CTV featured a story in February about an eight year old boy from Boese Idaho who wrote and illustrated a book and then snuck it onto the shelves in his local library. The librarian found it, catalogued it and now there is a waiting list of over a hundred people who want to read the book. The young author is thrilled his book has such a large audience.
The story reminded me of a project we had at Elmdale School in Steinbach during the 1970s when I was a teacher there. We set up a publishing house right in our school to provide children with professional looking books they had written themselves.
We had ten volunteer parents who typed the children’s stories, with a few lines of text on each page. Then the children illustrated their pages. The volunteers sewed the pages together and made hard covers for them with cardboard and wallpaper and fabric. In one year they helped children in the school publish some 500 books. Each book had a dedication page and an about the author page as well.
The year ended with a full day Young Author’s Conference where children had a chance to read their stories to different groups of students and adults and to listen to authors, journalists and musicians share writing secrets and tips for success.
From 2005 to 2011 when I taught high school English classes I published a school newspaper. My teenage students were excited that their writing would be shared with the whole student body.
Having their work published in some form and then shared with an audience is a real reward for kids no matter their age.It can affirm them as writers and inspire them to continue with their creative work.
We happened to be visiting our grandchildren in Saskatoon just when their school was marking Pink Shirt Daya little ahead of schedule due to an upcoming school winter break.
I was interested to learn that the idea for the day had come from a school in Nova Scotia in 2007 even though now it is recognized world-wide. Although I’d heard of Pink Shirt Day and knew it had to do with bullying prevention I have to admit I really didn’t understand what it was all abouttill my grandchildren filled me in.
My five year old grandson did an excellent job of explaining the event that inspired Pink Shirt Day to me. He said a boy had worn a pink shirt to school one day and some kids had teased him and bullied him for wearing pink. A couple of older kids in the school saw this and went out and bought a bunch of pink shirts for themselves and their friends to wear. By the end of the week nearly every kid in the school was wearing a pink shirt.
My nine- year old grandson’s class had talked about the ideas associated with Pink Shirt Day in a much more sophisticated way. At the supper table one night he said his grade four class had learned about intimidation and he explained what that was to us. My grandson knew about the four kinds of intimidation- social, physical, verbal and emotional and he gave excellent examples of each kind of intimidation. I was impressed with his knowledge but also relieved when after giving it some thought my grandson said he didn’t think he could recall a time when he had been intimidated.
I wish we’d had Pink Shirt Day when I was a kid because I do remember incidents of intimidation and bullying from my school days and I wish I’d been as informed as my grandchildren arewhen it came to handling them.
Next Thursday, March 3, I start teaching an online course for Canadian Mennonite University via Zoom. My class is called Learning About Biblical Women Through Art.Recently I asked a well-known author with plenty of experience doing online teaching what were the keys to a great Zoom class. She said Preparation, Props and Practice.
I have prepared. I’ve written my class notes. I have props. I have made slide presentations with all the artwork we will look at in the course. Now I need to practice.
If you are free for an hour this Saturday morning at 10:00 and are NOT taking my course but wouldn’t mind a peek into what it will be about can you message me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via messenger or send me a note at the end of this blog post and I’ll send you a link for a zoom practice session.
Some of the Biblical women whose stories we are going to explore in the six-week course are………
Aseneth who is depicted in this beautiful painting by Rembrandt.
The Daughters of Zelophehad whose story is illustrated below by Israeli artist Iris Wexler
Susanna as seen in this 1621 work of Valentin-de- Boulogne.
Anna who is captured in a work by an artist’s collective in Cameroon.
If you think you could help me by attending a short trial run for my course I’d love to hear from you today.
Thank you in advance.
Note: If you still want to sign up for the course you can do so here.
I did a post recently about a 120 year old school souvenir booklet I found that my grandmother Annie Jantz Schmidt received from her teacher in 1900 when she was in third grade. I have another treasure of Grandma’s. It is a notebook from the 1905-1906 school year when Grandma would have been in eighth grade.
Grandma has handwritten a list of the twenty- nine students in her class in Hillsboro, Kansas in District 92 and put the date 1905 in the corner. Most of the names are Mennonite ones except for Smith and Witcki. Miss Agnes Nickel is the same teacher listed in Grandma’s souvenir booklet from grade three so I am assuming this was a one room school with all the children grades one to eight in the same class. Grandma is #12 on the list and her sister Marie is #10.
Grandma’s notebook was for all of her subjects. Here she has drawn a map for her geography lesson.
For history class Grandma has made a list of American presidents since the Civil War and at the bottom of the page she’s done some fraction math work.
In her grammar class she has been diagramming sentences.
The notebook contains many different lists of spelling words.
Grandma calls this her draw page where she seems to have done some doodling. Many sketches are of musical instruments or gramophones.
