December 22, 2012
Best Buy, Future Shop gifts of iPads, computers and cash bring joy, laughter and tears #vansunkids
By Gerry Bellett
It was the same in both schools Friday morning — the kids cheered and the principals wept.
The tears, however, were of joy, and the cheers? Well, kids know a good thing when they see it, and strangers walking in laden with new computers is obviously a safe bet.
This conflict in reactions took place thanks to Best Buy Canada and Future Shop, whose representatives brought $20,000 worth of iPads, computers and ancillary goods to Lord Selkirk and Henderson Annex — two east-side inner-city schools in need of help whose plights had been recently detailed in The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-a-School stories.
The first stop, at 9 a.m., was Lord Selkirk Elementary at 1750 East 22nd.
Principal Richard Zerbe was in a classroom listening to the children singing Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer when Karen Arsenault, community relations manager for Best Buy Canada, arrived with her arms full of iPads for the school’s special needs children.
Zerbe stood looking uncomprehendingly for a few seconds until Arsenault introduced herself and said Best Buy was giving the school 12 iPads, 12 matching cases and $3,000 worth of iTunes cards so special-needs teachers could load up the tablets with the appropriate apps.
“The apps can be expensive and they’ll need them if they want to get the best out of the iPads,” said Arsenault.
Zerbe struggled to get his thoughts in order as tears came into his eyes.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen him cry,” a watching teacher announced in a stage whisper. “First time I’ve seen him lost for words, too.”
“It’s overwhelming,” said Zerbe. “This is going to open up a world of possibilities for our special-needs kids, many of whom are vulnerable either by having a learning disability or from having extreme language difficulties.
“It’s a world that in many ways is challenging for them and this will help prepare them for the future,” said Zerbe, who said he has 20 special-needs children and a number of others who came to Canada as refugees from places where the idea of permanent schooling doesn’t exist.
“These iPads will greatly assist them in accelerating English language acquisition.”
Since the introduction of the iPad, educators have found it to be invaluable in reaching children with learning difficulties or those suffering from conditions such as autism.
Later, Arsenault said coming to the school and presenting the iPads was the “highlight of my week.”
“It was just wonderful and I thank The Vancouver Sun Adopt-a-School campaign for giving us the opportunity to do this. We were involved in the campaign last year and we’re keen to be involved again this year,” she said.
“A key part of our culture at Best Buy is community involvement and the goal of Best Buy’s charitable giving is to empower kids to reach their full potential by helping them excel at school.
“When we heard that Lord Selkirk had over 20 kids with special needs who could benefit from the tablets we decided to help,” she said.
For Zerbe, the arrival of the iPads was icing on the cake. Following a story on the school’s breakfast program for impoverished children being doomed to close due to lack of funding, a number of donors came forward with cash to keep it going, including a $7,000 cheque from Adopt-a-School.
“It’s been a wonderful Christmas,” said Zerbe.
An hour later, Andrea Farnell, Future Shop’s community relations manager, entered Henderson Annex. The whole school had been gathered in the library by principal Julie Weatherall, who was given a few minutes advanced warning that Farnell was on her way to talk to the school.
“How are you guys — you all excited for Christmas holidays?” Farnell asked and the kids yelled they were.
“My name’s Andrea and I’m here with some of my friends and we work at Future Shop and we heard through The Vancouver Sun Adopt-a-School that you guys might be looking for some extra-special Christmas presents for your school?”
“We heard you have some really old computers in the hallway, is that true?”
“Yes,” screamed scores of voices.
“What do you think if we gave you some new ones?”
Big cheers as Future Shop staff began hauling in seven new touch-screen computers to replace the obsolete units in the hallway, including an extra one for the library.
“Those computers in the hall are almost as old as I am,” Farnell said in a quiet aside.
Farnell had also brought a cheque for $3,500 to help the school buy a Smartboard, for which parents had been collecting for almost a year — raising only half the cost.
“We’ll send in a team to install the Smartboard,” Farnell promised Weatherall, who kept her composure initially but was reduced to tears when the computers began arriving.
“What a fantastic surprise,” said Weatherall.
“We were kind of wishing we might get some help for our Smartboard. We’ve fundraised but only raised half the money,” said the principal.
“Thank you so much, the cheque means we can get our Smartboard — and all these computers?” she said.
“The old ones are almost too slow to work with anymore, but we’ll find a place for them and use them for as long as we can.”
The principal said her school, while needing help, was also helping others and had collected boxes of food and raised $221 for the food bank at Christmas in addition to sending money for overseas aid.
While all this was going on, nine-year-old Nithila detached herself from her class, sitting on the floor, and — showing remarkable self-possession — came up and touched Farnell.
“I would like to say thank you,” she said. “I’m really happy.”