Key to lifelong learning

Mar 20, 2003, vol. 26, no. 6
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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Golden Key members Paul Gross and Lindsay Graham with some of the Mt. Pleasant elementary students who will soon visit SFU: (clockwise from left) Matthew Nguyen, Danny Tran, Aimee Ceballos Rodriguez, and Kevin Guingayan.

SFU Golden Key international honour society vice-president Paul Gross wants to unlock the door to lifelong learning for a group of disadvantaged school children in east Vancouver.

Gross, who will graduate this year in kinesiology, is working with local members of the non-profit organization to launch an on-going service project intended to inspire a passion for learning in elementary school children. The Lifetime of Learning project officially kicks off March 28, with a visit to SFU by a class of grade 3 and 4 students from Mt. Pleasant elementary school, near Broadway and Main. Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., two dozen children and their teacher will take part in an interactive Science Al!ve program in the SFU chemistry labs, followed by lunch and a tour of the campus.

The idea, says Gross, came to him last fall after he attended a speaker's series on social inventors at the Wosk centre for dialogue. “It was a mind-blowing experience. I came away with the clear understanding that when you see a potential to make a difference in your community, you are, as a citizen, obliged to act.”

The Golden Key society has a strong community service mandate and its members have a cumulative grade point average in the top 15 per cent of their faculties. Since its charter year in 2000, the SFU chapter has donated substantial time and resources to support the YMCA Nanook childcare centre, which offers preschool and daycare services to low-income families in east Vancouver.

“We'd been organizing clothing and book drives and painting projects for Nanook, but I wanted to find a way to make a more substantial impact,” says Gross. “I thought, wouldn't it be awesome if we could find a way to stimulate an enduring curiosity and inquisitiveness in these kids. If we could open their eyes to the myriad opportunities that learning offers? ” In consultation with his Golden Key colleagues, Gross conceived of an annual program that would bring the same group of children and university students together three times each year for different learning-focused events.

The staff at Nanook suggested the concept was best suited to school-aged children making the transition from primary to elementary education, and directed him to Connie McGregor, a project teacher at Mt. Pleasant.

McGregor was immediately receptive. “This is a wonderfully broadening experience for our students,” she says. “It makes the university environment real and accessible to them. It forges a link in their minds between university and community, and gives them an awareness of their membership in an extended community of learners. It reinforces the idea that learning doesn't stop. And maybe - we can only hope - it will inspire some of our students to think of university as a possibility for their own future.”

Gross is already planning the next event in the project, a barbecue activity day in June. He's also lobbying for corporate funding to ensure the project will continue beyond his tenure at SFU, “I'd like to think that generations of kids at Mt. Pleasant will be able to look forward to a pivotal learning experience at SFU.”

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