Sunday, February 7, 2010

Not gold medals but glowing hearts

I've spent most of my career in high schools, so I wondered how much help I could be when I was invited to supervise a station at Ladysmith Primary School for their family math afternoon. Don't worry, Anita said, we've trained the grade 2 and 3 students to “man” the stations. You really won't have to do anything.

I arrived at the "Olympic" event and got a participant card - the Olympic logo on a clip secured by a ribbon around my neck - and was steered to my station. There were a dozen or so stations around the gym with various activities suitable for primary students. Mine was a logic puzzle. My tiny student leaders quickly showed me how to help the families do the "event" at our station, how to give the participant a "medal" to add to their Olympic logo clip when they'd completed the puzzle. And they taught me how to be "gentle." Even if they don't solve it, you can give them a medal, they told me. We honour their participation. And don't forget to be encouraging, they added. But don't just give them the answer, they admonished - that takes the fun out of it. Then with that sage teaching advice, they invited me to sit in a chair, because, really, I wouldn't have to do anything - they had everything under control. And they did. I got to watch.

Parents and their children poured into the gym, enthusiastically participating in the math "events" and gathering up their "medals" with glee. At our station, even the smallest child solved the puzzle with Ruby and Maddy's expert prompting and support. You could see the light shine in their eyes when their tiny fingers pointed to the solution - "It's that one!" And Maddy and Ruby's enthusiastic, "Yes! You got it!" was never less than genuine. What was best of all was watching the parents as they watched their children thinking hard in math. And another best - every person in the room could say, "Math is fun!"

The Olympic feat I'd like to point out is something else though. A quick glance around the room would tell you that hours and hours and hours of time was spent to make this magical event happen - everything from planning and designing the stations, training the student-leaders, creating the ribbons, "medals," and signs, ordering tables, setting up the gym, inviting parents. The list is long - surely Anita and her Ladysmith Primary team should stand on a podium and receive their own medal. And they are just one of the schools I happened to visit. Events like this take place in our schools constantly. They connect our parents to our community, allow children to be leaders, and provide educators an opportunity to showcase what's most important for learning. There are no ceremonies to acknowledge this important work; the reward, for those who are lucky enough to see it, is in the glowing hearts of the children and their families.

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