Once Upon A School – Part 1

“Without knowledge the world is bereft of culture. And so we must be educators and students both.” Roberta Bondar

I was in Edmonton to do a reading in early November. I love that city. When I moved to Edmonton for work in 1986, I didn’t know a soul, but right from the start, the people I met and worked with made me feel welcome. They became my family away from home. Friends I made and colleagues I worked with have remained close despite my many moves.

So, as usual, many came to the Edmonton reading to support my efforts, yet again. I moved away some 20 years ago and still they came. It’s this camaraderie that always leaves me wondering why I ever left.

At the reading, one of my former colleagues asked if my novel would be appropriate for high school students. Paul is a coach at Vimy Ridge Collegiate, a school in the Edmonton public school district with a renowned sports program.

At first I wasn’t sure what to tell him. At the core of the novel are two refugee families trying to make a better life for themselves in economically ravaged Greece. Could there be a more tragic situation? Should kids have to face this sort of reality? Enough that it’s been a difficult subject for me. How would kids handle it?

When I got back to Whistler I asked friends who had read my book, and had teenage sons and daughters, what they thought. Mostly they thought I was naïve: kids today are already exposed to the realities of life. They thought my novel The Brink of Freedom would be perfect for the 16 to 18 year olds in grades 10 to 12.

So I called Paul. If he was keen to have his students study my novel, then I was more than happy to come to the school to deliver a presentation and engage the kids in a discussion not only about the issue of refugees, but also the process of how a novel comes together. A plan was born and I returned to Edmonton on December 14th, but not without some trepidation. The last time I dealt with teenage kids besides my own, I was a deputy director in a young offender facility (nice word for prison). And that was ages ago. I had no idea what to expect.

Thinking about something always tends to stop me. Plunging in (as is my modus operandi) was the only answer. A lesson plan was prepared, material (i.e., the novel, was sent) and Paul consulted with the parents. Some of the kids in Paul’s program were not keen to read a book. They wanted to play lacrosse. But with parents on board and also reading the book, there was no turning back.

When I arrived at Vimy Ridge Collegiate, I was first surprised by the size of these kids. Did they always make them that big? Then I remembered they were all athletes. How was I going to keep their attention for two and a half hours?

A part of me thought about slinking away. Instead, I found Paul, then his class and put one foot in front of the other and kept going. I’d made a commitment.

What happened next was extraordinary. 

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