A Final Farewell by Dr. Joanna Sheppard

29 05 2017




Dear Champions, Family, Alumni Champions and Friends of the Champions Program,

As I wake up early due to jet leg in Langley, BC,  I can only thank you all for your dedication and support towards the 2017 Champions Program.
It has been many months of planning, preparing and organizing, and I want to thank each and every one of you for being with me every step of the way.

Thank you to all of you who donated your time, resources and financial contributions to the Champions Program. Without your support, this program would not be so successful.

To my colleagues and friends in Antigua, thank you once again for welcoming my students into your schools with open arms. I know the experiences they had will last a lifetime!

I would also like to thank the Faculty of Health Sciences Dean Dr. Joanne Mac Lean for her continued support for our program, as well as KPE Lab Professor Brian Justin for his fourth annual Coaches and Athletes Certificate Program and collegial support. I would also like to thank our UFV Teacher Education Department, but more specifically Awneet Sivia for dedicating her time to sustaining this impactful collaboration  And last but not least, a big  thank you to my 2017 Teaching Assistant Dan Northgraves for your steadfast, dedicated passion for this program throughout the entire year.

So family and friends, thank you for allowing me to be a part of each of your children’s/friend’s lives. I have watched them grow from students to successful young professionals that I am very proud of.  I look forward to watching many of my students walk the convocation stage this coming June as well as guiding those still at UFV towards their goals and aspirations.

Just because the 2017 program is over, does not mean not to check out our Champions Website! I will be posting over the next few weeks with many more pictures, videos and reflections from this year’s program!


Joanna/Momma Jo



The Last Cheer by Ashley Townsend

27 05 2017

Dear family, friends, Alumni Champions, and supporters,

My name is Ashley Townsend and I am a STAMPER at Urlings Primary School.  I heard about the Champions For Health Promoting Schools’ program while studying at the University of the West Indies in Barbados a couple of years ago from an Antiguan teacher.  This program had an incredible impact on her pedagogy and now I can say that is has on my own as well.

I will be graduating as a BC certified teacher this upcoming June and I feel so privileged to have finished my long practicum teaching in Antigua.  Next year, I am looking forward to having a grade 6 classroom at a BC offshore school in Cairo, Egypt and it has been very valuable during my time here to experience how education operates in a different cultural context. I have to admit, nonetheless, that teaching in Antigua has been very similar to what I have experienced in Canada, albeit much sweatier! The students are just as funny, genuine, and loving; the staff are just as collaborative, appreciative, and inspiring; and my passion for teaching only grew with every lesson, just as it does back home.  My favourite lesson was showing the Grade 5 and 6 students the pen-pal letters that my practicum students from Robertson Elementary wrote for them and then helping them write a letter back. It was fun to see how both sets of students were so excited to interact with a kid their age from a different country and discover all the similarities that they share.  I will also always treasure our last day at Urlings. The children and staff went above and beyond to show their appreciation for our time there by presenting us with an assembly where some students read out letters that they had written for us.  It was followed by a delicious lunch that we enjoyed with all the staff.

My main motive for deciding to come to Antigua was to have more experience for delivering high quality physical education lessons.  While I have greatly enjoyed and learned from teaching the lesson plans I was given, I have added so much more to my teaching toolkit than simply the content I taught.  Firstly, co-teaching alongside my teaching partners Amy Davidson, Emily Jude, and Kirsten Lee was an amazing experience.  Each of them brought such a dynamic energy to our collaboration efforts and I loved how our teamwork ensured that we were able to connect with each of the students during every lesson.  I also received a lot from observing the Antiguan teachers; I was so inspired by their humorous and energetic teaching presence and I’m excited to try and integrate more music in my own practice after seeing how it fostered such a sense of community and joy within their classrooms. Finally, Dr. Joanna Sheppard has taught me a lot about being a strong role model through her enthusiasm, humour, humility, and devotion to creating unity through circle work (daily ‘red couch’ meetings).

For our last day, we spent our time with Adele School For Special Children and T.N Kirnon Primary School.  It was a great way to culminate the trip as students and teachers alike gave it their all, although it felt very bittersweet cheering with my final group as it marked the finale of this trip and my certifying program.  I will miss all of the students and fellow champions as we depart for home tomorrow.  Thank you to every one that contributed to the success of our time here, and especially to Jo for facilitating such an impactful program.

