Teacher, mentor, counsellor, connector… whatever you call her, there’s no doubt that Karen Sveinson is having an impact on the students at École Intermédiaire Central Middle School in Red Deer, Alta. That’s because, along with teaching literacy and running the comprehensive guidance counselling program, Sveinson also operates and participates in a significant number of extracurricular programs and initiatives, including a games club and an all-girls group.
Where there’s a need, I create the possibilities, explains Sveinson. There’s the “SwapNShop” where students can pick up items such as food and gently-used clothing. One group is Diverse Voices, a gay-straight alliance. “Those students help with human rights and making sure that everyone is accepted regardless of their sex, religion, standard of living or sexual orientation,” says Sveinson.
There’s also the Mentor Club where Grade 8 students work with kids in Grade 6. “Students may feel shy about coming to a new school or perhaps they want some help with homework or they need some problem solving,” explains Sveinson, who says she works with different agencies in the community to help train participating mentors. The Stars leadership team is another club. Five teachers help with this program which gives the 80 participating students an opportunity to develop leadership skills and help others as well. “I don’t think there are too many kids in the school who don’t feel connected,” says Sveinson.
The desire to connect children to one another, their school, and their community is a driving force for Sveinson. “All kids have a right to learn in a safe and caring environment,” she says. “Children need the opportunity to be inspired to learn, to take risks and to be accepted for who they are and who they want to become.”
Sveinson knows she plays a role in helping to shape and inspire her students. In turn, she has been inspired by those around her, including her sister Linda Reeves. Also a teacher, Reeves volunteers in Cambodia every year to help teachers there with curriculum development. There are no plans to change that despite recently being diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease. “My sister Linda is a role model and an inspiration to me and numerous others,” says Sveinson. “She has inspired me to foster resiliency and hope in my students when they are faced with life’s inevitable uncertainties and challenges. And, most importantly, to follow one’s dreams.”