About Our Children

Production Coordinator at Metro Guide Publishing

Be the change

By Monica Riehl

A new empathy program is showing kids they have the power to improve the lives of others.

Florence McCarey Payne’s heart sank when she learned her Grade 6 class would have to raise $10,000 to build a well in Africa. “I honestly felt like my stomach was dropping out when I heard the number,” says the vice-principal and teacher at Sycamore Lane Elementary in Lower Sackville.

Her 22 students, however, were undeterred: “One of the boys really grounded me when he said, ‘What do we do with all the extra money that we raise?’”

The students decided to fundraise for a well in Ethiopia after reading the book Ryan and Jimmy: and the well in Africa that brought them together. It chronicles the true story of Ryan Hreljac, a Grade 1 student from Ottawa who in 1998 helped a Uganda community get access to fresh water. Hreljac became lifelong friends with Akana Jimmy, a youth from the village.

Like Hreljac, the Sycamore Lane students are passionate about improving access to clean water for kids in Africa. Children in Africa must walk for miles and miss school to fetch heavy jugs of dirty water for their families.

McCarey Payne and fellow teacher Paula Brigley have been linking the fundraiser to class subjects. “We’re learning we take a lot of stuff for granted,” says Megan Flanagan, a student in the Grade 6 class. Students have been raising awareness and money by holding canteen and flea market sales, selling handmade blue ribbons, holiday ornaments and poinsettias, and by completing random acts of kindness. They’ve also contacted well-drilling companies for help.

Grade 6 students at John W. MacLeod Fleming Tower School held empathy workshops with Blair Ryan, co-founder of the Empathy Factory (far right, in pink shirt).

Grade 6 students at John W. MacLeod Fleming Tower School held empathy workshops with Blair Ryan, co-founder of the Empathy Factory (far right, in pink shirt).

A grassroots empathy leader is also inspiring the kids to make a difference. Blair Ryan is co-founder of the Empathy Factory, a non-profit organization based in Halifax that fosters youth humanitarianism. Since October 2010, he has been visiting schools in Halifax, inspiring students to help others and to think big when it comes to charitable projects.

“The ideas that the kids come up with…are really cool,” he says. Sycamore Lane’s idea to build a well was one of about 20 ideas they discussed with Ryan when he visited the school in October 2011. “They were well aware that it would be a huge undertaking,” he says.

He sees students becoming more conscientious after participating in the program. “I love to see that change,” he says. “One of my favourite things to do is take part in human growth.”

Ryan’s own story of personal growth began when he was diagnosed with chronic liver disease at age 22. It ended his Canadian Football League aspirations, but laid the foundation for the Empathy Factory. He came up with the idea while teaching his stepdaughters to be more empathetic. He challenged them to come up with a way to help others using $10 a week. Their enthusiasm and creativity inspired him to take it further and he made fostering youth philanthropy his career.

He developed his ideas into a school-based program. In one year, the program has spread to more than 30 schools in Halifax. This month, he is launching it in Truro and, later, Cape Breton. Ryan hopes to spread his organization across the province and beyond. “Our mission is to instil empathy in Nova Scotia youth, [but] why would just Nova Scotia need that?” he says.

The program lasts about six weeks. “The first week is heavy-learning week,” Ryan says. After that, he sets forth a challenge, asking students to brainstorm ideas to help others. A panel reviews the ideas, and presents the class with resources to make it a reality. “I try not to lead them at all [in idea selection],” says Ryan. “It’s not my wishes that I’m pushing.”

On a recent visit to a Grade 6 class at John W. MacLeod Fleming Tower School in Halifax, Ryan announced which ideas would become class causes. The excitement in the room was contagious, with students banging out a desktop drum roll. Applause erupted after Ryan announced projects to improve solar energy, save trees and stop puppy mills.

