Embrace Every Moment by Brianna Mackenzie


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

My name is Brianna Mackenzie and this is my 3rd year being apart of the Champions program. This year I have the opportunity to teach at Golden Grove primary school, which is the school I have taught at my previous years. I am so grateful to be able to return to Golden Grove and continue teaching the life skills to the students here with my teaching partner Krystal. We both taught together last year and when we returned to school last week, we fell right back into it and it felt as if we never left. We were welcomed back with open arms by both the students and the teachers, which once again solidified how much this program means to the schools here and the importance of what we are doing.

When we arrive at school, our morning soon becomes filled with hugs, hand games, races, and endless smiling faces. In these small moments with students, I find myself so thankful to be back and surrounded by such pure joy. After morning prayers, we head out to the field and start our classes. Today was filled with energized students from start to finish and at one point we had 70 kindergartens on the field. Even in what I’m sure looked like chaos, we were able to teach them the life skill, play the games, and have a good CCR. It’s in moments like these where I see how much I have grown in Antigua and all the things that I have learned and discovered along the way. This experience pushes you outside of your comfort zone and teaches you so much about your self and your abilities; sometimes right away and sometimes a year later with 70 five year olds.

I am always amazed at how willing the students are to participate and how creative they can be. Today the grade 3s were coconut kings and the grade 1s were astronauts trying to get a space ship to the moon. As we were collecting our coconuts on to put on our ships and accomplishing a mission in space, the students were not only learning the life skill but also building that, ’I can do this’ mindset which is what I want to leave with them. They always give 100% of themselves into what we are teaching them and I want to give it all back to them by making every moment I have with them intentional and meaningful.

Teachable moments can be found anytime during the day, not just during scheduled classes. The semester leading up to this trip Jo has told us to push our practice. For me that means bringing the life skills out of class and using them in every interaction I have with the students. If there is one thing that I could leave behind with the students it would be that I believe in them wholeheartedly that they can be successful with the life skills and I hope that I can help them find that belief in themselves.


Brianna Mackenzie

Golden Grove Primary

Investing in Education by Melanie Manson


Dear family, friends, past champions and followers of the blog,

Thank you for following along on our journey, we are very happy to have you with us, though these words will never do justice to our experiences.

My name is Melanie Manson, a first year champion.  I heard about this program about a year ago when Dr. Joanna Sheppard told me about it, I thought it was a very interesting and appealing opportunity and completely outside my comfort zone, which is exactly why I knew I should apply and see what happens.

Fast forward a year and here I am, along side many other fantastic champions, moving into our second week of working in the schools. I have had the pleasure of working at Jennings Primary School with my teaching partner Nick, who has very graciously shared his extensive knowledge of the school, teaching and the program with me.  He continues to impress me with his dedication, patience and passion for teaching. The poor guy is also forced to listen to me sing along to every song all the way to and from school everyday, he deserves a medal.

Each and every day when we arrive at Jennings we are greeted by students who are so eager to give us hugs, carry our equipment, play shame shame and have races.  The children are so welcoming and make you feel like the most important person in the world.  They enthusiastically ask us when we will be going to their class, which helps us, knowing they are just as excited to learn as we are to teach.

During the day we are fortunate enough to go into classes and teach the students valuable life skills using our custom made lesson plans that the first year champions have worked so diligently on. We get to be in the company of so many hard working Antiguan teachers and we get to learn from them and with them.

We come home from school covered in dirt and sweat, we put our equipment away and hangout in the pool with our colleagues to talk shop until it is time for our nightly curriculum meeting and red couch discussion. Though tonight was a little different, we skipped the meetings and instead were lucky enough to attend a cricket match.

Dr. Sheppard was able to get us tickets to a game, where we learned the ins and outs of the sport. After the game we had the privilege of going on to the field and getting pictures with the team.