Ashley Townsend

Urlings Primary School

Embrace the Chaos by Jenelle Macdonald

27 05 2017

Dear, Family, Friends, Followers and Alumni Champions,

My name is Jenelle Macdonald and I am entering the final year of my Kinesiology degree at UFV. This year I was given the opportunity to come back to Antigua as a third year champion, and for that I am so grateful. This year I was fortunate enough to be placed at Mary E. Pigotts Primary School which is new to our program. The teachers as well as the students welcomed my teaching partner, Jaclyn McNicol and I with open arms. Spending this past month there has been a whirlwind and it feels like our first day of school was only yesterday.

Today, we successfully conquered our last Unity Games day thanks to our Unity Games Coordinator, Blair Cumming, and our amazing team. We started our day off by convoying to the Adele School for Special Children where we also had the pleasure of having The Victory Centre joining in the fun! The students were so full of life and love and enjoyed all of the amazing games that we got to play. We were then treated to a lunchtime performance of several songs performed by the students that made us get up out of our seat to dance. We then embarked on our journey towards our very last Unity Games at T.N. Kirnon. We arrived at their lunchtime and after countless games of Shame Shame, it was time to get the ball rolling. All of the students were so excited and it seemed like their smiles only got bigger with each game that they went to. Then, just like that, it was over.

There is only one word to really describe Unity Games in my opinion, and that would be chaos. When people hear that word they believe it to be negative but in this case it means the total opposite. Unity Games chaos is composed of a field full of students laughing, screaming, smiling and trying to stay inside the cones. It’s composed of our team taking that all in and teaching our games with every last ounce of energy we have to make this day the best day of our students lives. The only way to accomplish this is to simply, embrace the chaos.

One of the many mottos that this team has is, “new year, new experience” and each year this program grows stronger with each passing team. This program is not just collaboration amongst the team; it is so much bigger than that. So, thank you to Dr. Sheppard, our colleagues on island, Alumni Champions, the Antiguan Ministry of Education and our many other supporters for working together to make this program what it is today. When many of us get home we will find it hard to explain to you how this past month went because, words will just not do it justice. The bottom line is that this program changes you. It helped me grow as an educator and as a person, opened my eyes to a world I did not know to be a reality and taught me how to embrace the chaos. A piece of my heart will always stay here in Antigua.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”

   – Winnie the Pooh

See you in Canada,

Jenelle Macdonald
Third Year Champion
Mary E. Pigotts Primary

Last Day of School

26 05 2017

The Value of Imperfection by Emily Jude

25 05 2017

Dear, Family, Friends, Alumni Champions and Supporters,

My name is Emily Jude and I have just completed my 4th year of Kinesiology at UFV. I am a first year champion who just spent her last day teaching at Urlings Primary School. Writing this post, I am overwhelmed with the emotions that come from a place of sadness, but also a place of love and happiness. I cannot express how much I will miss my students, and the staff at Urlings. The school is very small, and there really is no better way to describe Urlings than family. From the moment my teaching partners and I walked into the school, we were welcomed with open arms. The staff are young, vivacious educators, who were consistently working alongside us to create the best possible learning opportunity for the students. I am so tremendously grateful, not only for the opportunity to have participated in this program, but to have had the pleasure of teaching at such an amazing school. In addition to being placed at this wonderful school, I was paired with not one, not two, but three outstanding teaching partners. Amy, Ashley, and Kirsten have had so much to offer between their experience, education, and diverse approaches to teaching. The luxury of getting to see how each teaches and what works for them, has allowed me to learn and grow every day. My time at Urlings would not have been what it was without their support.

I came into this experience with some coaching and child care experience, but for the most part I was completely out of my element. I am a champion who does not have a career goal as a teacher. My motivation for jumping into this experience was to discover what exactly my career goal is. I knew this experience would be an outstanding opportunity to develop skills for helping others learn to help themselves. Almost immediately upon arriving on island I realized that these goals were only the tip of the iceberg in regards to what I would learn and how I would grow as an individual.