Grade 6 teacher Tracy McFeters signed her class up for the program, hoping it would inspire her students to reach out to others. “I know that they naturally care for those around them,” she writes in an email. “I believe that students must be encouraged to become more aware of other’s feelings and to see situations from alternate points of view.” The

Empathy Factory introduces children to other viewpoints in classroom workshops and at its summer day-camp. Each lesson begins by reviewing the meaning of empathy. On a recent visit to Sycamore Lane, Grade 6 student Robert Richards put it this way. “Empathy is when you step into someone else’s feelings and imagine how they feel,” he said.

To learn more about the program, visit Empathyfactory.com.


New contest: Park it!

Where do you like to play? We want to know about your favourite outdoor park in HRM. Send us a hand-drawn poster that displays your favourite park and tell us why you like that park the best. Please include the park name and location, as well as your name, phone number or email address, your grade and the name of the elementary school you attend.

There will be three winners chosen: Primary to Grade 2, Grades 3 to 4, Grades 5 to 6. Each winner will receive a one-year Nova Scotia Museum family pass (giving entrance to 27 provincial museums) and gift certificates for Uncommon Kids and Sugah. The winning entries will be highlighted in the Spring 2012 issue of Our Children magazine.

Winners will be presented their prizes in May.

Send your entry to:

Cathy Hammond
Metro Guide Publishing
1300 Hollis St., Halifax, N.S. B3J 1T6

Contest closes April 23, 2012.

Our Children Fall Contest

Let the Games Begin

We want your best ideas for outdoor winter games that can be played by two or more children. Your game can come from a different country, it can be something that your parents taught you or something you learned at camp, school or from a book. It may be something you made up yourself or it may even be a game you have played in the summer that you have enjoyed playing in the snow.

Include the instructions, the goal of the game, how many people can play and send pictures if you like. Be sure to include your name, grade, school name and please note where your game originated. There will be three winners chosen: Primary to Grade 2, Grades 3 to 4, Grades 5 to 6.

Each winner will receive a family pass to the Discovery Centre and a gift certificate for a meal at Jane’s Café, located in the Discovery Centre, along with a book from Nimbus Publishing. The winning games will appear in the Winter 2012 issue of Our Children magazine along with the winners’ names. Winners will be presented with their prizes at the Discovery Centre in November.

Mail or email your entry to:
Cathy Hammond
Metro Guide Publishing
1300 Hollis St.
Halifax, N.S. B3J 1T6
or chammond@metroguide.ca

Contest closes November 14, 2011.

Make lunch not war

Getting kids to eat the lunches you pack for them can be an ongoing struggle but these tips can give you an advantage.

By Edie Shaw-Ewald

During the back-to-school frenzy of equipping your children with the long lists of school supplies, clothes and indoor and outdoor footwear, the subject of what they are going to eat at school may not be top of mind.

No pressure though—you just have to provide nutritious, delicious, eco-friendly, easy-to-prepare, budget-wise lunches for each student in your family for approximately 186 days this school year. Breathe…and follow these tips:

Make a plan together
Come up with a list of lunch foods that appeal to your children. Discuss at their level of understanding the health, environment and cost benefits of using fresh, real foods rather than most processed, single-portion packaged foods for their lunches. Delegate age-appropriate lunch prep jobs.

Make a school lunch station in your kitchen. Designate a shelf or drawer to school lunch preparation. Equip it with a cutting board, knife, peeler, reusable lunch containers, flatware, bags and water bottles.

Make an investment
Some lunch containers lend themselves to efficient, healthy lunch making. One litterless lunch system to consider is tiffins. These stainless-steel stackable containers are available at P’lovers in Park Lane Mall on Spring Garden Road, Halifax and at My Lil Package on Brookside Road, Brookside.

Nurtured Products for Parenting on Robie Street in Halifax carries many litterless lunch options, including LunchBots. This is another stainless-steel line of containers.

Fun bento-box inspired lunch containers from Laptop Lunches make it easy to pack a variety of different foods for lunch and snacks.

