Four Manitoba teachers are going to Juno Beach in Normandy, France, next week for an educational experience of a lifetime.
Scott Powers of Gimli High School, Alison Lynch of West Kildonan Collegiate, Mary Ellen Campbell of St. John's-Ravenscourt School and Paul Longtin of Garden City Collegiate will be among 22 Canadian history educators being hosted by the Juno Beach Centre from July 28 to Aug. 4. The group will step onto the battlefields of France for historical training as part of the 10th annual Professional Development Battlefield Tour for Educators.
"It's a pretty big honour for all of us because you're in the mix with teachers from right across Canada, so being chosen as one of the 22 teachers to go, it's pretty honourable," said Powers, 59. His father, Murray, served in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War.
Powers said it is a chance to share important details as well as messages with their students that can be uniquely conveyed in the study of history.
"I tell my students, you're the witnesses now. Everyone is getting older, veterans and survivors, everyone that can make those connections is getting older. So if we don't keep it alive, if we don't teach it, it will be just pages in a text book. And that's not good enough," Powers said. "It truly is the George Santayana quote, 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' "
This year is a historic milestone as 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the centennial of the start of the First World War.
"It's been a dream of mine to actually go to Juno Beach. It is a trip of a lifetime," said Lynch, 30. "I'm a science and math teacher so I have a special interest in the science and technology that was created during (the two world wars). There's a lot to be learned through this to help understand what was happening at the time."
During the 10-day tour, the participants will tour Vimy Ridge, Beaumont-Hamel, Dieppe and historical sites in Normandy including the Juno Beach Centre, Omaha Beach and Arromanches, with a remembrance service at the Bretteville Canadian War Cemetery, where 2,500 Canadians are buried.
The educators were chosen based on letters they wrote in which they described the personal and professional benefits these experiences would bring and how it would impact their teaching of Canadian history.
Campbell, 50, said the four Manitoba teachers met on July 16 and planned to meet again after the trip.
"Before school starts again, we want to meet and discuss how we can help with each other (in presentations to students)."
The Juno Beach Centre, which pays for about half of the trip for the teachers, was founded by Second World War veterans and volunteers in 2003.