As I began to learn more and more about my students, I found that I was learning just as much from them as they were from me. I have learnt how easy it is take advantage of things as simple as water, shoes, or a ball. The joy one ball can bring to a student’s face is enough to energize me for my entire day. I am a coffee lover, and since arriving on island I have had no desire for coffee. There is no need for caffeine when you can feed off the energy of Antiguan students all day. Something else the students have taught me, is that perfection really does not exist. I could be extremely prepared, have the best lesson plan, speak in my best teacher’s voice, and there would still be room for improvement somewhere. As someone who is always striving for perfection, this lesson of accepting imperfection as an opportunity for growth will be valuable as I move forward in my future endeavors. With the students continually providing me opportunities to improve, I have come to understand the value of imperfection. I have learnt that growth arises when we “aim for success, not perfection. Never give up our right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism” (David M. Burns).

Finally, one of the most impactful lessons I have received on the island came from a teacher at Urlings who was teaching grade 6 social studies. She was talking about cultures around the world and shared with her students that we do not have to understand why other cultures or religions do what they do, but we must respect what they do. I am grateful that this was a lesson I observed early in our experience, because I have come back to it many times along my journey here in Antigua. I may not understand everything I see here, but I respect it. Antiguan’s are some the kindest, most generous, and passionate people I have ever had the pleasure of encountering. For example, today the school held the most heartwarming assembly to say goodbye to my teaching partners and I. Students shared letters they had written, songs they had prepared for us, and showered us with hugs and tears. After the assembly, the teachers hosted us for the most amazing lunch I have ever had. The entire staff sat around the table like a fancy dinner and we enjoyed our entire lunch hour together. I have never felt more love and appreciation than I felt today. The family at Urlings went above and beyond for us today, and I will never forget my last day at Urlings Primary School.

After a month of being immersed in the Antiguan culture, I have grown to love and respect Antiguan’s immensely. As a result of the admiration I have grown for Antiguans, it has made saying goodbye that much harder. As I said goodbye to the students and teachers I have grown to love, I left them with this; even though I have to go back to Canada, a little piece of me will forever be at Urlings Primary School.


Emily Jude

Urlings Primary School

Teachers Make a Difference by Arden Holmes

25 05 2017

Dear family, friends, Alumni Champions and supporters,

 My name is Arden Holmes and I am a 2nd year champion at Pigotts Primary School. I taught at Pigotts Primary School, along with my teaching partners Amrit Cheema and STAMPER Kailie van Santen. I am graduating in June with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Anthropology. In the fall, I will be returning to UFV to begin the 1-year Bachelor of Education program, to become a certified teacher.

This year, I took on the leadership role of Curriculum Coordinator. My amazing colleague Marissa Corea and I were in charge of guiding the 1st year Champions to each write 10 lesson plans for teaching life skills. Throughout our month in Antigua, a part of my leadership role was to coordinate the use of our life skills curriculum by distributing the lesson plans to each set of teaching partners. My goal was to ensure every school had the opportunity to teach as many life skills as possible in the month, and that each lesson plan was used at least once. For me, taking on the role of curriculum coordinator, editing lesson plans and working directly with each Champion to help them achieve their best work, has helped me grow both personally and professionally.

Yesterday was our last regular teaching day in each of our schools. Although this meant saying goodbye to the students and staff of Pigotts Primary for now, I know that this certainly won’t be the last time I see them. Today, we had the privilege of attending the Antigua & Barbuda’s Union of Teachers Annual General Conference. The room was filled with the Principals and teachers of many public and private schools in Antigua, as well as representatives of the Executive Board, the teacher’s union of Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Education International.  The theme of this year’s conference was supporting teachers. The union expressed solidarity with its teachers in striving to increase the value placed on the teaching profession. The Minister of Education, Michael Browne pledged the ministry’s continued “energetic support of education in Antigua and Barbuda.” Last year, the ministry was successful in achieving the largest portion of the national budget they ever had. Through this financial support they achieved a significant achievement, the beginning of a partnership with the University of the Western Caribbean to train two cohorts of Special Education teachers with a Bachelors and Masters of Special Education. This goes along with the commitment voiced at last year’s conference, that the schools in Antigua and Barbuda will become better equipped to work effectively with students with special needs. Another significant achievement was the Ministry of Education providing complete financial support for its teachers to upgrade their training to a Bachelors or Masters in Education or an education related field.