My favourite lunch system over the years has been Laptop Lunch containers. Designed by two moms, the containers resemble Japanese bento boxes. My sons didn’t lose a piece and enjoyed eating out of them for several years. They are available online at Laptoplunches.com (get a 10-per-cent discount when you use the coupon code: nutritioncoach).

No matter what type of lunch storage system you pick, label your containers.

Make it nutritious and earth friendly
It is a wonderful coincidence that healthier food choices do not usually produce a lot of garbage. Real whole food or minimally processed foods are the best. Design the lunch to contain at least three of the four major food groups: vegetables/ fruits, grains, milk or alternate and protein. And always include a water bottle.

Keep sweets to the occasional treat. A high sugar intake can depress the immune system for hours. If you imagine all of that germ sharing that goes on in the classroom, lunchtime is not the time to depress the immune system.

Make it delicious
A few lunch ideas:

  • Strips of sweet peppers, whole grain muffin, hard-boiled egg, slice of cheddar cheese.
  • Quinoa mixed with chopped raw veggies, small cubes of cheese and vinaigrette, orange segments.
  • Cheese tortellini, baby carrots, melon cubes.
  • Whole wheat rotini pasta, raw broccoli, cauliflower, cubes of ham, banana.
  • Raw veggies, mini whole wheat pitas, hummus, grapes.

Leftovers from dinner can become good lunch possibilities, too:

  • Pasta with tomato and meat sauce, peach slices.
  • Chili with grated cheese, whole-wheat roll, apple.
  • Stir-fried veggies, chicken and brown rice, yogurt and berries.

Whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa and other grains from dinner can become part of lunches the next day. Make extra of these items to have on hand for quick preparation.

Ultimately, there will still be days when you find a forgotten, uneaten lunch at the bottom of a backpack, all smelly and smushy. But don’t get discouraged—just think back to these tips and…breathe.


Black Bean and Brown Rice Burritos
Make a batch of these burritos and store extra in the freezer.

1 red pepper, fresh or roasted, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 can rinsed, drained black beans
1/2 cup (125 ml) frozen corn
1 cup (250 ml) cooked brown rice
2 tsp (10 ml) chili powder
1 tsp (5 ml) ground cumin
2 Tbsp (30 ml) salsa
1/2 cup (125 ml) grated Monterey Jack cheese
whole wheat flour tortillas

Throw all of the ingredients (except for tortillas) in a bowl and mix. Spoon filling evenly down centre of each tortilla. Fold sides of tortilla and roll up.

Hidden Veggie Tuna Sammies  
Finely diced celery and cucumber dress up tuna salad sandwich filling. Recipe courtesy Presidents’ Choice.

Hidden Veggie Tuna Sammies, Photo courtesy Presidents’ Choice

2 cans (each 170 g) PC Chunk Light Tuna in Water, drained
2 green onions, thinly sliced on diagonal
1 small stalk celery, finely diced
2 Tbsp (30 ml) diced cucumber (skin on)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp (15 ml) mayonnaise
2 tsp (10 ml) Dijon mustard
1 tsp (5 ml) chopped fresh dill
1/8 tsp (.5 ml)) salt
9 PC Slider Thins Mini Burger Buns
1 cup (250 ml) mixed baby greens

  1. In bowl and using a fork, combine tuna, green onions, celery, cucumber, olive oil, lemon juice, mayonnaise, mustard, dill and salt.
  2. Open slider buns and place on work surface. Divide greens among bottom halves of slider buns. Top with a scoop of tuna salad, dividing evenly. Makes 3 servings.

Edie Shaw-Ewald is a dietitian and fitness coach with a private practice. Visit her website at www.nutritioncoachedie.com and her recipe blog at www.nutritioncoachedie.blogspot.com

Succeeding in reading

Carole Olsen introduces the Halifax Regional School Board’s new program to help students with reading challenges.

The classroom teacher is the first layer of support for children with reading difficulties.

Earlier this year, the provincial government eliminated the Reading Recovery program that supported struggling readers in Grade 1. This decision received considerable media attention and raised concerns across the province that students in need of additional literacy support would suffer.

