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It really does take a village

Lisa Sygutek

Jul 5, 2023

At the end of the day, we just want our kids to be kind, work to their potential and to shine.

The following is a letter Quinn and I sent to the administration of the Livingstone Range School Division regarding a teacher at Crowsnest Consolidated High School. I asked Quinn’s permission to put our letter in the paper, and he whole heartedly said YES!

To: Richard Feller, Associate Superintendent, Human & Learning Services

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward.

I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge a teacher in your division. We often hear the negative stories about teachers; what they do wrong or what they fail to do. Rarely do we hear of the incredible impact they have had on a student. I want to take this moment to acknowledge the impact Mr. Ryan Peebles, from the Crowsnest Consolidated High School, has had on my son, Quinn Douglas.

The background of our story:

I have had four sons go through the Crowsnest Consolidated High School. I have had moments of incredible highs and moment of incredible lows. I have seen five different administrators in that time and have seen the school move from an exclusive to an inclusive environment. I acknowledge that my children have a headstart on life. They have a stable environment with loving parents who support and foster them. By default, my boys have had every avenue for success, and I acknowledge that.

In Grade 10 Quinn was working hard, but not seeing realized results and from this we had him tested. What sets Quinn apart is that he has been diagnosed as learning disability / gifted. In fact, he has been clinically diagnosed with one of the lowest processing scores Paul Jerry Ph.D. has ever seen in a student. This processing diagnosis comes with a myriad of issues, mostly time related.

During Quinn’s Grade 10 year his extra-curricular successes included reconstituting Student Council, joining the Youth Committee for Teck Resources, and sitting on the Board for the Learning for Life Program, all the while trying to be academically proficient.

At the end of his Grade 10 year, despite making the honour roll and being a role model in his school, when awards were being handed out, he was not selected for the Pursuit of Excellence award. This hit him on a visceral level as he was devastated. In his mind, he had accomplished everything he thought he could do as a citizen of the school, yet his teachers did not appear to see it or acknowledge it. From his experience he decided to pursue top student in Grade 11, because he felt that was not an arbitrary decision as it was based purely on a grade point average.

Quinn’s Grade 11 journey:

Grade 11 started with Quinn acknowledging his processing deficits while pursuing his academic excellence. The journey began with minimizing his course load and taking Social 20 as a distance learning course, which he excelled at as it was a non-traditional environment.

In his first semester he was also lucky to have the teaching of Mrs. Jody Peebles for Math 20. I want to acknowledge that she was kind and fair and made a positive difference, demonstrating to him that he could strive for excellence, despite his processing issue. He finished the semester with 94 per cent.

From this Quinn learned that he could achieve great things with focused hard work.

The one person in the school who had the biggest impact on Quinn’s life was Mr. Ryan Peebles. Mr. Peebles taught Quinn for both semesters in Physics 20 and 30, Biology 20 and Chemistry 20, or in Quinn’s words “255 school days”.

Mr. Peebles not only acknowledged Quinn’s learning disability but created a safe learning environment for him. He fostered a rapport with Quinn that allowed him to be vulnerable, to not be embarrassed by his disability, and in fact showed him that he had a voice in advocating for himself. Quinn felt safe in Mr. Peebles’ classes and blossomed under his inspirational tutelage. Quinn started Grade 11 with apathy and Mr. Peebles empowered Quinn to be the best version of himself despite his disability, and in turn leverage the positive aspects of his gift for academic excellence. Quinn internalized a significant amount of stress as he navigated the additional requirements for his processing issue, both studying and examinations, and Mr. Peebles created a bond of trust that helped Quinn maintain the perspective needed to achieve excellence even when I felt helpless as a parent navigating the pressure, he put on himself. Quinn finished these classes with the following grades: Physics 20: 92 per cent, Biology 20: 93 per cent and Chemistry 20: 93 per cent, before departmental results.

I can’t express this any better than these words from Quinn, “As my teacher, Mr. Peebles went far beyond the traditional role of teacher and became a true mentor. Through genuine care for not just myself, but my peers as well, he pushed us to greater heights and fostered our potential. His classroom, beyond academics. was a place you were shown kindness, empathy, and respect. He treated every student as an individual with unique strengths and challenges. He always took the time to listen, understand, and offer guidance. I will always remember, Mr. Peebles as a truly great mentor, and a great person. I will always remember the life lessons he has instilled in me.”

The purpose of this letter is to request that the division publicly and meaningfully recognize the exemplary and life-changing impact Mr. Peebles has had on my son, and according to Quinn many in his classes. Quinn has huge aspirations in life and with people like Ryan behind him, anything is achievable. Ryan has changed my son’s life as he believed in Quinn when Quinn didn’t even believe in himself. I truly believe Quinn will remember Ryan’s impact for years to come. Quinn is a better person for having had Ryan in his life. Isn’t that truly the inspirational role of a great teacher.”

I decided to reprint this for a few reasons. First, as a parent to be aware of what your child is doing in school, not just socially but academically. When your child says things are difficult, figure out why. Is it test anxiety, a disability or emotional health?

Aiden has the same learning disability as Quinn, but not as severe. Aiden’s was caught in middle school. When you ask Aiden to complete multiple tasks you can tell right away there is a lag in his processing skills. It’s relatively apparent.

With Quinn, I missed it and so did his teachers. Because he is a good athlete, I just assumed that he was processing fast.

It was only when Quinn told me at the end of Grade 10 that I caught it, and only when he told he was frustrated because he didn’t have enough time to finish tests.

I immediately had him tested and the results were astonishing. Because he has a learning disability with processing, he gets extra time on testing. It’s life changing for him.

Aiden has the same accommodation and it’s carried through at university. Aiden is entering his fourth year of engineering at the University of Alberta and without this time testing accommodation I know he would fail.

The second reason we are sharing this is to give a shout out to a special teacher who has had an incredible impact on my young man. I truly believe that Quinn will remember Mr. Peebles long after he is done school; an impression has been made and it will carry on in life.

I still to this day remember the impact Isabelle Russell had on me as my English teacher.

As a society, we are quick to judge and criminalize teachers when we feel they have done wrong, but rarely do we applaud when they do a lot right.

So, I know this is long, but I think the lesson is strong. Watch, look, listen, and question the life of your child. When something feels off it usually is.

Quinn left me on Sunday to live at York University (just outside of Toronto) for the month of July. He’s surrounded by some the most academically gifted students in Canada. He will thrive there even with his disability. Without the testing and the prognosis, I’m not quite sure where he’d be right now; I’m assuming struggling to keep up and frustrated. Instead, he understands what he has, embraces it, and looks for ways to be successful despite it.

I do wonder how many struggling students with similar issues have yet the parents have no way of testing. Testing costs money and many can’t afford it.

I wish we tested every struggling child and perhaps there would be a lot more success in the school system, that translates to adult life performance.

As I watched Quinn in the line at the airport ready and eager to travel alone for the month, I was filled with a lot of pride and as you know a fair amount of sadness that he is leaving, even if it’s only for a short time.

At the end of the day, we just want our kids to be kind, work to their potential and to shine. Perhaps if we all had that attitude for our youth, we would have a much kinder society.

If we promoted the good that people do instead of concentrating on the bad, perhaps we would have an even better world for our kids to grown up in.

So, thank you Ryan Peebles and Paul Jerry for helping me shape my son into a great man. It really does take a village!

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