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Teachers make a difference in the lives of P.E.I.'s students


CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Leah Ellis has known since she was a child that she wanted to be a teacher.

The music/Grade 2-3 humanities teacher at St. Jean Elementary School grew up in a house where both parents were teachers, who worked long hours and were committed to their profession.

“I was always positively influenced by them,’’ Ellis said. “When you’re a part of a school, you’re part of a community, and that’s meaningful and that was something that always appealed to me. My parents were heavily involved in their schools, so that was inspiring. I hope to be like that, too; that it creates meaningful connections in my life and the lives of others.’’

Tracey McAskill, the youth service worker at St. Jean, takes pride in being the first face the students see when they get off the bus. She co-ordinates the breakfast program, ensuring that each student begins the day with a full belly.

“You can tell when the kids get off the bus that they’re having a good day or not a good day, and if I can make a difference for a student that’s not having a great start to their day . . . my job is rewarding for me because I know that I can help,’’ said McAskill.

In recognition of Teacher and Staff Appreciation Week, Feb. 11-15, The Guardian sat down with Ellis and McAskill and asked them why they think teachers and staff make a difference in the lives of children.

It was a question Ellis found easy to answer.

“We give them time to explore their interests or give them time to share something that is meaningful to them and in music I get an opportunity to do that as an elementary music teacher. I get to share my love of music and they get to share that with me, too,’’ Ellis said. “It’s that kind of connection that you can have with your students is what makes it all worthwhile.’’


My own experience

I was a shy kid without a lot of self-confidence through my 12 years of grade school. I had many great teachers who inspired me along the way. But I was a late bloomer when it came to education.

Guardian reporter Dave Stewart
Guardian reporter Dave Stewart

It was when I came across Vaughn Jelliffe who taught Canadian studies at UPEI that things turned around for me. I had been academically dismissed from UPEI the year before for poor marks, but the dean of arts in 1988, Vern Smitheram, decided to give me another chance.

I was lost, but I took that chance and enrolled in Jelliffe’s class.

She did things differently in her classes, she focused completely on the student; she interacted with the student. Thanks to Jelliffe I finally came out of my shell and turned my post-secondary education effort around, graduating from UPEI and then Holland College and the University of Kings College.

I’m not sure any of that would have happened had that one teacher, and that one dean of arts, not reached out and offered to help, when I most needed it.

Is there a teacher that made a difference in your life? Tell us about it at letters@theguardian.pe.ca.


Amanda MacIntosh, a Grade 6 math teacher at St. Jean Elementary School in Charlottetown, works out the numbers with student Mahmoud Yassindali. - Mitsuki Mori
Amanda MacIntosh, a Grade 6 math teacher at St. Jean Elementary School in Charlottetown, works out the numbers with student Mahmoud Yassindali. - Mitsuki Mori

As a youth service worker, McAskill works with students in a different way. Besides the breakfast program and being the first face they see every day, McAskill helps the children with any friendship issues they might have. She also works on social skills issues and expected behaviour in school versus unacceptable behaviour. She also works on crafts with students during recess.

“They see (me) and they know it’s someone safe and that they can talk with you and you’re going to make their day a little brighter by being there for them,’’ McAskill said. “It does make a big difference. You make (a) connection.’’

Ellis said time is the biggest challenge teachers face. Every second of the day is accounted for. Sometimes she’ll have to tell a student who needs a bit more time with her to come back later.

McAskill said her challenges can involve what takes place at home. Each student comes from a “different situation’’. She wishes she could spread herself out more.

“(But) we’re here with these kids for six hours a day and if you can make a difference with even one child then you’ve done a good job,’’ McAskill said.

Despite the challenges, both women say their jobs are rewarding. One instrument Ellis uses in her class is the ukulele. She gets to put it in their hands for the first time and watch them learn a couple of chords by the end of the first class.

“They can make a song, and it’s this feeling that they can actually play an instrument on their own with autonomy,’’ Ellis said. “That is one of my favourite parts of the job; that they can create music by themselves. I cherish that so much. It never gets old for me.’’

While the focus of this story is on Ellis and McAskill, Ellis said the answers would be the same if The Guardian talked to pretty much any teacher or staff member across the province.

“I think you’d be hard pressed to find a teacher that doesn’t go the extra mile,’’ she said. “You would really struggle to find someone who doesn’t go beyond what expectations are. You see them in experiments or activities, taking part in extracurricular activities, in general life; you see teachers constantly and perpetually going the extra mile.’’

Twitter.com/DveStewart


By the numbers

  • There are 62 public schools in P.E.I., 56 English and six French. There are five private schools licensed to operate in the province
  • 20,802 students are enrolled in K-12 programs in 2018-19, including 19,378 students in the Public Schools Branch, 983 students in the French language board and 441 in private schools
  • There are 1,600 full-time teaching positions in the public school system, 400 educational assistants and youth service workers, 286 school bus drivers, 200 custodial and maintenance staff and 110 administrative staff in schools and school boards
  • The province has 332 school buses in the provincial fleet
  • The 500 courses taught in public schools are based on provincial curriculum which defines what students are expected to know and be able to do at each grade level
  • The system has new faces in more than 20 new principal and vice-principal positions this year
  • More than 20 new staff joined the new student well-being team this year in the Bluefield, Colonel Gray and Souris-Morell families of schools
  • There are also four new school psychologists, as well as four intervention support teachers and two tech facilitators to implement the assessment recommendations

Leah Ellis, the music teacher at St. Jean Elementary School in Charlottetown, enjoys watching the students learn to play instruments such as the ukulele or the recorder. She’s pictured with students, from left, Marley Penney, Sadie Squires, Jake Buchanan and Kris Capo. - Mitsuki Mori
Leah Ellis, the music teacher at St. Jean Elementary School in Charlottetown, enjoys watching the students learn to play instruments such as the ukulele or the recorder. She’s pictured with students, from left, Marley Penney, Sadie Squires, Jake Buchanan and Kris Capo. - Mitsuki Mori

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