To replace Reading Recovery, the Department of Education introduced a new early literacy framework called Succeeding in Reading. The framework provides guidelines for all school boards to follow in supporting our youngest students but it also gives flexibility in creating a new model of support.

Before explaining in greater detail, I want to acknowledge the efforts of our Reading Recovery teachers, many of whom will play a critical role in supporting our students under this new model. Through their efforts, thousands of students have improved their reading skills over the past several years. Thank you for all that you have done.

In the Halifax Regional School Board, our early literacy support model will initially focus on students in Primary and Grade 1, supporting kids when they enter school.

Our first layer of support is the classroom teacher. We are asking teachers to create learning environments that allow for instruction on three levels: the whole class, small groups and individualized. This is important because children enter school with varied experiences and at varied levels of development. Our students are not all the same and we cannot expect instruction to be one-size-fits-all.

Teachers will carefully observe students through ongoing daily assessments to see if they are learning what is being taught and, if not, provide individual or small group instruction to help each child. By tailoring instruction for each child, it is estimated that we can meet the learning needs of about 80 per cent of students.

Any students who have not reached expected achievement levels at the beginning of Grade 1 will be considered for individualized or small group support from an early literacy teacher with specialized training. This is the second level of support.

A planning team comprised of each school’s administrators, resource teacher, early literacy teacher and Primary and Grade 1 teachers will make the decisions around which children will receive support, for how long and the structure of that support. Support will be individualized for each student.

Early literacy support is structured in 12-week blocks, providing three blocks for each school year. We have established benchmarks for reading and writing so that we can ensure students are progressing. If a student is not meeting the benchmarks, the school planning team can change support throughout the block. The main goal is to get the student back on track and reading and writing at a comparable level to his or her peers.

The third layer of support allows for a school to bring a student back in for additional instruction if they are stalled in their progress. At this point, the school planning team may make a referral for some specialized intervention with a speech language pathologist or a resource teacher.

There are some definite advantages to our new model of early literacy support. It has tremendous flexibility. If a support does not work, a school has the ability to try something different. And, for the first time, students in the French Immersion program will be able to access support in their language of instruction.

Reading Recovery was a great program but I believe our new support model will benefit more students in the long run. We are firmly committed to making this work in the best interests of students.

A whole new world

By Trevor J. Adams

Newcomer Amar Singh Kundhi on seeing his children adapt to a Canadian education.

Remember sending your kids off to school for the first time? The nervousness you felt as you wondered how they’d do and if they’d make friends. Imagine how that would have been if you were a newcomer to the country, sending your kids to classes where they wouldn’t understand anything teachers and students said. A school where the sports, food, music, games and a thousand other things were totally alien to them.

Every September, newly arrived families from around the world go through the ordeal as they send their children to Halifax’s schools. Amar Singh Kundhi first had that experience in 2009, when he and his wife Madhuri settled their family in Halifax. A Punjabi and follower of the Sikh faith, Amar is from Anand, in western India. Halifax bears little resemblance to his hometown, but he believes it’s the best place to educate his children.

Photo: Tammy Fancy/Fancyfreefoto.com

Photo: Tammy Fancy/Fancyfreefoto.com

His oldest son, Prem, is eight and currently in Grade 3. Veer is just turning five, and will start school next year. Learning to speak English almost since birth, he’ll have an advantage over his older brother, who began his first year of school unable to understand anything his teachers and classmates said.

Sonja Grcic Stuart is an EAL/ESL consultant with the Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB). The organization works hard to welcome students like Prem. “There is much to teach about the style of learning,” she says. “Learning materials are often very different. Bullying and safe schools are issues.” With the language barrier, immersing students in English is the most effective approach. “Even with limited language skills, they can meet outcomes in subjects like math and the sciences,” Grcic Stuart says. The province offers parents a Newcomers’ Guide to Nova Scotia Schools and YMCA settlement workers are available to help.