Mr. Ashworth Azille, President on the union, responded to the Minister of Education, with the State of the Union Address. He argued for the well-being of Antigua and Barbuda’s teachers, Principals and support staff. He quoted one of my favourite TED Talks, What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali. He said, teachers make a difference and despite what anyone tells you, teachers have a very important job and they matter in this world. Mr. Azille reminded us that we need to continue to strive to reach each and every student, and see them as valuable and unique individuals. Many students, in Canada, in Antigua & Barbuda, and around the world face adversities at home, and come to school seeking solace. Teachers have the opportunity to provide that safe space for students to feel welcomed and accepted into a classroom community. Attending the conference was a great experience and I am so thankful to have has the opportunity to attend.

 In conclusion, as our month comes to a close I want to express how proud I feel to have been able to participate in this program for a second time, and to take on the role of Curriculum Coordinator alongside Marissa Corea. The Champions program is a high quality program, starting from the creation of lesson plans, to every interaction we have in our schools and in the community while here in Antigua. The opportunity to participate as a teacher and teammate to the 2017 Champions is an honor for me. I have enjoyed collaborating and sharing this experience with all the Champions.

Thank you Dr. Sheppard for the opportunity,

Arden Holmes
Pigotts Primary 

Ever Striving, Ever Seeking…..by Amy Stafford

25 05 2017

Dear family, friends, Alumni Champions and supporters,

My name is Amy Stafford, and I am a member of the STAMP Champions for Health program as well as a current teacher candidate in the UFV Teacher Education Program (TEP). When I began TEP in late August of this year, I was introduced to the STAMP program as an offering for an extension of our certifying practicum, and I was hooked on the idea from the word go. My goal upon completing TEP this year is to continue to upgrade and earn my Plus 5 (between a Bachelors and Masters degree) in Home Economics, because I firmly believe that creating well rounded, healthy and thriving students who will be successful long after they leave school is best done through this field. Learning more about the nature of the Champions program, I realized that Dr. Jo’s philosophy (Care for Self, Care for Others, Care for the Environment) fit in perfectly with my teaching vision, and I had to apply for this opportunity. Other than paying my fees on time, it is likely the best decision I have made in my early teaching career.


While the past seven days of teaching have flown by for myself and the other STAMPers, and we were a bit saddened to leave students and teachers we had just started to form connections with, I know we were also curious to experience today’s Antigua and Barbuda Teacher Union meeting. Having just begun my teaching career I am very eager to take part in as much professional development as I can, and I was also curious to see how the conferences in Antigua differ from my own experience in Canadian professional days. Two major things struck me during this conference:


  1. Other than the fact I was sitting in a room of Antiguan teachers, and the day started with singing and public prayer, the conference could have easily been held in any BC public school setting. The many issues facing teachers – lack of government funding, lack of resources, high teacher burnout rates and the feeling of being under or not appreciated by the public – are all issues that I have faced moving into my new career and were all raised by the union representative in his impassioned speech to the assembled audience, including the Minister of Education and visiting dignitaries from the nations of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.
  2. The passion of the teacher is a worldwide phenomenon, and when teachers come together to achieve collective goals amazing feats are accomplished. Although it appears that Antigua and Barbuda has come a long way in forming better government and teacher union relationships, including met pledges for increased funding, teacher training and school campus space – there is still much to be accomplished and no one will settle until the job is done and done well. Both sides appear to be striving for improvement, and seeking input from the other, which any good Champion will tell you fits the tenants of Teamwork, Communication and Collaboration (life skills we have been teaching the students). It is extremely heartening to know that I am going into a global profession where I will have support around the globe.


This program has pushed me out of my comfort zone in many ways – teaching a subject I do not have much formal training in, with an age group I am not professionally trained to teach, in a country that I have never been to with people I had only briefly met in planning sessions. However, I have been blown away by the kindness and openness of the teachers and students in the Antiguan schools, as well as profoundly moved by the dedication and passion of Dr. Joanna Sheppard and her team. All of you deserve a shout out, but special thanks goes to my roommate Christine McGuire for making me feel so at home; my Villa Primary teaching partners Kristi Rexhepi and Shalene Sherman; and my close friends, family, and boyfriend Erik who have pushed me to attend and give this program everything I had (and then reminded me to drink water and apply more sunscreen). I feel honoured to have attended but also highly encouraged that there is so much support and passion for teachers out there – as long as we continue to strive to seek it out.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us on this journey! You are all Champions.


Amy Stafford

Villa Primary School