A tribute to a well-loved School District 83 teacher will provide students at Salmon Arm West Elementary a place to learn and express themselves under the peaks of the Shuswap mountains she loved so much.
Shannon Sharp, a teacher who spent more than 30 years in the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District, died due to cancer on Jan. 8 at 56 years old. To honour her memory and carry forward her passion for the outdoors and education, her co-workers and family are raising funds to install the Shannon Sharp Learning Circle.
Shannon had a vision to enable outdoor learning at Salmon Arm West, a vision that was shared by fellow teacher Sharon Langlois, who is spearheading this tribute.
“When she came here, we were talking about making a little place behind the school where we could hang tarps and use bales of hay for benches, it was nothing to the scale of what this will be … but I think she would be thrilled,” Langlois said.
Related: Column: Why outdoor learning?
Shannon’s husband, Troy, and children Jared and Jennifer, were surprised to hear of the memorial project, and feel deeply honoured by the tribute.
“It means a great deal to us, we want to jump on board right now and help make this a reality. We are going to be with it the whole way until this goal is met, until this thing is finished. We are committed to this and it means a lot to us,” Troy said.
Both of Shannon’s children are becoming teachers themselves; Jennifer currently works in the district as an education assistant and Jared has plans to do the same. They fondly remember their mother’s passion for education and the lasting impact she made on her students.
“Growing up, all of my friends said she was their favourite teacher. I used to think they were just saying it to be nice, but as I got older I saw just how much people loved her,” Jared said.
Shannon taught for many years at Bastion Elementary, before making the move to Salmon Arm West four years ago. She immediately received a warm welcome, gaining the affectionate nickname Auntie Sharp.
“I think that just goes to show the relationships she had; it wasn’t just teaching them, it was being their family as well,” Langlois said. “I think they felt that, they felt her love and her concern and her caring. The parents felt that too. Just the respect, the love people held for her was obvious in every way.”
For her daughter, Jennifer, Shannon’s memory will always shine bright like a beacon.
“She just shone, she was like a shining light. When she walked into a room she stuck out, she was one of those people who you would look at and just smile,” she said.
The learning circle is meant to reflect Shannon’s love of the outdoors and her dream of providing an outdoor space where students and teachers can gather to share knowledge, stories and meals. It also symbolizes Shannon’s connection with her Metis and Secwepemc heritage, and the design of the structure will reflect Indigenous traditions. Four posts will mark the four directions and the four mountains surrounding the Shuswap: Larch Hills, Mount Ida, Fly Hills and Bastion Mountain.
“I think more than anything she had an appreciation of the beauty of the world. Her favourite song is this song called ‘Wonderland,” Langlois said.
“That kind of sums it up in a lot of ways, just really appreciating the beauty of things, the quiet beauty of things,” Jennifer adds.
“She liked to go to the edge of the cliff on Bastion up there, as high as she could get on a mountain and just see, just look out over where we live,” Troy said.
The structure will be round, reflecting key learning concepts and cycles of nature such as life cycles of plants and animals, and the hope is to construct the four cardinal posts out of round logs sourced from the Shuswap. A quote has been received for a pre-built structure, but they hope to bring costs down with volunteer support in the building process.
Local organizations and volunteers have already been stepping up to offer their help, including a $1,000 contribution from the Salmon Arm Metis Society in Shannon’s name. Troy and the Sharp family have also made their own contribution, and will stand behind the project until completion.
In the coming months, there are plans in the works to host fundraising events such as dances or other community gatherings. For now, there is a GoFundMe page set up for the project, which can be found by visiting gofundme.com and searching for the Shannon Sharp Learning Circle. Donations are also being accepted at Salmon Arm West Elementary.