As the pandemic wears on, social distancing, self-isolation and other public health measures intended to stop the spread of COVID-19 are affecting everyone. We asked Education alumni how they’re maintaining a positive outlook and finding joy during these challenging times.
Arrigo Chiste (‘53 BEd, ‘63 MEd) — Teaching was a bit different back when I first started teaching at 19 years of age in 1947 with a Jr. E and I certificate. The location: Iron Springs, AB, centre of sugar beet farming and the consolidation of numerous one-room schools, Grades 7 and 8, of close to 40 students. The teacherages were occupied by married and experienced teachers. I was the new kid on the block and consequently ended up sleeping on a cot in the school storeroom. With a salary of $100 a month, I was happy to have a rent-free bedroom. The local Alberta Pacific Grain agent family provided lunch and dinner. Memories of hard-working, obedient farm students remain with me. Now I’m enjoying retirement at Chartwell Harbours Independent Living in Calgary.
Elfrieda Dick (‘57 Junior E Cert) — I have been happy to use my education certificate for lots of volunteering and as a result have made wonderful friends among the refugee community and international students who are lonesome for friendships and also conversational English opportunities. Now, in my retirement in assisted living residence, where our social lives are limited because of covid regulations, I am getting many warm words of appreciation from my contacts of years ago who still think back fondly of our time spent together. One Chinese mom, who used to stop by every Saturday afternoon while her daughter was at ballet, would read the Berenstain Bears to me. She sent me a beautiful bouquet, and her little son, now in Gr. 1, sends me pictures and art and I send back fruit leathers and little notes to him. I’m so grateful for time spent with them in their adaptation to Canadian life and culture. Retirement and old age is a great time of reaping the rewards of investing in other people’s lives.
Pierre Turgeon (‘63 BEd, ‘68 MEd, ‘69 PhD) — I have fond memories of donning the green and gold uniform as a Golden Bear. My coaches then were Claire Drake, Murray Smith, Frankie Morris and Gino Fracas. All talented, great leaders and wonderful role models. They believed football transcended the football practice and game field. If we could understand this, as players and as young men, this understanding would make a difference in our lives, not just on the football field, but more importantly on life’s field of play. The echoes of their messaging are still heard within me as a now “older Golden Bear.” I hear them as a family man, a teacher, a football coach, a university professor, a practicing clinician, and now as a retired U of Ottawa professor and psychological business administrator. Even today I often ask myself “What would Claire, Murray, Frankie, or Gino do in this situation?” “This is serious business we have in our hands, at this moment. Give it all you can. Give it your best shot!” I continue to share in their passion for discipline. Thank you U of A for providing me with such a formative and meaningful experience! It was transformational!
Simone Marie Anne Demers (‘73 BEd, ‘88 MEd) — Although the gathering was not large, I had the thrill of celebrating my 80 years of life with seven close friends. The summer rain ensured that amazing greenery and floral bouquets, lovingly tended by us, surrounded our beloved guests. Accompanied by a well-distanced guitarist, conversations were intimate and meaningful. I dare say that it was the best birthday celebration I ever had. What unparalleled joy to participate in many Zoom events during the past months! Coursera’s 12-week course on Indigenous Canada worldview gave me clarity on our nation-to-nation Treaty relationship. A parade of university experts, in both official languages, offered lectures on a variety of subjects, especially during Alumni Week. Seasoned writers encourage me with the ongoing writing of my autobiography. Imagine the pleasure of producing a cooking show for a Quebec-Alberta Intergenerational project of the Alberta Francophone Seniors’ Association! Technology also connects me to international speakers on racism.
Marjorie Lavallee (Dressyman) (‘78 BEd, ‘80 EdDip, ‘96 MEd) — I am a Cree Indigenous woman who was born and raised on Red Pheasant First Nation near Battleford, Saskatchewan. I’ve been in the field of Indigenous Education for the past 48 years. Humble beginnings for me, as I started as a curriculum researcher with Indian Affairs and Northern Development in Ottawa and then as principal at the age of 21 in a school in western Alberta. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel the world experiencing new cultures in South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and Igloolik. I was among one of the first groups of Indigenous people to be invited to the United Nations in 1978 representing First Nations peoples of Canada, to present a report on discrimination and racism. I was also invited as an Aboriginal Elder to Rome and the Vatican in celebration of the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha by Pope Benedict XVI, where I read the life story of St. Kateri Tekakwitha in the Cree language. I am currently teaching university courses at the University of Alberta.
