‘Incredible mother, incredible teacher’
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/12/2021 (225 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Megan Wolff was the kind of teacher who always had former students dropping by Room 107 to poke their heads into her classroom, catch up, or give her a hug — if not all of the above.
Those closest to Wolff say she was born to be a loving mother to her two children and the hundreds of nursery students she took into her care throughout her career of more than 10 years in the Winnipeg School Division.
“She would do anything for my sister and I, and anyone she loved — and that included her students. She gave her all to her students,” said her adult son, Alex Kirbyson.
Every year around Christmas, Wolff was overwhelmed by handmade cards, chocolates and other gifts of appreciation. This year, she was unable to give a proper goodbye to her students at École J.B. Mitchell School before the winter break.
Wolff experienced flu-like symptoms on Dec. 20 that forced her to miss the final days of classes in 2021. Her symptoms became so severe that 911 was called the following day.
The healthy 53-year-old, who had received three doses of COVID-19 vaccine, tested positive for the virus on Wednesday. Wolff later went into cardiac arrest and experienced a severe immune response. She died on Christmas morning at St. Boniface Hospital.
The exact details about the cause of death and where she contracted the virus remain uncertain.
The province’s COVID-19 school dashboard shows a single exposure occurred at J.B. Mitchell, which has a student population of 400, during the two weeks prior to Dec. 21.
On any given academic year, Wolff could have upwards of 40 students, between morning and afternoon slots.
The sheer number of students meant report card time was a challenge, but she made a point of writing personalized messages for every student, said Andy Gow, her partner of 7½ years — the latter of which involved much planning to manage a long-distance relationship (Wolff lived in Winnipeg; Gow was stationed in Colorado) in spite of travel restrictions.
“There was no cut-and-paste with her,” he said, adding his partner did everything with love.
“She didn’t know any other way. She was an incredible friend, an incredible mother, an incredible teacher.”
Wolff was a big believer in play-based learning, who often took students on seasonal nature walks in River Heights, a neighbourhood she called home for decades.
Penny McLandress, an educational assistant, said her friend curated a “warm and happy vibe” in her classroom. She liked to introduce students to new music and sing along with them, be it to the Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun or another comforting tune, said McLandress.
Pandemic disruptions inevitably took a toll on the teacher’s well-being, given the stress of conducting online learning for four-year-olds and attempting to socially distance youngsters who could not wear masks over the last 21 months.
She found solace in sharing her struggles with fellow educators, book club with her friends, and taking her beloved companion, a Husky named Jasper, for long walks.
“She didn’t waver. She was resolute and she did the very best job she could in a really, really stressful time,” said Jennifer Carter, her slightly older twin sister.
The sisters, alongside their parents and younger brother, moved to Winnipeg from Ottawa in the mid-80s for their father’s work. The twins both enrolled in the University of Manitoba to pursue teaching. While they shared much in common, Carter is the extroverted twin and Wolff was known for being more introverted.
Wolff was the only family member to prolong her stay and settle down in Winnipeg, which is where she met the man who would become the father of her children and husband of 15 years; Geoff Kirbyson and Wolff maintained a friendship after they split.
Mia Kirbyson said her mom was known for being a welcoming, non-judgmental and “grounding presence” — so much so, the 24-year-old’s friends often sought out Wolff for advice.
Following a busy fall, Mia, Alex and their mom had planned to unwind over the holidays together, perhaps with board games and horror movies. Wolff had already wrapped her kids’ presents, some of which remain untouched under her Christmas tree.
In recent days, amid the raw grief, Alex said he has found comfort in the photos and ornaments of the cherubs that decorate his mother’s home.
“My mom always loved angels. She went as one for Halloween in her classroom, and she has them all over her house,” said the 21-year-old. “In a way, she’s kind of becoming our Christmas angel.”
In a letter sent to the J.B. Mitchell community on Boxing Day, principal Paulette Huggins described Wolff as a highly respected and much-loved educator, “(who) will be remembered for her caring nature and for her great love of teaching young children.”
Clinical support services staff from the division are expected to visit the elementary school in the new year to support the community in mourning.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
Updated on Thursday, December 30, 2021 7:26 AM CST: Adds photo