Chemainus teacher Ruest’s latest award a reflection of her students’ work

Canada 150 project required some extensive digging and brought great benefits

Personal recognition is great, but Chemainus Secondary School teacher Janet Ruest views the benefits to her students and the school as important factors in the awards she has won.

Ruest returned from Ottawa last week where she received her latest commendation with a Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching from Governor General Julie Payette. The award recognizes teachers who have distinguished themselves through innovative projects that allowed students to explore Canadian history from a new angle.

“We offer Janet our sincere congratulations on this incredible achievement,” noted Candace Spilsbury, Chair of the Board of Education for Cowichan Valley School District 79. “We are very proud of her accomplishments, and thank her for her continued dedication to engaging students in their learning.”

Ruest, one of just eight teachers from across Canada to receive the award, expressed her appreciation to School District 79 – and especially superintendent Rod Allen – for its support and was quick to pass on praise to her students for making it all possible.

“The kids really did rise to the challenge,” she pointed out. “It’s not an easy thing. It’s not just cutting and pasting. They had to dig.”

Ruest’s project assigned to the students in her Social Studies 10 class last year used the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation as a theme. She encouraged her students to do extensive research, including interviewing someone at least 30 years older than themselves.

The Canada 150 — My Story project got students to develop inquiring questions and culminated with a public exhibition, where they shared their research in a format of their choice, from scrapbooks to digital presentations.

“That was the idea is to make personal connections to Canadian history, not just stuff from a textbook,” Ruest stressed.

Some of the students really hit a home run with their presentations. Many used personal connections of how their family members wound up in Canada from Europe, for example, and uncovered some astounding stories.

Ruest’s award was really a reflection on how the students responded to the assignment.

“It wouldn’t have happened if my students didn’t create great projects,” she conceded. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have gotten the award.”

Ruest sent in three of the best projects from her class and added a couple of others on her website.

The award also comes with $1,000 that will be going to the school.

“It’s coming back to support the kids,” Ruest enthused.

She intends to use the money for a Social Studies field trip.

Ruest makes it a point to apply for every award and program possible, and part of her success comes from her diligence to find out what’s available.

“There are tons of teachers that are doing fabulous things,” she noted. “They’re busy or they don’t even know about the opportunities.”

Ruest has brought back considerable information from her various undertakings to teachers in the district for workshops.

“It’s not a free trip, it’s how are you going to use that,” pointed out Ruest.

Before the award ceremony at Rideau Hall, Ruest participated in the Canadian Geographic Education meetings in Ottawa as the B.C. rep.

Last spring, Ruest was the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Certificate of Achievement Award for Teaching Excellence, where she was recognized for a series of achievements, including continuously bringing community into her classroom.

Ruest previously traveled with students to France to visit First World War and Second World War sites and participated in a Remembrance ceremony at Vimy Ridge, received an Innovation In Geography Award from the Royal Canadian Geographic Society and went to the Galapagos Islands as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and visited Germany as part of the Goethe Institute’s Transatlantic Outreach Program.

All of the knowledge she has gained and things she’s experienced first-hand have been valuable teaching tools to bring back to students.

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