John B. Tatlow, (‘78 BEd) — I wrote my last exam on a Friday in April 1978, threw all my worldly possessions from my apartment in HUB Mall into my ‘65 Plymouth Duster, and drove to Grand Centre (now Cold Lake), AB to start my first teaching job on the following Monday morning. I met the area superintendent of schools at 6 p.m. that Friday night (he waited for me—the superintendent!!). He handed me the keys to the Grand Centre High School and said “good luck with your teaching, son.” I went on to teach business subjects for many years in Edmonton and Calgary while also pursuing a second career in commercial real estate. I was then seconded to teach Commercial Real Estate Leasing in Beijing, China. Education students—teaching is a wonderful and transferable skill that can take you in many directions in our diverse and ever-changing world. Wishing you similar excitement, opportunity, and prosperity that I’ve enjoyed since my humble beginnings at Grand Centre High School. Keep your heads up and stay positive. I’ve been through recessions, 15 per-cent interest rates, numerous health scares, social challenges, tight job markets and political threats. All things must pass, and they will.
Doris Charest (‘84 BEd, ‘13 MEd) — I love painting and the journey it has brought me on has been interesting and varied. I have traveled, attended artist residencies, shown my work in different locations and more. I experiment with a variety of painting mediums and this has kept my interest in painting for many years. That has kept me going. I have a show coming up in January at the Cava Gallery called Connection. It is about our need to connect with others and how Covid has changed our way of looking at things. During COVID lockdown, I’ve found joy by starting something new: a website to help artists called Art by Locals, in hopes of getting Albertans to buy local art. I was complaining that we, the artists, saw our opportunities for selling our work and our visibility disappear due to COVID. Now both artists and customers can go to one location to find local art and artists to hire for projects. https://artbylocals.ca.
Shirley Averille Hopkinson (‘81 BEd, ‘82 MEd, ‘86 PhD) — To date, my family has lost seven members globally as the COVID-19 virus rages, creating insurmountable grief that covers us like a heavy fog. Uncharted trial and error of public health to avoid further deaths and continued loss of social, emotional, economic and education connections sapped our happiness and imposed a nagging fear of further personal loss. I made a conscious, purpose-driven effort to research how to build on our family's immune systems with nutrients from foods described by public health specialists. One constantly listed ingredient was the lemongrass plant, used to brew hot tea, and could play a vital role. I purchased three four-inch plants, nurtured them to bountiful growth, added four internationally recommended ingredients, created a recipe, prepared it and am distributing monthly packages to households to savour. Now, we talk more about flavours than fear!
Brian J. Noble, (‘89 BEd (VocEd))— After three decades as an educator and one Excellence In Teaching Award, Brian Noble is a retired architectural design instructor, a designer, fly tyer (fly fishing), and artist residing in Edmonton, Alberta. He is an avid fly fisher and enjoys traveling throughout Alberta, British Columbia, and Maui, Hawaii. As an artist Brian is most comfortable creating watercolour paintings in his home or sitting on a deck beside a creek, on a quiet beach, or around a pool.
Marv Machura (‘90 MEd) — I released a new music video that features a song that I have written about the Chilcotin War (1864) in BC. I came across this story a few years ago and couldn't believe that I had never heard of it before. I was hooked on this compelling and little-known aspect of Western Canadian history and immersed myself in researching everything I could find about it. Soon I completed a neo-folk song, a three-minute narrative of the events. During the lockdown, I taught myself audio engineering and video editing, recorded the song, and created a music video which can be viewed on my YouTube Channel. I’m currently working on completing a new album that will contain this song and others that I have recently written. I’ve also been busy with many other publishing and education projects. www.marvmachura.com
Kathleen Connor-Learn (‘91 BEd) — There are many ways in which I have continued to smile and thrive since the pandemic conditions hit us. I returned from teaching for Temagami First Nation ahead of the pandemic, determined to rejoin my family and reclaim my house (I had been living in teacherages). During my remote residency, my younger sister had been faithful in communicating with me, keeping my spirits up, etc. This unconditional support has translated well to our communications over the miles (she lives in Kentucky, I live in Northern New York State) during the pandemic. We talk about work, my plans to be a self-employed consultant and writer, about family memories, about our young adult children, and about random things, as sisters will and do. We each have our ups and downs but we share a faithful connection and smiles over the miles!