And perhaps most significantly I found this note at the bottom of one of the pages. Grandma’s family left Hillsboro Kansas on August 20th, 1906 and arrived in their new home in Drake Saskatchewan on August 24th of 1906.
I love the glimpse this book gives me into Grandma’s school days more than a century ago. I do not know if she continued going to school once her family arrived in Canada.
I used to teach English at the SRSS in Steinbach where yesterday a small portion of the total student body walked out of the building to engage in a Freedom Protest on the school grounds. They said they wanted to be free of COVID restrictions, masks and mandates.
Of course, COVID restrictions, masks and mandates are inconvenient and students are understandably tired of them but do they truly impinge on their freedom? I kept thinking yesterday of the literature I studied with my students at the SRSS.
Two novels we read were The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis. Those books helped us understand all the freedoms that were lost, particularly by women once the Taliban took over in Afghanistan.
For a Hanover divisional exam, my students had to read a short story about a young person’s experience in a residential school. This was at a time when the truth about residential schools was only beginning to come to light and my students didn’t want to believe that kids and their families were not given the freedom to choose whether they wanted to attend residential schools.
We acted out parts of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and learned how being Black in America not that long ago meant you weren’t necessarily afforded certain fundamental freedoms like the right to a fair trial.
In a unit where artwork inspired our writing we looked at the pieces Manitoba artist Wanda Koop created for her exhibition about her mother’s life called In Your Eyes. We also watched the accompanying film where we learned that like many Mennonite families Wanda’s lost everything in Ukraine when bandits raided her grandparents’ home, killed them and confiscated their house. Soon after that, the remaining family members including Wanda’s mother fled to freedom in Canada.
I could give many other examples of poetry I read with my students, music lyrics we listened to and films we watched that helped us reflect on the meaning of freedom.
The majority of Canadian citizens are happy to make sacrifices to help their neighbours and realize any freedoms we may think we have lost simply pale in comparison to the loss of freedoms millions have experienced in other places and times.
I am sure the English teachers at the SRSS continue to use literary texts that prompt important conversations about the real meaning of freedom. The students outside protesting yesterday needed to be in school participating in those conversations.
On the weekend I was surprised to find a letter in my inbox from my grade five teacher Mr Helmuth Klassen. He had seen a notice about me teaching an online course and it had reminded him of the year he had been my teacher in 1963. He wanted to let me know that he had really enjoyed having me as a student and that he was so pleased every time he noted something in the media about an accomplishment of mine. He said he had learned a lot from methe year I was in his class.
Well, that was certainly a two-way street because I learned a lot from Mr Klassen. He stands out as one of my favourite teachers because he was so innovative and creative in his teaching methods-way ahead of his time. He made our days at Southwood School in Steinbach so interesting.
We listened to radio broadcasts including the news so we could discuss current affairs. We did projects. I remember making books about all kinds of different things. We had to gather information, design creative covers and present our work to the class. I still remember a book I made for our health class. I called it Healthfully Yours and formed the letters for that title from dyed eggshell bits I glued onto the cover of my project.
I remember making these huge Plaster of Paris maps of Canada and painting all the provinces in different colours. I remember we had debates. Mr Klassen taught us how to debate and then we were divided into teams to defend the two sides of important social issues.
And Mr Klassen encouraged us to write and celebrated our writing. Manitoba had a huge snowstorm the year I was in grade five and I wrote a story about it in class which Mr Klassen sent to the local paper The Carillon and they published it!
Mr Klassen’s letter of affirmation on the weekend was such a lovely surprise and so kind. I think I need to consider sending similar letters to students who I particularly enjoyed teaching.
Sorting through some of my aunt’s belongings this past weekend I found a 120-year-old souvenir booklet that had belonged to my grandmother Anna (Annie) Jantz and was given to her in 1901 by her teacher Miss Agnes Nickel. Doing a little research online I discovered that in the early 1900s the teachers of small schools often distributed souvenir booklets to the students at the end of the school year.
The cover of Grandma’s booklet has a picture of George Washington, an American flag, an owl sitting on some books balanced on a globe and a gold sun rising out of the ocean.
The first page in Grandma’s souvenir book has a sketch of a schoolhouse and an introductory message. I wondered if perhaps it was typed by the teacher or someone other than the printing company who made the booklet because the typewriter appears to have had some dirty keysand the large letters and numbers clearly had been created with a stencil.
The second page identifies Grandma’s teacher Agnes Nickel and all the students in her class at the Belfry Public School in District 22 in the Risley Township in Marion County Kansas. I know my grandmother was born in Hillsboro Kansas. Maps show most of the community of Hillsboro lies within the Risley Township.
Although Belfry was a public school it was obviously serving a community of Mennonites since almost every surname on the list is almost instantly identifiable as being of Mennonite origin including those of the teacher, director, clerk and treasurer.
