By Lee-Ann Scott, Ottawa Volunteers in Education Program Director for ONFE
Mrs. BW’s kindergarten classroom at Elgin Street Public School is a model of teamwork between the students and the adults who support them. Mrs. BW, whose full name is Marilee Boles-Wilson, is a 32-year veteran educator who oversees a very busy classroom of kindergartners, university student teachers, youth care college students, an early childhood educator, an educational assistant, a lunch monitor, and classroom volunteers.
Marilee has been a kindergarten teacher most of her career and realizes the importance of taking a teamwork approach to meet the needs of all children in her class. “This school has a lot of new Canadians and embassy families along with lots of neighbourhood children from diverse backgrounds. The students’ needs are many and I appreciate the support from caring volunteers who can offer quality one-to-one time with my students. I will soon be retiring and plan to volunteer at the Main Public Library in their after school literacy program. Educating children takes teamwork.”
Hanna Méthot and Jim Costello are two of Mrs. BW’s team who volunteer in her class. Hanna has a calm, peaceful demeanor and is mature beyond her 18 years. During the interview, a little boy interrupted us to complain about a situation he was having with another student. Hanna calmly asked, “Is this a problem that you can solve or do you need a teacher to help you?” The little boy thought about it for a moment and replied, “I can solve it.” and off he went to do just that! She went on to explain to me that she always has them assess the situation and have them decide on their own if they can resolve it or if they need teacher support. Impressed, I made a mental note to keep this skill in my volunteer tool kit!
Hanna is in the first year of a political science degree at uOttawa. Many years ago, her father went to Korea to teach English and met her mother who was a teacher. Since grade 7 Hanna has had a plan to follow in her parents footsteps: volunteer in schools to get experience, complete a BSoSc in political science, complete a Faculty of Education degree, and go to Korea to teach English and see where life takes her.
Hanna gets down on the floor and plays with the children during their play based learning time. She says the children are fascinated by her dental braces and call her ‘Miss Shiny Teeth.’ She shares another cute story. “During the recent winter Olympics we watched the opening ceremony. Whenever they saw any flag that had red and white in it they started singing Oh Canada—they were so patriotic!”
Volunteers have an important impact on the students they support. Hanna relates, “There are a couple of boys who didn’t like to be read to but now they really like books. I take the time to engage them in the story, asking them how they relate to the characters, asking them to make predications of what will happen next. They become part of the story and that is the key. The Ragdoll Picnic is one of the children’s favourite books—even the boys like it. Once hooked on reading they just pull books off the shelf for me to read to them.”
When asked what she has learned about herself by volunteering Hanna was quick to answer that she learned she is good at improvising and going with the flow, which is an important skill in any situation. Mrs. BW says she wants volunteers who can jump in, anticipate the needs of the children, and not wait for direction, and Hanna fulfills these requirements.
A few children needed Hanna’s support, so she ended her interview with a personal insight, “It has been a rewarding experience to relate with the children, to see them develop. For example, one child carried a security toy all the time and now she does not bring it to school at all. It’s amazing to see the developmental growth in the children over the year.”
Thank you, Hanna for sharing your gift of teaching with the children at Elgin Street. We all wish you good luck in your future adventures!
Jim Costello has volunteered in Mrs. BW’s kindergarten class for the past 10 years and relates how he got involved, “I was between jobs and my niece was attending Elgin Street School when my brother (with a brand a new baby at home) called to ask a favour—would I walk his daughter home from school?” That was the beginning of Jim’s school career as ‘Mr. Jim’. Jim continued to walk his niece home from school and was surprised how much fun he was having with the children every day. One day Mrs. BW asked Jim to volunteer in her classroom to read one-to-one with the children—and he loved it! Because he was such an effective volunteer, the school asked him to join the staff as a Lunch Monitor. Jim agreed, and he still volunteers before and after his shift work—every day!
Jim says the children’s enthusiasm and energy is contagious. “Some days when walking home from school I would be tired. On the way home I would see the kids and they’d shout out, ‘Hi Mr. Jim!’ and that simple greeting would give me so much energy.” The biggest thing he has learned about himself by volunteering is that he has patience. “As is the case working with small children, sometimes one reaches into their back pocket and finds the patience that works so well with children.”
Jim is a very witty, lively, gentle man with a wonderful sense of humour. During his interview, he shared several stories with me that made me laugh until I had tears. He says every day is the same but different in its own way. “The kids take things literally sometimes, which can be very funny. One day Mrs. BW wanted the kids to sit down with their hands on their knees, to calm the class down. I was showing the kids how to do that by demonstrating. (Jim has one arm that is disabled and is bent towards his body.) One little girl mirrored me exactly with one hand on her knee and the other bent. I got a chuckle out of that!” He says anyone who works with children will have fun. “One day the ECE was at the front of the class talking about an upcoming field trip. She said, ‘Raise your hand if you know where we are going on the field trip.’ One child blurted out, ‘To a movie!’ That was very cute wishful thinking.”
Jim plans to continue his work at Elgin Street for as long as he can. Everyone at Elgin Street School hopes that that is a very long time, as helping others and making people laugh are just a few of Jim’s gifts.
Hanna and Jim were screened through the Ottawa Network for Education (ONFE) to volunteer in OCDSB schools. The Ottawa Volunteers in Education/OttawaReads Program, more than 1,500 community members are volunteering over 206,784 hours in 152 local schools to support over 58,850 students annually–a donated value of over 4 million dollars!