifelong friend and mentor, Tricia. Tricia has a deep passion for the arts and has provided the Winnipeg school division with tremendous leadership in arts integration over the years. She has invested deeply in my teaching and leadership skills despite us living in different cities. I have long wanted to see her at work n her world. I knew Harmony through Harmony would benefit from time with Tricia in any teaching context. It just so happened that Tricia had recently moved to a new school.
Over the years I have taught a wide spectrum of children and youth with varying emotional, mental, physical and spiritual needs- every teacher does. Some years are more challenging than others, some classes more trying. While I expected to be inspired by seeing Tricia at work in her new environment, I was not expecting to be completely blown away by the challenges she and her colleagues overcome each day.
Wednesday morning, following a learning session about the school and its community from Tricia and the principal, we were invited to take a tour of the school. This school is a public inner city school. There are more than academic challenges to deal with. On a daily basis they address the physical needs of their students… They have a breakfast and lunch program. They have a washer and dryer on site to deal with lice and bed bugs. They have clothing drives to help outfit the students for the various seasons. To help improve the nutrition of the students, they even host a monthly vegetable and fruit market for the families. In case you haven’t been in an elementary school recently, the above services are not found in most schools…
In my opinion, at the heart of a good school is the attitude that educators and parents are on the same team. Together, they are working to ensure the best possible future for the child and that the child is raised with the same values.
Sadly, this is where economics too often plays into education. The very real challenge of how to run a school on budget can take the focus in schools in under-privileged communities. An excellent read on education and economics is One Day, All Children by Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America.
It was inspiring to hear the principal and vice-principal share of the creative ways the staff and parents work together. One such way is The Parent Room.
The Parent Room is inviting and full of resources to help set families up for success: important information about school / community events, resources for employment, training, housing information, education and important internet sites. They offer weekly parenting classes and do nutrition bingo. There is a computer, fax machine, phone, sewing machine, library for the parents’ use. They even will provide the tools, tips and strategies to build the portfolio and resume “to help start your journey towards education, training and employment.”
I walked out of the Parent Room blown away by the intentionality of this PUBLIC SCHOOL to address the community’s challenges with compassion, dignity and excellence. It was clear to me that the challenges of the community were high and the staff were committed to doing their part to ensure their students have the best future possible.
As we began our tour of the building, I found my teacher self carefully examining bulletin boards, reading work, checking out the resources available to the students. One would never have guessed the economic challenges of its students. So often when a school has budget needs to make, the arts are cut. This school proudly displayed the artwork of its students, took its students to the symphony and opera, and had even taught the kids how to make flutes. I was so encouraged!
Throughout the school there were images reminding the students of their heritage. This community has a high First Nations population and so naturally, so does the school. We were all impressed to see the intentionality of honouring their culture and values.
This school has 210 students: 108 girls and 102 boys. Serving this community are15.5 teachers and 19 educational assistants. Of the 210 students, there are some who live in a shelter and many who are in the care of or involved with Child and Family Services. As I mentioned earlier, many need help with their physical needs (food and clothing) and so naturally, there are academic and social challenges as well.
The staff of this school made me proud of my profession. We are committed to our children and will sacrifice for them. For some teachers, the sacrifice is primarily in time. In this school, the sacrifice was in any way imaginable. The teachers even feed the kids out of their own money.
Later over lunch, we circulated a thank you card for Tricia and her school. On the top of the envelope I wrote a simple note on a napkin “consider including a donation to the school”. By the time the envelope got to me, it was already full of $10s, $20s and even a $50 bill. I was moved by the spontaneous generosity of our group.
We went to the school to see Tricia at work and learn about an inner city school. We expected to discover a school facing many challenges. We were delighted to discover not just Tricia but a staff committed to changing the world- one student at a time.