I knew my grandmother’s father Peter Jantz immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1874 living in Illinois for a time and then moving to Kansas in 1877. I also knew Mennonites immigrating from Russia and Poland established more than a dozen communities in Kansas in the 1880s several of them in the Hillsboro area. So the fact that most of the students at the Belfry Public School were Mennonites made sense.
My grandmother Anna (Annie) Jantz’s name is near the bottom of the second row in the class list and I see her older sister Matilda Janz is listed as the second name in the first row. I also see Edward Jantz and John Jantz presumably her brothers in the first row. I am assuming this is a multi-grade classroom so perhaps the students are listed by grade with the more senior students listed first. Since grandma was the youngest in her family it makes sense she is furthest down the list.
The next two pages in the book contain excerpts from two poems The Green River by William Cullen Bryant and The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Another page has an excerpt from a poem called In School Days by John Greenleaf Whittier. I read the full poem and the excerpt here really leaves a lot of the story out. The page opposite is empty. All the pages in the booklet are very, very thin like onion skin paper.
Grandma’s souvenir booklet was produced by the Ohio Printing Company in New Philadelphia Ohio. This page at the end of the book has an illustration from the Biblical story of King David playing music for his sheep or perhaps it is an illustration of the Greek God Pan who played the pipes for his flock.
The back of the book has another image of a schoolhouse. Note the sheared edges of the card and the fancy tassel that holds the book together.
I am so pleased to have this souvenir booklet of my grandmother’s and I love the little glimpse it gives me into her school days in Kansas. Grandma’s family immigrated to Canada in 1906 and settled in Drake Saskatchewan.
I first learned about kindergarten teacher Anna Vogt from my friend Elfrieda Neufeld, who was related to Anna and wrote a story about her for the historical journal Preservings in 1996. As a former kindergarten teacher in both Winnipeg and Steinbach, I was very interested in learning more about Anna a woman who had been a kindergarten pioneer in those same two communities.
Anna Vogt referred to affectionately by her students as Tante Anna (Aunt Anna) was born onSeptember 16, 1883, in Schoenwiese, a village in the Chortitza Mennonite colony in Ukraine. One of the nine offspring of Andreas Vogt and Aganetha Block Vogt, Anna was a sickly baby who her parents didn’t expect to survive. But survive she did and started her education in the Schoenwiese school.
She had to quit school after a few years to help out in the family dry goods store and do housework. In 1902 she was baptized and became a member of the Mennonite church. Her Dad was a minister who valued education and so when Anna was almost thirty years old she convinced him to let her go to Germany to study to become a teacher.
Anna’s education fees were subsidized by a rich mill owner named J. J. Thiessen from the city of Dnipropetrovsk and in 1912 she was off to the prestigious Pestalozzi-Fröbel Haus in Berlin. The school founded by a woman named Henriette Schrader- Breymann in 1882, just the year before Anna was born, was named after prominent Swiss and German educators who believed child’s play was valuable, that each child should be taught as an individual and that children learned by doing.
Pestalozzi-Fröbel Haus was one of the few places in Germany where women could be trained as professionals. By the time Anna went to study there, the school had gained an international reputation with students coming from England, the United States, and many other European countries.
Because Anna’s education had been limited in scope and truncated so many years before, she had to work hard to get her certificate, but in the summer of 1914 just a month before World War I broke out she graduated. That fall her father died and Anna spent the next five years in Dnipropetrovsk working as a nanny and tutor for her benefactor J.J. Thiessen who was a widower with four children.
Just after World War I ended, Anna established her own kindergarten in the community of Nieder Chortitza and soon had more than a hundred children attending classes. Nieder Chortitza was especially hard hit by the civil war in Russia. In 1919 just after Anna must have opened her kindergarten twenty-one people from the village were murdered by the army of Nestor Makhno. Anna moved her kindergarten to other villages and for a time taught at a teacher training institution in Nikolaipol.
Anna, her mother and six of her siblings, and their families came to Canada in 1923 and made their home in Steinbach Manitoba. Anna opened a kindergarten in her home shortly thereafter and later moved it to a building on Elmdale Drive in Steinbach.
Anywhere from 25-50 children ages 3-6 attended classes at Anna’s kindergarten from 9:30 till noon. The school was closed in January and February because of the cold weather but remained in session in July and August. Anna charged $1.00 a month for tuition for a family’s first child. Additional children were only charged 50 cents and Anna never turned down children even if their families couldn’t pay.
Anna ran a tight ship. Although at times children were free to chat and visit, when Anna asked for silence she expected it and tested it by dropping a pin to see if she could hear the sound it made. Activities during a typical kindergarten session included crafts, colouring, nature study, memory work, snack time, and storytelling. The Christmas programs put on by Anna’s students were popular community events.
