By Jamie Steel
KAWARTHA LAKES-Students aren’t the only ones learning in Vicki Pereira’s full-day kindergarten class at Mariposa Elementary School; the Extraordinary Mentor nominee says not a day has gone by since she started teaching that she hasn’t learned something.
Pereira made the move from Montreal to Mariposa more than three decades ago and for the past 32 years, she has taught within the walls at the Kawartha Lakes school. Whether she was teaching French, Grade 3 or Kindergarten — as has been the case for the past 25 years — Pereira has become a pillar of Mariposa Elementary.
“The community in this school is phenomenal, the support is remarkable,” says Pereira.
She enjoys travelling around the school, visiting other students and offering any assistance she can. The biggest compliment she has received, she says, is when students believe she was their teacher when, in fact, she was a smiling supportive staff member who was just trying to help make the school experience more meaningful.
“This is our sixth year teaching together,” says Karen Metherel, who nominated Pereira for the Extraordinary Mentor category in the Women’s Resources Extraordinary Women of Kawartha Lakes Awards. “I nominated Vicki because she’s amazing.”
Metherel says the love Pereira has for her job and the fact that she always has a smile on her face when she walks through the door makes it even easier to want to come to work everyday. The secret behind that smile is quite simple, according to the nominee.“If you can combine your job, your career and your passion into one, you’ll never work a day in your life,” says Pereira.“Every pay cheque is a surprise for me.”
Pereira says she has always known she wanted to work with young children and by working with the youngest in the education system, she has a chance to give them a great first impression.“I believe Kindergarten is the foundation for the rest of their school career. If we provide the opportunity to love school, I think it carries forward all the way up,” says Pereira. “If we carry it up, I think we would have very happy citizens.”
In addition to basics such as shapes, letters and numbers, the full-day Kindergarten team use play-based learning to teach their students about self-regulation and resiliency.
“They have to learn to make mistakes and to fix those mistakes,” she says, “our children learn that and we support them if there’s a problem.”
Pereira and Metherel also lead by example, showing their students how to solve problems constructively. Furthermore, Pereira says it’s not just the youngsters they’re teaching.
“My job as a teacher is also to help parents understand,” she says.
Pereira and the parents of her students are always communicating, often sending messages back and forth throughout the day when the children are hesitant to get on the bus or when they’ve shown growth in the classroom. Many of those parents, Pereira says, were actually once students of hers, so as Metherel says, the Extraordinary Mentor nominee’s career has come full circle. Of the 27 students in the class, Pereira taught parents of 24.
It’s an honour Pereira does not take lightly as she’s grateful for the opportunity to see students who start their school careers not knowing what a letter is, grow to be thoughtful, successful members of the community.
It doesn’t take long to see this result, even within the classroom.“We know a child has learned something when we watch them teach someone else,” she says.
Humbled by her nomination, Pereira believes part of what makes her a successful mentor is empathy, not only for students but for parents and for her coworkers. She always tries to see the backstory and as an advocate for mental health, she believes it’s important to support people as much as possible.
“If people know they’re not alone, if we reach out our hands, people will make it,” she says.
Furthermore, Pereira understands the lasting impact she can have on her students and wants to use her time with them to make them feel important, capable and valued.
“I’m very cognisant as a teacher, that what we do and say to (students) stays with them,” she says.
Metherel says her teaching partner deserves the award because of her dedication to helping others and commitment to lifelong learning. “She’s a wealth of information but she’s still willing to learn. She still has that incentive to grow herself,” she says.
Pereira agrees.“I mentor not because I’m an expert…I’ve been teaching for 32 years and I’ve learned something new every day,” she says.“It’s not me, it’s the community around me. I feel so blessed. I’ve had a supportive home life and this school has always been a safe place.”
It’s bittersweet, she says, that this school year will be her last at Mariposa Elementary, as she prepares for retirement and the next adventure. What is that adventure? Perhaps, she says, teaching the elderly.
The Extraordinary Women of Kawartha Lakes celebratory dinner and awards presentation takes place Oct. 19 at The Ranch Resort in Bethany. Tickets can be purchased online on the Women’s Resources website https://womensresources.ca/extraordinary-woman-of-the-kawartha-lakes/