December 19, 2012

Adopt-a-School: No shortage of bright kids with big dreams #vansunkids

By Daphne Bramham

Three boys pull on a rope, backing up, backing up, until it won’t go any further. Two of them drop the line, but one keeps tugging with all his might. It doesn’t budge.

“It’s not a tug of war,” one of the Grade 4 boys tells his classmate from Florence Nightingale elementary school. “This is how much intestines you have in your body.”

Earlier, another Grade 4 boy from Nightingale was using wind currents to put a ball through a hoop.

“I want to be a physicist when I grow up,” he says, without taking his eye off the ball. “I know the difference between a vector and a scalar, you know. A vector has both direction and magnitude; a scalar only has magnitude.”

He’s absolutely right (and I know this because I checked it on the Internet).

Just a few steps away, two girls were building and rebuilding obstacles and dams to alter flowing water. One of them wants to be a scientist as well, and is enrolled in an after-school program at Nightingale called Super Science.

In another part of Science World, Grade 3 kids from Nightingale were doing their own experimenting, shrieking and learning.

These teachable moments at Telus Science World were possible only because such a marvellous facility exists and because a man named Marc Smith had an idea that for 30 days he’d help other people do acts of kindness. Smith chose 30 days because it takes four weeks to make something a habit, and kindness is a habit he’s determined to make.

“I put out the idea of kindness and then the others have come up with the ideas,” he says.

Florence Nightingale elementary students surround event planner Marc Smith, left, and ING Direct’s Paul Sluimers, right, before their field trip to Telus Science World. (Ward Perrin/Vancouver Sun)

Since he began in mid-November, Smith has spent his own money buying coffee for strangers. He’s handed out hot chocolate and chocolates in Surrey with staff from Guildford Town Centre, stuck cheery Post-it notes on cars and bikes downtown, and made a connection that resulted in all of the homeless and recently homeless players in the Vancouver Street Soccer League getting full uniforms — pants, shirts, jackets, socks and shoes.

His 30 days came to an end on Monday, with Smith going with staff from Pacific Destinations Services to help with Christmas dinner at the Union Gospel Mission.

All of his adventures have been extensively documented on his blog (http://30dayadventures.ca/tag/random-acts-of-kindness).

An event planner by trade, Smith had worked previously with Meena Sandhu, the regional marketing manager at ING Direct. So he called her up and challenged the online bankers to give beyond what they normally do. Sandhu enlisted her colleague Paul Sluimers and together they came up with the idea of taking the Grade 3 and 4 students at Nightingale on a field trip.

Doing something for school kids made sense. Smith volunteers with Adopt-a-School, while children’s education is part of the company’s three-pronged donor focus that also includes financial literacy and environmental sustainability.

ING chose Nightingale because it already has a relationship there. It funds 10 performances a year at inner-city schools by Tickle Trunk, a children’s theatre company. Nightingale is one of those schools.

Many of Nightingale’s students speak English as a second language. Many come from families who live at or below the poverty line, which means even the basics are hard to come by. The kids get a hot lunch at school every day, although they all had bagged lunches in their backpacks to go to Science World; they ate them as they watched a show about electricity.

Clearly, there is no shortage of bright kids with big dreams at Nightingale, which is just as true at every B.C. school. But it takes a lot of community help to ensure these bright sprites even know what physics is or what a physicist does before they can dream of helping unravel the mysteries of the Big Bang, or finding a cure for a particular cancer, or figuring out how we can protect and preserve the environment with a population that more than a year ago burst through the seven-billion mark.

Without field trips, how would they know? But when a family barely has enough money for rent and food, there’s no money for anything extra.

Sluimers figures the total cost was about $3,000 to rent the school bus and pay the admission to Science World and the Omnimax Theatre for 50 kids.

That’s chump change for many companies, groups of employees or even many individuals. But it’s money that can make a world of difference.

dbramham@vancouversun.com

 

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