An Early Christmas Gift
For the longest time, I never told anyone this story; well, except for two people. I think enough time has passed that I can share it now.
During my time as a principal there was a government grant program that hired people who were on Social Assistance (a provincial program) and gave them enough weeks employment to qualify for Employment Insurance (a federal program). If you were on Employment Insurance (EI), then you also qualified for additional assistance if you went back to school. The intent of the program was to give the unemployed some valuable work experience. The fact that those fortunate enough to be granted such a placement ended up being transferred from the provincial to the federal books would have been a secondary bonus for the province (I wonder if that wasn’t the primary objective). In elementary schools, these workers were employed as assistants in the kindergarten classes.
In most cases, these workers proved to be a valuable part of the team. Imagine being a teacher, alone in a kindergarten class with twenty students. Now imagine having another caring and competent adult in that room whose job it was to assist you with the running of your daily routine; in a word, invaluable.
By my third or fourth year as principal the criteria of the program changed. Either the length of the program was shortened or the amount of time to qualify for EI was lengthened (perhaps it was a combination of the two). Anyway, the workers simply returned to social assistance and, in many cases, awaited the next opportunity to participate.
It was mid December when Christa entered my office. It was at the end of the day. She was on the grant program for the second time and was being shared between two kindergarten classes. She was lamenting the fact that her time was coming to an end.
“Mr. Caines, is there any way that my time can be extended by six weeks? If so, I could qualify for EI and, hopefully, get financial assistance to go back to school. I would like to go to college and train to become a teacher’s assistant.”
I told her that I would make some calls and see what I could find out. I would let her know when I had an answer. I figured I already knew the answer but didn’t want to say.
The next day I called and spoke to the person responsible for coordinating the program in our area schools. I was told that there was nothing that could be done to get Christa six additional weeks. I went one step further up the ladder and asked the same question. I was given the same answer. At this point it occured to me that I could simply tell Christa that nothing could be done and that I had done all that I could do. I wasn’t prepared to do that. I then asked the following question.
“Somewhere between you and the premier of the province is the person who has the authority to make this this happen. Can you tell me who that person is?”
He gave me a name of an official in the Department of Education. He also said, “Don’t tell him I gave you his name.”
I called and managed to get this person on the phone. I explained the situation and pointed out that here was a worker who wanted to get off welfare and go back to school. I said that if the pot of money from which this program is funded has surplus funds then we had an opportunity to make a real difference in the life of this young woman. I pointed out that the additional six weeks did not have to be spent at our school. Perhaps she could be placed at an area church to work the additional time. This wasn’t about helping our school, it was about helping a person.
The official I spoke to confirmed that he was the one who could make this happen. He also confirmed that there were funds that had yet to be assigned.
I asked, “What do you need from me to make this happen?”
“Just leave this with me and I will get back to you within a few days.”
It was just before the Christmas break when he called back. He told me that the money was in place to extend Christa’s work-term; in fact, she would be extended right through to June. She could also stay in our school.
This was great news. Not only were we about to do something wonderful for this woman, it meant that we were going to have two assistants in the kindergarten. The person who was scheduled to replace Christa and, of course, Christa herself. This would see each of the classes having their own assistant. This was a win on so many levels.
I asked Christa to stop in my office at the end of the day. When she did I gave her the news. Needless to say, she was over the moon. She wanted to know who to thank. I told her that the person who went to bat for her wished to remain anonymous but that I would pass her thanks on. Just seeing her reaction was reward enough for me.
Two years later I called the official in Fredericton. I explained that Christa had indeed gone back to college and had became a teacher’s assistant. She now had full-time employment at another school and was getting on with her life.
I hope he felt as good about this as I did.
There is difference between saying, I have done all that I can do, and, I have done all that I am willing to do.
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