Trust and warmth vital in the life of a child

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 3, 2003

"I can't wait to see the faces of my students again," a Grade 1 teacher at Glenbow Elementary school said to me the other day.

Julie Shepherd has taught in the Rocky View School Division for 23 years and she's still passionate about her profession. The kids are the reason, she says.

"They're so excited to be there, it's infectious."

On her wall hangs a saying that is a daily reminder of why she's in the classroom: "There are two lasting legacies we can leave our children: one is roots, the other wings."

Julie's positive attitude – an attitude, I think, that characterizes education throughout our community – resonates beautifully with something the popular American education speaker Frank Trujillo once said:

"Whoever first coined the phrase 'you're the wind beneath my wings' most assuredly was reflecting on the sublime influence of a very special teacher."

The great psychiatrist Carl Jung must have had teachers like that in mind when he wrote:

"An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child."

If "warmth is the vital element," then Julie and her Cochrane-area teaching colleagues have the support of two very special groups of volunteers: the Seniors for Kids Society and the Alberta Mentor Foundation for Youth.

The Seniors for Kids Society (SKS) – or the "Cochrane Grandparent Society," as it used to be known before it expanded recently to include schools in Westbrook, Bearspaw, Springbank, Banded Peak and Bragg Creek – consists of over 40 area seniors who enter into affirming relationships with participating students.

The "grandparents" and students spend one period each week together at school in heart-to-heart visits over games and crafts.

"An atmosphere of trust and genuine interest is what the students get from their school grandparent," says SKS coordinator Celina Hlidek. "Students with their dreams and goals get overwhelming senior encouragement – the best boost that these young people can get."

For their part, "seniors have so much wisdom and knowledge to share," Celina adds. And they speak of "how much fun they have being with such young, energetic, idealistic children."

Whereas SKS focuses on younger students, the Alberta Mentor Foundation for Youth (AMFY) works with students in junior and senior high schools.

While similar to SKS in goals and methods, AMFY draws on qualified volunteers as young as 20, and designs activities appropriate to the individual needs of more mature students.

"During their hour a week together, mentors and students may do anything from working on a personal project, to playing board or card games, to shooting baskets in the gym, to just sitting and talking – whatever it takes to build a trusting and supportive relationship," says AMFY Program Coordinator Patti Kerfoot.

"Many of us, when we look back, will remember a special adult who made a difference for us as we were growing up" – a teacher, a coach, "or an adult friend who was just there for us, to listen and to encourage," Patti says.

"If we were lucky enough to have such a person, we know first hand the importance of a mentor during the often challenging years of adolescence. Now that we're adults, we may appreciate the chance to give that same opportunity to another young person."

For more information on SKS, phone Celina at 932-4298; for AMFY, phone Patti, 932-4008.

There's a quote that captures the essence of people like Julie and the volunteers in the grandparenting and mentoring programs. I don't know its source, but I do believe its message:

"One hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much I had in my bank account, nor what my clothes looked like. But the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of a child."

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

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