I am very excited and optimistic about the weeks to come.  This has been an eye opening experience and it would not be possible without the passion and dedication of Dr. Sheppard.  I would like to  thank Dr. Sheppard for creating and sustaining this program, none of us would be able to have this hands on experience if it wasn’t for you, so thank you for allowing us to be apart of this program and legacy.  Based on what I have seen, I am confident that this program will have a very successful and long life here on the island and will have a positive impact on all of the citizens who are able to see the great work that the University is committed to doing.

Lastly I would like to thank Nick, my amazing roommates, my co-champions, friends and family for their continued support throughout this journey.

Melanie Manson,
Jennings Primary School

An Island Full of Surprises by Kalyn Head

Hi, my name is Kalyn! I’m a first-year champion and am loving all of the experiences we’ve had so far.This year I am teaching with Kenton at the Adele School for Special Children and the Victory Centre. It was great to make some connection with my students right off the bat because some of the students just got back from Special Olympics Nationals in Abu Dhabi where they competed with athletes I’ve been working with back home. I’m learning new names and making new connections every day and can’t wait to continue to do so in the next couple of weeks!Our school day starts off at Adele in the morning and then we get a ride to the Victory Centre at lunch. It’s been challenging and rewarding adapting our lesson plans as we go to fit the needs of our students who have a variety of abilities to teach the life skill we’ve planned out for the week. This past week we worked on the life skill “team work”. We really got to see the life skill at work when our students taught us how to play cricket on our last day before the weekend. Our students showed tremendous sportsmanship and teamwork throughout the week and made Kenton and I feel like a part of their team too. They encouraged us and helped us throughout the game even if we were making their team lose which was such a great feeling. Seeing your lesson plans come to life and hearing your students apply the life skill to their school, home and community life during our CCR questions (check, connect, reflect) is pretty amazing. I really wanted to focus on being intentional during this experience. I hope that while we’re having so much fun with the students we also leaving them with life skills that they will never forget and to come home with a new perspective on teaching health and physical education.Every day in Antigua is packed full of events and activities. This weekend has been especially busy but so fun. After a night full of dancing and singing in the rain at Shirley Heights last night we headed out for Mojo’s Magical Island Tour this morning. Everything on this island is a surprise. I was totally expecting a tour bus but what came was even better. Turns out Mojo is our Momma Jo. The crew came prepared with a soundtrack perfectly timed with our adventure. We car karaoke’d and tried to guess where our next stop would be based on the song. First, we drove past the famous cricket stadium where we’ll go tomorrow to watch a real cricket match. I’m pretty excited for that because my students taught me all about it. Then we went to the historic Devil’s Bridge. I like that this trip is authentic, we aren’t just tourists. We are trying our best to live among the Antiguan people authentically and learn about their history to really understand and be able to teach their children. The history of the island is so rich and important to understand. Our last stop was to a beach where we got to let our inner child run loose on their inflatable water park. We played tag, had races and laughed the whole time.I would like to thank everyone for their continued support throughout this experience and a huge thank you to Dr Joanna Sheppard. I thought it would be really hard being away from my family but having all the other champions throughout this whole journey has really made me feel like I am at home.Sincerely,Kalyn Head

Shoot for the stars so if you fall you will land on a cloud by Justin Dhaliwal

Dear Friends, Family and Followers of the Champions Program!

I choose this title for my blog because it has stuck with me throughout life (I am a sucker for a corny quote). More importantly I choose this title because it applies to a wide range of goals and professions. I am a firm believer that if you try your best nothing can stop you other than yourself. This is important because Dr. Sheppard expects our best; we can’t call ourselves “champions” without justification.

I would quickly like to thank my friends and family for all that they have done for me and continue to do. I also would also like to thank Jo for the difference she makes not only in my life but in all of her students, not every professor has a profound effect on their students.

Today we didn’t have school, but we still wanted to make a difference. We went to Paaws (the local pet adoption centre) and while here we cleaned the enclosures and helped out the staff with their duties and of course, we pet the cute doggos and kitties.

