Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Teacher studies, students learn

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CITIZENSHIP may seem like an abstract topic to teach to a group of Grade 1 students, but Carol Harms, a teacher and acting principal at Beautiful Saviour Lutheran School in St. Boniface, has found a unique way of getting the message across.

On May 7, she led her students on a field trip to citizenship court, where she was sworn in as a brand-new Canadian citizen. Fortunately, citizenship court is the one kind of courtroom in which it's okay to bring a cheering section.

"The judge said, 'Mrs. Harms, I think you need to turn around and take a bow,'" she says.

The ceremony was a lesson in citizenship for the students, and for many of their parents who came along for the event.

"They said it was the most impressive thing they'd ever seen," says the U.S.-born Harms. "There were 55 people from 29 different countries becoming (Canadian) citizens."

It turned out to be an emotional moment for Harms, even though it wasn't her first time in citizenship court.

"I told the parents, as we were getting the kids ready, I feel like I'm going to a wedding."

Her husband, Dr. Leonard Harms, had taken the oath a few years before. Her daughter Kendra has taken the written test to become a citizen, and is awaiting notification of her day to be sworn in.

"My husband travels a lot and he finds having the Canadian passport he's always welcome," she says.

Although she's a teacher, Harms says the prospect of studying for a citizenship test was daunting. She was pleased, though, to discover that people 60 or over don't have to take the test.

Not that a short quiz on Canada would have been a huge challenge anyway. Harms has had an interest in Canada ever since she was a little girl growing up in Oregon.

"Even in Grade 1, I listened to Yukon King on the radio," she says.

As an adult, she taught school children about Canadian geography. Then, while living in a small town in Montana not far from the Canadian border, she heard O Canada every morning on the radio.

"We could sing O Canada long before we moved here," she says.

In the 10 years she has lived here, Harms has traversed much of the true north, strong and free. She travels frequently to Vancouver and Edmonton, and loves driving across the Prairie provinces. She's visited Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, where she visited the Group of Seven museum, and she dreams of taking a trip to the North. She has aboriginal friends in Dryden, Ont. who have taken her out onto the Canadian Shield lakes of the area.

"I have friends across Canada," she says.

Beautiful as she says the country is, Harms says it's the people who attracted her to become a citizen.

"Other places I've lived, women will talk about food, children. Here, in the circles I visit, the women are talking about politics."

In her own small school, there are two students whose families are going through the immigration process. As well, a group of recent arrivals from east Africa take language classes at the school.

Harms has also been inspired by conversations with Valerie Pierce, a parent at the school who teaches English as a second language. Through her, Harms has learned more about the work and sacrifice that many new Canadians make to come to Canada and adjust to life here.

That's why she decided to bring her students to the court to watch the swearing-in ceremony.

"I want the children to know that there are many people who would want to live in Canada because of what Canada has to offer," she says. "I want them to see this so they don't take it for granted. They'll never forget this."

And given the timing of her swearing-in ceremony, Harms isn't going to take her citizenship rights for granted when this spring's provincial election comes.

"I am listening very carefully. I really believe my vote does count."

PHOTO LINDA VERMETTE/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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