I had tea with a princess, snacked on waffles dipped in maple syrup and learned that George Stanley designed Canada’s flag.
As a judge at this year’s Heritage Fair at Okanagan Landing Elementary, I enjoyed a dip into local and national history while having the chance to talk with students in Grades 3 to 6.
It’s one of my favourite things to do, and I’m honoured to be asked back each year by OKL teachers Sheila Monroe, Karen Musseau, Terry Petersen and Melissa Hayhurst. The delicious lunch judges are treated to is simply a bonus.
The hard work put in by teachers to make sure the fair goes off without a hitch is matched by the students, who brought 86 projects detailing all aspects of Canadian history.
Judges from all walks of life are brought in to chat with the kids, interview them about the process of putting their project together and then make notes. That of course is the challenge because I want to give every single one of these kids an A+ for the sheer effort of not only putting their projects together but for the fear-inducing challenge of having to talk to an adult they’ve never met before.
In a letter sent to judges prior to the fair, OKL teachers said, “The fair does not require you to be anything but an adult interested in listening and learning from students who have chosen a topic and done research about it over the past months.” This year’s judges included Vernon Mayor Akbal Mund, Vernon school board trustees Kelly Smith, Doris Squair and Robert Lee, retired teachers and members of the community representing a wide cross-section.
The projects were wide-ranging. Judges are given a list of the numbered projects and after grabbing a coffee, I made my way to my first of many students. From Annie Hayhurst, I learned all about the history of the iconic maple leaf design on our national flag, and came away with new knowledge — and this from a Grade 3 student. The Canadian flag proved to be a popular topic and I found myself interviewing several students who had selected this for their project, including Grade 4 student Chase Anderson, who crafted an edible Canadian flag made entirely out of Rice Krispies squares.
I then moved on to learn about Queen Elizabeth and met Grade 3 student Eva Morrison. Dressed as a princess and offering cupcakes fit for royalty, Eva decorated her display with many photographs of the Queen and a colourful tea pot and cups.
My fellow judge and colleague, Kristin Froneman, and I commiserated over coffee and cookies during the break and exclaimed over the projects, which depending on the age of the student were fairly simple and suited their age and abilities, or were more sophisticated and detailed serious topics such as residential schools and the Underground Railroad.
I was particularly moved by the young student whose project focused on Canadian icon and The Tragically Hip frontman, Gord Downie. Lucia Otcenasek is only in Grade 4 but said she was inspired to focus on Downie because his brain cancer is the same disease that took the life of her grandmother, and because of the work he has done in confronting the legacy of residential schools in Canada.
And those tasty waffles? They were the work of Grade 4 student Shelby Keetly and her project on maple syrup. Her display was highlighted by a miniature maple tree, complete with tap and a tiny silver bucket to collect the fresh syrup.
Some kids were shy and hesitant, others confident in chatting about their projects. But all are clearly passionate about Canadian heritage and history, and I thank them for not only getting me out of the office for a few hours but for their role as my teachers for a day.