Mission, British Columbia, Canada
He has always enjoyed the arts. In three of the elementary schools where he taught, he was active in a spring production and the Christmas concert each year. After his year of exchange, he initiated in the school district three new programmes which he had encountered in Ontario. One was a primary fall fair in which every child received recognition (the reddest apple, the twistiest carrot, for example). The other two were an elementary science fair and the health hustle, which was a 15-minute daily exercise programme set to music. At one school, he received a grant from the Kinsmen Club to purchase picture frames. These were placed in various businesses in the community, starting an Art to the Community programme. Each month, teachers selected works of art that they took to the businesses and inserted into the frames. The pictures were changed each month and the students’ names were published in the bulletin so that family and friends could go view the art work.
Ken was born in Parry Sound, Ontario, and graduated from Britannia Secondary School in Vancouver, BC. He received his teacher training at University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, BC. He holds a Bachelor degree in Elementary Education, plus 30 additional credits from UBC. This enabled him to obtain a PB + 15 category on the salary scale, meaning that he received less than $1000 difference from a Master’s degree and much less work! He became the first recipient of the Stella Shopland Memorial Award for top marks in Children’s Literature in 1966 at UBC.
He taught from 1966 to 2001, a total of 35 years, of which 34 years were spent in the Maple Ridge School District # 42, in British Columbia, and one year of exchange in Dundas, Ontario. He has taught grades 4 to 7 in the classroom and kindergarten to grade 7 in a library/computer laboratory. His largest class consisted of 44 grade 7 students in his seventh year of teaching.
Yennadon Elementary, a grades 1 to 7 school in Maple Ridge, was his first school. It had six classrooms, a gymnasium with a stage, and a huge playing field. Ken started the year in the gymnasium until the school board brought in a portable classroom for him after a couple of months.
When he commenced teaching in 1966, there were no inter-school sports competitions among the elementary schools in Maple Ridge. In the following year, he was one of the founding members of the Maple Ridge Elementary Schools Athletic Association. Specific schedules were drawn for which there was competition in volleyball, cross country, and track and field.
Later, when he returned to UBC to upgrade his teaching certificate, he specialized in library courses. After he had become a teacher-librarian, he helped to design and run the first computer laboratory attached to a library.
The worst times of his career occurred when cutbacks by the school district were initiated. The library was the first area to be affected. Ken went from being full-time in the library to 80% to 60% to 40%. Adding bits and pieces together to have a full-time job became a “real dog’s breakfast”. Finally, he told the administration that he wanted a class of his own. He was tired of doing prep classes and teaching one day a week for one teacher and trying to run a library as well. The circulation did not decrease nor did the work load – only the time allotted for him in the library.
Prep classes resulted when the classroom teachers received their preparation time and the prep teacher (librarian) had to supervise or teach the classes. Supervising them was a problem because they did not want to be in the library, but instead wanted to be with their teachers. Teaching them was difficult because, if Ken took over a subject, for example, science, it would be necessary for him to write report cards for students whom he saw only twice a week – multiplied by several classes. It was definitely a no-win situation. The largest schools in the province hired specialists in music or physical education to tend the prep classes. However, when money became tighter, the lot fell upon the librarian to “cover the prep periods”.
He would advise a student teacher on entering the profession to be prepared to substitute for a few years before obtaining a permanent position.
Ken started volunteering with Love Guatemala, an organization that serves the under-resourced of Guatemala. They supply such items as food, shelter, school supplies, clothing, micro-financing, education, water filters, and library books – whatever they can do to improve the village where Mayan people live. Ken is particularly interested in the library book programme. So far, the organization has stocked four schools with libraries. Library books are much appreciated as the schools have no libraries at all. Under the change for change program, people donate their spare change and the organization purchases Spanish library books for Guatemalan schools. All of the money collected goes for library books.
When a team goes to Guatemala, each person is allowed one 50-pound piece of checked luggage. As a result, the library books are checked and the team carries their clothes in carry-on bags. Thus, the library books are delivered to the schools in person. Ken’s local of the Retired Teachers’ Association has been very supportive of the programme. He is always trying to interest schools, other organizations, and individuals to have a change for change campaign. Anyone who would like to donate to this programme can contact him. There are many more schools in need of libraries!
Schools in Guatemala are not under the direction of a board. Each district has an official – usually a lawyer appointed by the government – to oversee the schools. He receives a paltry amount, if anything at all. Each school within a district has a director – our equivalent of a principal. The teachers are often quite young and have perhaps a grade 8 education. The rooms have desks and a blackboard, but not much in the way of school supplies. For each grade, the government issues a book which contains all that the students need to know for that grade – mathematics, social studies, reading, science, grammar. This is their only “textbook”, such as it is. One school where the Canadians worked asked the teachers to provide a wish list. They listed such items as notebooks, pencils, tape, and a stapler.
The team decided to spend $200 on school supplies. With that, they were able to buy workbooks for the students in four disciplines. When they delivered the supplies, the teacher opened the bag and knelt down on the floor and cried. His students wondered what would make their teacher cry and who these “white guys” were who made him cry.
School is free up until the end of grade 6. After that, school fees are charged, resulting in many students dropping out after grade 6. Teachers are paid by the government, but sometimes they receive nothing for months. This also applies to doctors and other government workers. When this happens, there are usually demonstrations which close down highways. During a protest demonstration, traffic is at a stand-still. White people are advised to turn around and seek a different route as travellers have been killed while trying to pass through a blockade.
Many young, bright children miss school for weeks because their fathers have contracted with a farmer for them to help with the harvest. The farmer pays perhaps the equivalent of $10 for a week’s work, a huge amount for the family income. When the students return to school, they have missed lessons and end up failing. It has been reported that if students fail a grade, they are suspended from school. The government does not care because this is a saving on the education budget.
Love Guatemala sponsors about 20 students to attend high school. This costs the sponsors about $400 a year. Each month the parents are given $40 to cover school fees, transportation (it is unsafe for girls to ride on the “chicken busses”) and a little left over to cover the wages lost by the child if he were working and not going to school. This little left over helps to feed the family. In order to receive the next month’s money, the parents must produce a receipt from the school, showing that they paid the last month’s fees.
Ken also volunteers at the Fraser Valley Gleaners’ once a week. Donated vegetables are chopped up, dehydrated, and packaged into soup mixes which are distributed free to feed the hungry of third world countries. He has had the privilege of serving Gleaners’ soup to the poor of Guatemala. His other hobbies include gardening, growing his own vegetables and fruit and tending to 15 flower beds on his property and also reading.
(This page was updated in October 2012.)