As I write this we are getting ready to attend a tea party hosted by Adele (the school for students with disabilities). Rooming with Kenton I have had the pleasure to hear about his and his teaching partner, Kalyn’s experience working with these wonderful students. The tea party was a pleasant experience and our hosts were so polite. The point of the smile café is to help the students learn skills that will help them run the café.

I contemplated being a teacher in grade 12, but ultimately settled for a different career path. Then as I took Kinesiology classes I decided I needed to change the path of my education. When I felt unsure of my future, career wise, Jo pointed out my strengths as a teacher and more importantly the areas that needed improvement (not weaknesses because we can improve on them!) It has been a great experience using the teaching skills that I developed at UFV, and working in a country vastly different than Canada has only added to my tool box.

I have had the pleasure to work at the school that I was placed at last year and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to work with the same kids and teachers that I have already created a relationship with. I can’t stress powerful it was talking to kids I met last year and calling them by their names and just seeing the emotions exuding from them. I want to cry every time. I love our inside jokes and calling them by the nicknames I gave them last year. As little as these moments may seem I hope the children realized they have claimed a spot in my heart. And when I have to wake up early knowing that I going to see them is what gets me up.

After last year I decided I needed more experience working with kids so I started volunteering at a school back home. I did this because I wanted to be as helpful and supportive to my teaching partner as my mentor, Liz from last year was for me. I just hope that I am half the mentor that Liz was to me as I am to my teaching partner Kristen, who is amazing as well!

Anyways I will leave the readers with my favorite quote that has made a huge difference in my life and I hope it does the same for you.

T.N. Kirnon

Organized Chaos Take 1 by Selyen Singh

Hello to our parents, extended family, friends, supporters and past Champions. Thank you for coming along this journey with our 2019 Team of Champions. My name is Selyen Singh (the one on the right!) and I am a second year Champion stationed at Villa Primary with my amazing first year teaching partner, Chelsea. I’m also lucky to be working with Cassidy as co-Unity Games Coordinators.

After a jam packed year with stressful courses, I cannot begin to describe how comforting it has been to be back at Villa Primary and to lead our Champs through our first action packed Unity Games day.

To see the smiling faces of students running towards Chelsea and I first thing Monday morning allowed me to feel right back at home at Villa. In that moment all the things I had discovered and learned last year from Villa Primary students and colleagues trickled back into the forefront of my thoughts. They truly showed me that in a life full of expectations and the pursuit of perfection, when on the island try to find joy and beauty in imperfect moments. I am thrilled to have three more weeks with our students to soak in all the perfect and imperfect moments while working on bettering ourselves through our application of life skills.

Today was a special day as we worked through our very first Unity Games. Cassidy and I are very proud of our team for their energy and outpouring of passion while teaching and interacting with students at Golden Grove Primary and Jennings Primary. Our team came prepared in the morning at Golden Grove with excitement to get the day going. After chugging some Gatorade and powering up with snacks and lunch, the Champs re-energized and ran new games for different age groups at Jennings.

Leading the champs through Unity Games gave me a new perspective this year of our action packed Friday’s! Being able to observe every champ bring their personality into the games Cassidy and I created made me unbelievably proud. To further push their practice, the Champs lead meaningful CCR (Check, Connect, Reflect) conversations that were insightful and had students running up to Cassidy and I to explain what life skills they learned today. I would like to give a special congratulations to our first year Champs for the resiliency and passion they exhibited throughout their first UG day! For a day that is known as “Organized Chaos” I am so pleased with how we executed today and I look forward on building and improving our activities for next week.

Lastly, I’d like to thank Dr. Sheppard for welcoming me back to be a part of this family. Seeing Dr. Sheppard continue to further this program and display her passion is incredible. I truly hope I am able to live out my passions as ambitiously as you. Thank you for pouring your soul into this program, it doesn’t go unnoticed.

