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Day 23: Karen Gadowsky, Teacher: Work Options Program (Delta Secondary School)

October 9, 2012

As Delta Secondary (DSS) celebrates its Centennial anniversary, I find myself reflecting on the historical aspects of education and community. In particular, I have become more focused on the activities we hold annually, which become our traditions, with both personal and social advantages. I know DSS has many traditions, many of which serve to strengthen the social fabric of community, and at the same time provide personal platforms for kids to gain confidence and security to move forward in their lives, often in an unobvious fashion.

One tradition for Alternate and Work Options students at DSS, that imperceptibly strengthens their connection to the community while providing personal growth, is the “Thanksgiving Dinner Lunch.” Initiated by Carolyn Dodds and Karen Keith almost 2 decades ago, this full-on thanksgiving dinner, served at lunch, on the Thursday before the Thanksgiving weekend, is a welcome favourite for the kids. Guests are invited (Delta School Board Staff, School Administrators, Main School and District Counselors, Parents and Community dignitaries) and former graduates often ask permission to return to join in.

Both classes participate in working together to plan the Thanksgiving meal. They collaborate on the menu based on a budget, shop locally for the ingredients (often receiving donated produce from longstanding Ladner farming families), prepare and cook the food, organize the eating area and food buffet and are involved in the clean up (usually consisting of washing dishes by hand)! Motivating of course, is that they get to eat what is made. But over the years of continuing this Alternate Thanksgiving tradition with Carolyn’s daughter, Andrea Dodds (whom I previously taught and who now teaches Senior Alternate with assistance from Karen Keith) and my long time Educational Assistant, Karan Schwartz, I have come to realize that this tradition is much more than meets the eye

In the weeks prior to the preparation of the Thanksgiving meal, students learn more about each other and the cultures of their ancestry. They find that many people over the millennia, including the Aboriginal people, have had “Harvest Feasts” around this time of year. They have the opportunity to personalize this holiday by reflecting on the cultural significance Thanksgiving has for their families while being encouraged to the critically analyze the origins of Thanksgiving in this country and continent.

Perhaps most importantly, the students seem to behave in ways that demonstrate their understanding that Thanksgiving is really about “community” and is much more than the commercialized version of turkey dinners, pumpkin pies, “days off” and shopping extravaganza black Fridays as Thanksgiving has more recently become to be known on both sides of the border!

As I listened to the statements of gratitude (another tradition) that students, staff and invited guests shared before eating, I heard the evidence that proves as much. Students mention things like “I am grateful that I live in a country where tolerance of diversity of culture is being practiced by most,” “I am grateful for both my biological family and my foster family” and “I am grateful that they [the school board] allows programs like this because I don’t think I would care about learning and school if I couldn’t come here!”

Often considered as some of the most marginalized in the system, these students demonstrate that a personalized context, with community connection, can have a powerful impact on their ability to feel like they are contributing in meaningful ways and in turn, to value others and recognize the benefits of living in a tolerant society.

For me, I am grateful that I have the opportunity to work with students in the non-traditional setting that is “Alternate” where content and real-world context becomes the primary focus and where, in the Work Options program, students find success in a practical, personalized and more hands-on approach to learning. I am also extremely thankful for my colleagues who continue to embrace the notion that all students have gifts and who do their best, to make personalized learning a reality for students. I am especially grateful for the parents in this community, who value the opportunity their children have to focus on their areas of strength in high school, while preparing for the world of work that is not immediately university-focused. It is after all, with this joint effort of community, that Delta Secondary, in the village of Ladner, will successfully raise its children.

Karen Gadowsky is a teacher currently developing the Work Options Program at Delta Secondary School focused on personalizing learning in mainstream and alternative settings.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jeanette permalink
    October 19, 2012 5:04 pm

    I remember this event well Karen. Our students are fortunate to have you teaching them more than curriculum!

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