Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Accentuate the positive
Teacher, class have only good things to say about our city
Susan Pereles has heard and read enough complaining.
Enough of the bad local news about the potholes and frozen pipes and our long, cold winters running into spring. Oh yes, and enough of columns about violent attacks on visitors to The Forks.
"We have been very disappointed to read all the negative articles about our wonderful city in the Winnipeg Free Press recently," the River Heights teacher wrote in an email that spoke for herself and her 24 grades 5 and 6 students at Brock Corydon School.
Mind you, Pereles had enough long ago. Enough of all our focusing on what's wrong with our city, but not enough about everything that should make us grateful about where we live. Which was what she said in her own impassioned way when I took her up on an invitation to drop by the class and meet the kids.
"We're so good at putting ourselves down," Pereles told me on arrival. "But we have to learn how to put ourselves up. And we have to understand how much we have, what we take for granted."
Which is why Pereles decided to make teaching and promoting Winnipeg her personal and professional mission.
That was four years ago, around the time her two daughters were entering their 20s and she was concerned they might join the exodus of young and gifted people from the city that not enough of them appreciated. If it was too late to convince her own kids, maybe it wasn't too late to at least teach her young, still open-minded students a Winnipeg appreciation course.
So Pereles contacted the city and the next thing she knew, she and her class had partnered with Tourism Winnipeg.
"And we became kind of these child ambassadors for the city," she explained this week.
In fact, her class is featured on page 35 of this year's Tourism Guide, where they have selected the Top 10 Must Sees for families visiting Winnipeg. Over the years, River Heights city Coun. John Orlikow and Tom Ethans from Take Pride Winnipeg have been involved as mentors.
So how does this project-centred class in appreciating Winnipeg work? Extremely well, from what I witnessed Thursday in Pereles' brightly decorated Winnipeg love-in of a classroom, where her eager 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old students basically teach themselves about the history, culture, architecture, current events and people of the city.
"They're the creative ones," Pereles said. "They come up with the ideas and I just listen. And then we research or we check something out, or something happens on the news or in the newspaper and we respond."
One year, her class did a project called We Are Found in Winnipeg.
"It was about multiculturalism, so we worked with Folklorama."
Then there was Diamonds in the Rough, where the kids learned to appreciate the city's architecture.
"And this one was Beauty: Winnipeg is in the eye of the beholder," Pereles said, pointing to a brightly painted mural on the classroom wall.
Another year, a student did a project on local rock 'n' roll legends and reportedly located Neil Young's guitar teacher. Who knew?
This year's project is C into Winnipeg, where the children chose nearly two dozen positive words about the city that start with the letter C. Then they researched the subjects.
And made a book.
For example, the C-word Courage uncovered the history of Valour Road for 12-year-old Erik Goddard.
Creativity and Charity and the Convention Centre were on this list, too.
So were City Hall and Confusion Corner, which are arguably the same topic.
Oops, sorry, Ms.Pereles.
I'm guessing the negative C-word Crime wasn't on the list. But Cops were. They even dropped by and participated. Jeremiah Rohne, who is 10, chose Climate. He told me he loves Winnipeg's winters.
Another 10-year-old, Jade Hrynyk, selected the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
As it happened, it was the CMHR that led to a classroom discussion Thursday morning. Actually, what sparked it was a "rant" Pereles heard in the media about the money that's being spent on the CMHR being better spent on potholes.
"We don't care about potholes," one of the children said.
Another student put the potholes in a bigger perspective.
"No one is going to come from halfway around the world to look at our roads."
To which their teacher responded: "I don't have to say anything more."
Oh, but Susan Pereles will say more. Winnipeg, thankfully, hasn't heard the last from the city's greatest one-woman show of love of place. That teaches us how to "C" ourselves differently.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2014 B1
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