Thank you,
Selyen Singh

Push Through By Erin Threlfall

Dear Friends, Family and Followers of the Champions Program,

Oh hey there! My Name is Erin Threlfall I am a first year Champion with red hair who has managed not to burn in the beautiful Antiguan sun. I have the pleasure of working with the beautiful Jen at Urlings Primary.

This school is like nothing I have ever seen before. Urlings Primary is right on the beach; the windows are all open and the cool ocean air just wafts through the classrooms as you teach these small faces who are just so darn excited to see you. The educators here are kind but firm, and I have already learned so many tips and tricks about teaching and effective methods to help interact with their students. The respect they have gained from their students is amazing to watch and I am keen to be a part of it. I came into the program making it my goal to create and encourage that every student feels important and wanted. Although, I have to tell you when you walk into these schools and groups of students run to hug and greet you, you’re the one who also gets to feel important and wanted. I cannot wait to spend the month giving that love back to them as we learn our life skills.

Although my first couple of days here I had lesson plans that didn’t quite work out, today was successful and a whole lot less stressful. The lessons went smoothly and our Check, Connect, and Reflect sessions with our students were filled with student driven knowledge about responsibility and respect. The students give us answers that are creative and honest, I have been extremely impressed with the minds and personalities of our Antiguan students.

I am beyond grateful that Dr. Joanna Shepard brought me into this program and has given me the chance to be educated on this magical island. The Wi-Fi is awful, the showers are cold, but the education we are receiving is something that can’t be replaced. The life skills we teach are also the ones we are absorbing. We learn the life skills respect, responsibility, self-control, and patience just as much as we teach them. Even though we are still in our early days it is an honor to spend time with these Antiguan students and build up not only our relationships with them, but their own self-motivation to be the best people they can be.

We spent the morning in a grade 3 class with Miss Aaron, and she is nothing but wonderful. She was motivating, encouraging, and informative. The control she has over her class is impeccable. Although in our short week here, I don’t think there is a teacher at Urlings that I haven’t admired. During Miss Aaron’s class she introduced us to a poem she presents with the kids to push their practice; I thought I would share it with you, because even though she created it for the students, I needed it too. Being new to teaching can be really tiring, and there are moments where giving up seems like the easiest thing to do. Yet, you push through, you push through for the students, your push through for UFV, you push through for your fellow champions, and you push through for yourself.

What if it’s hard?”

“I’m going to push through!”

“What if it’s too tough?”

“I’m going to push through!”

What if it’s too rough?”

“I’m going to push through”

“What if your just to young?”

“That’s just not true!”

“What if you’re not good enough?”

“That’s just not true !”


“Because I can do anything I put my mind too!”


“Chin up! Believe in yourself, and head high. We push through anything we put our minds too.”

We are the Champions of 2019 and we can do anything we put our minds too.

“We can, We should, We will!’ –

Erin Urlings Primary

Expect the Unexpected by Kara Williams

Dear Champions Alumni, Family, Friends, and all Followers of the Champion’s Program.

My name is Kara Williams (the one in the middle) and I am proud to call myself a first year Champion of the 2019 program. First and foremost, I would like to send out a big “thank you” to everyone that has supported this program and to everyone that has supported me throughout my journey so far. I would also like to send a very special “thank you” to Dr. Joanna Sheppard for providing me with the opportunity of a lifetime where I can grow both as a teacher and as a human being.

For this experience I have been lucky enough to be placed in the only All Girls High School on the island. This is the first year that Champions have been placed at a high school for the entire duration of our stay here in Antigua, and it has been an amazing experience thus far. In my studies back in Canada I am currently working towards becoming a secondary school teacher, and I really believe that this placing will be the best opportunity for myself to grow by presenting these life skills to an older audience. The students that attend this school are young women with such big personalities and dreams, and it has been eye opening learning about the Antiguan culture through their eyes.

