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Local teachers receive Governor General Award for Excellence

November 17, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Pickford

Two Montgomery Village Public School (MVPS) teachers have been recognized at the national level for their work in bringing the revolutionary ‘GrandPals’ program to life in Orangeville.

Marc Mailhot and Lynda Brown will receive the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching in a special ceremony next Wednesday at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. The commendation will be handed out to eight teachers across Canada this year for their “exceptional commitment to sharing Canadian history in unique ways”.

“With this award, we celebrate the extraordinary work of teachers who outdo themselves every day to shape the adults of tomorrow,” said Janet Walker, President and CEO of Canada’s History. “Knowledge of our history is a fundamental element of this education. The winners certainly have a significant influence on their students, enabling them to understand their history through unique and innovative projects.”

What started out as a simple idea designed to build character among elementary school students in town has blossomed into something truly special over the past few years. Launched in 2009 by Mr. Mailhot, GrandPals connects Grade 5 students at MVPS with seniors at the Chartwell Montgomery Village Retirement Residence, encouraging inter-generational conversations and relationships.

The program has evolved over the years. While the concept initially involved regular visits to retirement facilities in town, starting with the Avalon Retirement Lodge before involving Chartwell Montgomery, where students would simply engage with elderly residents, GrandPals has taken on more of a storytelling theme in recent years, with Grade 5 students almost doubling as historical reporters.

Today, students enrolled in GrandPals at MVPS interact with their seniors on a weekly basis – every Wednesday afternoon. They primarily discuss their seniors’ life, digging into their history and, eventually, developing a story. Many of those pieces include first-hand recollections from the Second World War and have been picked up by Dufferin County Museum & Archives.

“In a sense, what we’re doing isn’t really a complicated idea, yet it’s surprising how impactful and sort of unusual it almost is,” Mr. Mailhot told the Citizen. “We’re creating real, meaningful and purposeful conversations between generations.”

The kicker perhaps for both Mr. Mailhot and Ms. Brown is the way GrandPals is spreading. Already in Orangeville, similar initiatives at Spencer Avenue Elementary School, Island Lake Public School, Parkinson Centennial Public School and Orangeville Christian School have sprung up in recent years, meaning even more students and even more seniors are benefitting in the community.

“That’s really rewarding to see. Obviously it’s a nice compliment when another teacher wants to use something you’ve helped develop, but that’s not the important thing here, the important thing is the kids and what they’re getting out of GrandPals,” Ms. Brown said. “This is such a unique way of learning. It’s inclusive, it promotes engagement, it’s just a great initiative. The quality of work these students produce is phenomenal. They spend hours upon hours researching and writing their stories, they do all their own art. They really care about their projects.”

Particularly heartwarming for Mr. Mailhot is what he calls the “humanizing” aspect of GrandPals. He remembers how several of his past students have transformed from referring to their partners simply as “the seniors” to calling them friends

“That, to me, is the most beautiful thing. It’s important for us as teachers to guide our students, not only in an educational way, but in a human way too,” Mr. Mailhot says. “We’re making a real difference with these students. They’re making a real difference with the work they’re putting together. I had one student realize that if they don’t write down and tell these stories, then nobody will and that’s absolutely true.”

He concluded, “We’re not just heading out and playing cards with seniors, there’s some real stuff happening here. I’m proud of what GrandPals has become here in Orangeville and look forward to seeing where it all goes from here.”

An assembly will be held at Montgomery Village Public School at 9 a.m. tomorrow (Nov. 17) when Mr. Mailhot and Ms. Brown will be recognized for their achievement. For more information on the GrandPals initiative, visit grandpals.ca.

         

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