In 1938 she accepted an invitation from the German-speaking Mennonite community in the North Kildonan area of Winnipeg to open a kindergarten there. She continued doing that work until 1966. Anna worked alone except during her last ten years of teaching when she was joined by assistant Annie Dyck who carried on Anna’s work after she retired in 1966 at age 82.
Anna died in 1975 at age 91, outliving all save one of her siblings. She was a resident at the time in the Bethania Personal Care Home which had been founded by her sister Maria Vogt and her brother Abram Vogt.
In her tribute to Anna, my friend Elfrieda Neufeld calls her a forceful visionary with a hearty laugh who left a legacy of love for children.
One of the progressive things Kelvin Goertzen did during his short time as the premier of our province was insure there will be a treaty acknowledgment at the start of Manitoba legislative sittings in the future. It will recognize the fact that the land on which the legislature meets was once the home of Indigenous people.
Right after his appointment Premier Goertzen struck a committee to provide a report on the best way to carry out such an acknowledgment and admitted as House Leader he probably should have made that happen sooner. In a CBC interview, Goertzen said the discovery of the unmarked graves at residential schools was a significant event for him and his family that crystalized the need for a treaty or land acknowledgment.
Of course, many organizations and institutions have been doing these acknowledgments for a long time. My church instituted the practice about five years ago. After we began to have a treaty acknowledgment in our bulletin, on our website, and frequently announce it at the start of our services, we created a colorful brochure to explain our rationale. I was asked to write the text for the brochure, and it was a good exercise for me.
I had to research the history of our province and find a way to articulate our church’s goal to recognize the important contributions Indigenous people have made to the geographical area where we worship. In my text, I expressed our church’s desire to learn from the spirituality and culture of our Indigenous neighbors and to work at building a strong respectful relationship with them that would result in reconciliation.
I am employed as a guide by the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and we have done treaty acknowledgments at the start of each of our tours since 2016. The gallery staff participated in training sessions where we learned all about Treaty One signed in 1874 between Indigenous leaders and the British Crown.
The two groups had very different ideas about what the treaty meant. While the Indigenous leaders thought it would protect their way of life and provide a framework for sharing land, the British thought the land was being ceded to them. I was glad for this training because it helped me provide an explanation when gallery guests asked me why I did a land acknowledgment before my tours.
In my job with the education department at the University of Winnipeg, I visited many schools in the Winnipeg One School Division which began to do treaty acknowledgments each day in all their schools beginning in 2017.
It was good to read recently that the Hanover School Division where I taught for decades has approved a treaty acknowledgment statement as well. Superintendent Shelley Amos says it is a way to show honor and respect for Indigenous people and their land and express the division’s desire to move forward in constructive ways in their relationship with Indigenous people.
While school divisions like Winnipeg One have made treaty acknowledgments a requirement Hanover will leave it up to individual schools to decide on what occasions and in what situations the division’s official acknowledgment statement would have the most impact. A plaque with the acknowledgment will be placed on all properties owned by the school division.
We have been hearing land and treaty acknowledgments at sporting events, cultural events, business events, and religious events for many years now. It is good to know that both the Hanover School Division and the Manitoba Legislature are joining the effort to recognize the contributions of our Indigenous neighbors and to express our willingness to work towards reconciliation in our province.
When I visited the main branch of the Calgary Library recently I saw this sign announcing that their city libraries are now fine-free. This means patrons will no longer be charged late fees for not bringing back items in a timely manner. Winnipeg libraries have had a similar policy since January of 2021.
One of the reasons libraries have implemented this policy is that once families owed money to a library in late fees they simply stopped coming and that meant their children no longer had access to library books. In Calgary, they figured some 19,000 children had stopped coming to the library because of late fees.
Studies have shown children from low-income families are the ones most impacted. Their families can’t afford to pay their fines so they stop coming to the library even though these are exactly the same families who might not be able to afford to buy books for their children to read at home. Libraries should be places of equitable access and late fees undermined that.
Surprisingly research shows that when libraries eliminate late fees there is actually a higher return of books, circulation increases, as does library use. In most libraries that have eliminated late fees, 95% of the materials checked out are still returned. Of course, eliminating late fees does not mean eliminating all responsibility. If people lose books or damage them beyond repair, or never return them, they are still charged a replacement fee.
A CBC report in February of this year indicated some 300 library systems in Canada have eliminated late fees. Some started doing this during the pandemic for obvious reasons and then decided not to reinstitute the fees when services returned to normal.Although eliminating late fees does represent a loss of revenue for libraries, usually about 1% of their budgets, most have found creative ways to balance those losses.
Late fees may soon be a thing of the past at all libraries. I think that’s a good thing.