The lead up to the first day of school was a nerve-racking time. Full of so many different emotions I found it difficult to focus on one for too long. I was feeling uneasy as we prepared the night before and on the car ride to school that first day, but the confidence my teaching partners had really helped me believe in what we could do here. Working with Cassidy (a second year Champion), and Emily (a returning TEP form UBC) has been an amazing learning experience. I am learning so much from the knowledge that they share, the advice they give, and the innovative ideas that they use to extend and better my lesson plans. On that first day of school we attended the Monday assembly and seeing every single student in that school standing under the same roof and to know that we would be integrating into their lives and studies for the next month, although intimidating, made an immediate impact on me as it displayed how real this experience truly is. The excitement those students showed us on that first day really got all three of us excited to work with these young ladies.

Being stationed in the high school, our day ends quite earlier than the primary schools, but not to worry we are kept busy as we whip off to Villa Primary school to support our fellow Champions there. Having the opportunity to learn from second year Champion Selyen and fellow first year Champion Chelsea has been so wonderful as well. Watching these Champions interact with the younger children and integrating into these classes ourselves has been beneficial in preparation for Unity Games on Friday. The contrast we get to see between the high school students and the primary students every day has been another experience all on its own. The high school ladies, although interested and welcoming of us seem to be quite more reserved. Aside from the form one students (equivalent to grade seven back home), who are more inclined to approach us, more times than not we find ourselves reaching out in order to form those connections. This is completely opposite to the young students of Villa who immediately ran up to us on day one, reaching for our hands and wrapping their arms around our waists for hugs. The love that these students show is so powerful and raw, unlike anything I have ever been a part of back in Canada. Having the opportunity to be involved in both environments has been something I will not take for granted. I feel like I am really getting the full experience and have now so many more ways I can grow while working with ad learning from all ages.

Teaching itself has been full of ups and downs where we have had to do lots of last minute planning, changing and adjusting plans as we go. In the high school, there is a lot of stress on exams and meticulously following the curriculum and more times than one so far this week we have found ourselves prepared to teach a lesson, arriving at school and having to adjust and tweak our lessons to cater specific sports such as basketball and soccer (or football as they call it down here on the island). Although this has really been pushing us to get creative with the lesson plans while still fitting them to our life skill, we have been very successful so far. On day two we even had to create a lesson plan for the physical education theory class about sport injury and prevention. With very limited time, we were able to put together a lesson and tie everything together with a life skill which is what the Champion’s For Health program is all about.

Growing up I have always been a big planner, and I have always found it difficult to accept changes to the plans I make and to adjust to the unexpected. This aspect of myself has been something that I have really been trying to work on and it has been a goal of mine to learn how to be ok with such changes. So this experience thus far, with last minute changes of lesson plans and basically having to roll with the punches has been both extremely challenging and so rewarding. To be a part of what happens behind the scenes in creating the lesson plans, and then watching them come to life through the students right in front of our eyes has been so rewarding and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

As a closing I would like to share with you all a quote that was read out by one of the students on stage during Monday morning’s assembly. The student cited

“Life is like a camera. Focus on the important things, capture the moment, and develop the negatives. And if things don’t work out, take another shot.”

To me this quote describes the art of teaching so perfectly and moving forward I would like to make this sort of my own personal motto for my experience in the Champion’s for Health 2019 program. Through this program I will strive to be really intentional in the following: to focus on the things that are important, such as my own personal growth as an educator, and the connections with my students and teammates that come every day and will only get deeper and deeper as the month goes on. To capture every single moment with the students and with my peers, no matter how small. It could be a single smile one day and I want to make an effort to remember it forever. However, I know that things won’t always go right and that mistakes will happen and sometimes plans just don’t work out. This is bound to happen. But the only way to really grow is to take these mistakes and learn from them. So moving forward I want to really try and accept and develop those negatives, understand why something didn’t work, take another shot and turn these missteps into positive learning opportunities.

Although I am beginning to feel more comfortable as time goes on, and I am feeling more confident with my teaching abilities, I still woke up on Day 3 with butterflies. I don’t think that that will ever go away for the duration of this experience because you never know what to expect, but I am so excited to see what happens next.