The gymnasium at Coldstream Elementary school was transformed into a library on Thursday, but it wasn’t the sort of library school kids are used to experiencing. There was no shushing and plenty of conversation.
The school held its first ever “living library,” bringing in 20 well-known local individuals who volunteered to be “human books” and take the time to tell personal stories of adversity and triumph.
In answering students’ questions, they all proved themselves to be open books.
“The conversations were so engaging and the kids were right into it,” teacher-librarian Heather Acob said. “I was just so impressed that these human books would give up their time and volunteer… I can’t help but think that they changed lives.”
Each speaker was set up at a round table with small groups of students at a time. The students were able to pick four speakers whose stories they wanted to hear and switched tables in 20-minute intervals.
It was a diverse list of human books for students to choose from, but the one common thread was the importance of having open conversations, and speaking to people with different experiences.
Brent Worrall isn’t just a human book; he’s also the author of one. He wrote an autobiography entitled Motocross Saved My Life from its Darkness. He gave students at his table a synopsis.
The book contains details of his career as a top-ranked motocross athlete, the accident he suffered in 2011 that left him paralyzed from the waist down, his battles with alcoholism and his journey of recovery.
Most importantly, he explained how he’s learned to talk about his past struggles, and how putting them into writing has been a freeing experience.
“I might not be proud of all of the content, but I’m very proud of the man that the journey has made me,” he said. “Each and every one of those things that I feared talking about for whatever reason — I don’t have any of those fears now. It’s like they’ve magically been lifted.”
At a different table, local entrepreneur Jaye Siegmueller told students about her zero-waste businesses, which include Kelowna’s first zero-waste grocery store, Farmbound, and a body products business that opened just two weeks ago and is already hitting the shelves of 14 different retailers.
Former NHL player Eric Godard spoke to the kids at his table about his career as a fighter on skates, which tied into discussions about concussions, fear and the culture of hockey.
“It was nice that there was a real variety of questions,” Godard said. “A lot of them had questions about injuries and concussions (and) they had questions about stress and anxiety.”
Stress and anxiety were topics discussed at more tables than one, since they’re among the most prevalent issues among today’s students according to School District No. 22 drug counsellor Doug Rogers.
“That’s the No. 1 thing kids talk to me about,” he said. “Anxiety has exploded in our society,” said Rogers, who led his own table focused on substance abuse.
Rogers said while anxiety issues persist, improvements have been made around mental health and substance abuse because of conversations like the ones that took place Thursday.
“We’re getting there. That needle’s moved to where the kids can now talk about it.”
Other speakers included double-deca triathlete Shanda Hill and paralympian Josh Dueck.
Jen Millan of the Mental Illness Family Support Centre spoke about raising her three children with autism, while local environmentalist Aaron Nasipayko described the work he did to clean up Kalamalka Lake aboard his paddleboard.
“They were awesome,” Nasipayko said of the students at his table. I think the best questions they asked were about where we go from here, (and) how this can happen in the future again.”