Recognizing life’s heroes

A 12-week Heroes program builds on strengths rather than looking at problems.

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Trustworthy. Generous. Kind. Honest. Reliable.

These words were part of something of a transformation going on in a Grade 8 classroom recently.

Students were in their ninth week of the 12-week Heroes program, where they were learning a new language of sorts.

“It gets them to search within themselves, things they wouldn’t normally touch on,” says teacher Erin Janowsky of the program. “I think they actually quite enjoy it. In some ways it’s challenging…”

On one recent Wednesday morning, the students, with the participation and support of three SilverBacks hockey players, were drawing on their explorations in earlier classes to come up with an individual mission statement, or purpose, for themselves.

“They came up with beautiful mission statements – really powerful and inspiring,” said Janowsky.

She’s thrilled the students are taking part in the pilot program being offered at Shuswap Middle School.

“I would coin this as ‘ the real life’ curriculum. I think it’s one of the most important things these kids will learn.”

Teaching the Heroes program is Venee Gunn, a teacher by training but, in this instance, a volunteer. Her relationship with the program began in Guatemala, where her family was working in a home with children who had been apprehended from their families. Some teachers volunteering there were in the midst of translating the Heroes program into Spanish.

When Gunn returned to Canada, she learned the program was being taught in Alberta, so she went there to train. Schools in Vancouver are using it, she said, but none in the Okanagan-Shuswap.

“It builds from strengths rather than looking at problems, which really attracted me to the program,” Gunn says, explaining that it focuses on three things – building confidence, integrity and character.

The program defines a hero as someone who uses their gifts and abilities to make a positive change in themselves and others.

“What we’re teaching is that everyone is a hero and has the potential to live like one,” says Gunn. “It’s a self-discovery program is what it is. It’s discovering you have gifts and abilities and you have a desire to succeed. It helps them discover these things and find purpose for themselves. That’s what I really love about it.”

During this class, the students – and SilverBacks – share their homework with the rest of the students. The questions require answers from the heart. Questions like ‘what are you good at?’ ‘what is an accomplishment of yours?’ and ‘what do you want to be known for?’

Gunn said she invited the SilverBacks to participate for a number of reasons.

“It brings youth – something closer to their age – and mentorship… It’s really important to the success of the program,” she says, pointing out that when the students hear the hockey players give their answers first, they relate and their fears are diminished.

On this particular day, Shane Hanna, Bryden Marsh and Blake Box are present, but Gunn says many members of the team have attended over the course of the program.

After the SilverBacks and students share their mission statements with the class, to praise from Gunn, she tells students the statements don’t change; their essence remains.

“Could anyone tell you now you don’t have a purpose? No. You have a compass,” she says, encouraging the students to read the statements when they go to bed at night and when they wake up in the morning.

“It’s really rewarding,” says Gunn of her experience teaching the program. “Today, I think, was a good measure of the success of the program. If they can come up with a mission statement of their own, I am really pleased with what they retained even though they only see me once a week. The teachers are here and hear it – they can carry it on. A positive language is created that’s common to students and teachers.”


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