Prem had already done a year in Indian schools, so his family noticed many differences when he started school in Halifax. The transition was often jarring, but as Amar explains in the following interview, his son has adapted quickly.

Why did you choose Halifax?
I was working in the Customs Department in India. It was a good job, but there weren’t options to go further in my career. I looked at many options and one was to come work with Canada Customs. First I had to get my citizenship in Canada and apply, write the exam. It would take many years, so I realized I could use the time to do a graduate program in Canada…The Master of Finance program at Saint Mary’s University appealed to me, so I applied for admission there and came straight to Halifax and I graduated last year.

How do you and your family like Halifax?
Halifax is a small but nice—and beautiful—city. The city we came from, Anand in western India, is much bigger…The boys now like [Halifax]. Initially, it was hard for Prem adjusting to school.

What made it hard?
The main problem was the language. He had to learn English beginning in Grade 1 when we came here. Now he’s in Grade 3. At first it was a big change for all of us, but after some time we started liking it.

How difficult was it for him to learn the language?
It took him six [or] seven months to start understanding what the teacher and other students were saying.

How did he get along with the other kids?
Initially when he could not understand and speak with the other kids, there were a few who started teasing him because he could not talk with them. It was not bullying, but he was not liking it when they used to make fun of him. After time, he started talking with them and then it became alright…He likes school now very much because he remembers the school in India. He compares the school system here with India and he prefers this a lot.

What does he like better here?
[Laughs] Oh, everything. Here, there is no homework given to students at his level. In India, there was a lot of homework even before Grade 1…They had to study every day…Most of what he learned there, even before Grade 1, is still not taught here in Grade 2, so he had to learn much more…Here, the teachers make the students interact with them. The way they teach is more like a game. In India, it’s not like that—it’s teaching out of the book. It’s not fun for the kids to learn. Here it is like the students should enjoy—it can be like a sport or a game and they’re learning.

What do your boys do for fun?
Prem wants to play a game that we followed in India, which was very popular there: cricket. But it’s not popular here. Here the games are different, so he wants to try every game. He likes basketball…Now that he can speak and talk with the students, he has friends and there is no problem.

What was it like for you, as his father, watching him adjust to the new school?
It was difficult when he complained that there were students in his class teasing him. That was a difficult time for me. I came to school and I talked to the principal. I asked him to please take care that the students who are teasing him not come close to him. That was the only time I found it difficult. And when he got bad grades. In English he got a 3. That was unusual [laughs].

Was the school helpful in dealing with the issues?
The principal and teachers kept a watch on the boy during lunch and recess…The matter did not have to reach the parents of those boys. A problem like this should be solved within the school itself. And because we were new here, we also felt that maybe language was the problem. They helped him start communicating and the boys stopped teasing him then.

How have your boys adjusted to things like winter here?
Snow was new for all of us…The children easily adapted because they are so young, but we’ve found it hard to adapt because we are grown up and [we were] used to the hot sun in India.

Is Veer looking forward to starting school?
He’s excited because he goes to day care right now while my wife goes to English classes. It’s at the school and he’s there for half the day…He knows what school is now. He likes going there. It’s fun for the children—there are children there he can interact with. At home he’s bored.

And Prem has been trying lots of different sports?
Yes, he likes badminton….I used to play it in India at the national and international level…He likes to play individual games where you can show your skill, where the action depends on you only.

Does he talk about life in India?
He remembers many things of India. He often mentions, “When we go back to India…” He does miss the old things but he likes this place a lot. My parents are there, so he misses them also. All my relatives are there.

How did they react when you decided to leave?
It was a very difficult decision. The only person in favour was my father. He said, “If you are going for further studies in Canada, there is nothing wrong. You never know—you might have a better future there.” The rest of my relatives did not support my decision. They said I had a good job and to start my career again was very risky because I had a family…But Canada is a developed nation and I thought for my children—if they study in the schools here, they can compete anywhere in the world…It would be a struggle for me but my children’s future would be brighter—that’s what I thought.