Katharine Childs leads the successful entrepreneurship program at St. Gabriel Elementary School

 Written by Travis Hall, Educational Consultant, Career Development

This time of year, schools are recognized by the  OSEntreprendre provincial student entrepreneurship contest for the projects they worked on during the academic year. St. Gabriel Elementary School  in Pointe St. Charles has developed a proud reputation in the competition over the years and this is in a large part due to the hard work of Katharine Childs, the leader of the school’s entrepreneurship program.

The first thing that one realizes upon meeting Katharine is that she is very passionate about her work. Such is her passion that every year, under her guidance, multiple projects are submitted by every grade level at St. Gabriel School. She believes that every child, no matter their age or level, can participate in a project. And this includes preschoolers! No one is left out. Katharine is proud to add that all projects are spearheaded by the students themselves, even at such a tender age. “Students are bright, creative, never short of inspiration, and are not afraid to talk and share their ideas if you give them your ear.”

Katharine’s story at St. Gabriel School begins in 2015 with a visit to the school to check on a friend who was newly assigned there. When the principal, Jim Daskalakis, discovered her knowledge and experience teaching drama as well as her enthusiasm to work with kids on entrepreneurship projects he offered her a contract, and then another, and another after that. Speaking highly of Mr. Daskalakis, Katharine added appreciatively that he will be greatly missed now that he is retiring. “He is fantastic. Always had our backs, always made sure we had the materials needed to do our projects.”

For as long as Katharine remembers, she has been guiding art projects and putting on plays with her students and could never imagine doing anything else. Her passion for what she does is reflected in the fact she is always busy working on a project- from daybreak her mind is always at work. Even recent health woes did not stop her. She remains resilient finding her energy in the fact she loves what she does and in being a happy person. When asked how she is, her answer is always, “I feel great!” She explains that saying that you feel great, makes you feel great. Above all, she credits her love for her partner, Pierre Lenoir, whom she calls, “her rock” as the greatest source of her energy. In fact, Pierre, an accomplished actor and musician, has become an indispensable member of the St. Gabriel team over the years, generously offering his expertise and knowledge wherever needed.

Katharine believes that teaching drama in particular helps students learn to think, as well as, develop one the most important skills: How to conduct and present themselves in front of others with confidence and joy. Her philosophy to achieve this learning is to give students plenty of space to imagine, to create, and to develop their voices and visions.

Our interview takes place on the second floor of the school in a plaza area. As we talk about stage presence, she draws our attention to a special feature at St. Gabriel School. The flat stage that Mr. Daskalakis commissioned and where students learn to perform in front of an audience. They look straight out at them and not from above as happens on typical stages. Over the years, this subtle change in stage-training has boosted many students’ confidence to perform with more ease.

Our visit around the school also takes us to a very special room, Katharine’s office. It is packed full of props, pieces of colorful material, stacks of hats, masks sticking out from piles, previously loved toys and stuffies, and so many other random items waiting to be discovered and, by the power of imagination and lots of work, be transformed into fiery dragons, princesses, or ninjas for the next play. Katharine explains that all projects are student-initiated and ideas are often first thought of in that office. In that safe space students’ creativity finds the outlet they often crave and then what follows is always precious. Light bulbs metamorphose into penguins, a carpet becomes a poncho, coffee cups become flower pots, and the creativity never ends.

A very important lesson that students learn when they work on an OSE project is that of sharing, she tells us. And every project comes with its own special learning moments. Katharine spoke to us about many of the projects recalling fondly where and how students initiated them and sharing tidbits about them. The picture of hard-at-work preschoolers zealously putting all their strength to stuff a sock to make snowmen did not fail to put smiles on our faces. We can only imagine how proud these preschoolers are in the end, having learned to face challenges, discover solutions, and see the proud results of their labor reflected in the smiling faces of their impressed community. It’s hard to select the best reflection or anecdote shared by Katharine in order to summarize her amazing work over so many years, but the following may well do her humbleness some justice:

”I’m too much of a kid to resist students’ creativity,” Katharine laughed at one point during the interview.

Thank you, Katharine. You are a true gift to our students.

Thank you, Mr. Daskalakis for making this happen.

This year St. Gabriel School won the OSEntreprendre Contest at the Pre-school and Elementary Cycle one local levels for their student project plays, “Our Teddy Bear Picnic” & "Under the Ocean." 

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