Sherry Heschuk (‘91 BEd) — I love paddling! I have been impacted by the community response to the pandemic in a way I never would have thought. I knew being outside would be the best way to escape, I looked forward to paddling season and working out again in my kayak. I realized, however, that this season would be significantly different from my previous summers paddling and teaching paddlers on the ponds at Rundle Park. The water that needed to be added to these storm ponds to paddle was not done due to a loss of city park maintenance for the summer and the North Saskatchewan River and river valley trails flooded. We watched large trees flow downstream - too swift for paddlers who just wanted to float. So, in support of Defend Alberta Parks, I kayaked at least 10 lakes and rivers near campgrounds and conservation areas that were going to be delisted. This was my saving grace. While I searched for a new way to make our lives happen in the deepening shadow of the future, I found the water. I paddled in small strokes to glide across an abyss of COVID-19 and spent my summer and well into the fall paddling. As water levels decreased, the cases of COVID also subsided and healing began.
Carrie Armstrong (‘03 BEd) — I worked as a teacher for several years, then realized I was a serial entrepreneur. I started a company based on my Cree grandmother's plant knowledge called Mother Earth Essentials. I ran that company for 12 years, then sold it, but stayed on as a consultant. When COVID-19 hit, I was laid off. I used that time to finish writing my plant recipe book, Mother Earth Plants - Recipes for Health and Beauty, based on what I learned from my grandma and my business. I also teamed up with my sister to create a gin beverage using one of my tea recipes, called Kikawinaw, which is Cree for Mother Nature. Being laid off due to the pandemic turned out to be a blessing to me in some ways, as I had the time to complete these ventures!
Kris Ellis (‘04 BEd) — I am cultivating joy at work through supporting learning and development opportunities that focus on psychological wellbeing for staff and leaders and collaborating with advisors throughout my organization to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. I am cultivating joy at home by learning to play piano (at age 58!) and taking advantage of an incredibly short commute that now gives me time to curl up in my favourite chair with a glass of wine and read about amazing lives and personal journeys that give me hope in these troubling times.
Wade Kelly (‘04 BEd , ‘12 MEd) — In Melbourne, Australia we have been under lockdown for more than 100 days. For much of that period there has been a curfew and a limit of one hour outside within five km of your house. It’s been tough. Thankfully, we have an assistance dog-in-training named Thora, who’s been a slice of joy during a strange time. Thora will, in time, be homed with a veteran with PTSD. Until then, she’s been keeping us active with training and making us smile with unconditional affection and love. It’s going to be hard to say farewell to her, but I’m grateful that a strong memory of COVID and lockdown will be the happy times shared with a furry friend.
Waishing Michael Lam (‘16 BEd) — During these trying times, I’ve been finding joy by being inspired by my students, current and former. As a social studies teacher, it’s sometimes difficult to have students feel implicated in the topics we take up, leaving me to help students make personal connections between the subject matter and their own lives and engage with these topics beyond the classroom. So when my students are able to articulate in class how and why topics matter in their lives, or when former students drop me a line to let me know how something I’ve taught them has stuck with them or remains relevant to them, I’m reminded that I’m doing work that matters.
Claudia Sasse (‘17 MEd) — Like everyone else, in the beginning of this pandemic I was scared, anxious, and exhausted. I knew that I could not live that way for too long or I would not make it until the end of the year. I started looking for ways of accepting this “new normal” and one of the things that brought me peace and joy was taking the time to appreciate just being home. I have always been a busy person, teaching in an elementary school during the day and lecturing at the post-secondary level in the evenings. Not to mention my obligations as a mom, and wife! Taking the time to “smell the roses” in my backyard, cook, bake, and reconnect with my family makes my life truly joyful. My advice for you, enjoy the moment where you are right now and make the most of it!
Nazia Hiscock (‘18 MEd) — I'm a vice-principal at Dr. K. A. Clark Public School, one of the oldest and largest elementary schools in Fort McMurray, Alberta. I completed my Master of Education in 2018, walking across the stage only eight days prior to giving birth to my daughter. My daughter and seven-year-old son bring so much joy during these tough times. Although we miss our extracurricular activities and visiting new places, we are enjoying each other's company as we are limiting our interactions in public due to COVID-19. The moments of closeness in our family have really made us value the importance of spending quality time together in each other's company. Our new favourite pastime is baking cookies, loaves, and muffins from scratch together in our new homemade aprons.
Feature image: Claudia Sasse (‘17 MEd)