Volunteering in Reading Week: SAP and UBC at Mount Pleasant Elementary

I had the pleasure of visiting Mount Pleasant Elementary School in East Vancouver yesterday.

Susanne Hempel from SAP is leading, with the help of 4 UBC student leaders, 40 UBC students in a project to raise student awareness and knowledge around Sustainability. The entire school of 200 children ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 7 are participating in the project. This in itself is quite a feat as Mount Pleasant is a microcosm of Vancouver’s inner city with students from over 30 countries speaking over 20 languages. There are also almost 30 Aboriginal students and another 30 special needs children.

Given the area, many children come from homes affected by poverty. The students from UBC ( most ages 18-21) have often not been exposed to a different economic background and it is a wonderful experience as they come to realize that despite background there is no difference in how a child feels and what they want and deserve from life. Overcoming challenges of economic background, language and communication issues are part of the project and make for an incredible learning experience.

The range of projects at Mount Pleasant is astounding. Some kids are going on photography field expeditions to take pictures representing sustainability in the community, photo-edit and mount them for an exhibition. Others are working on a project to promote recycling through creative reuse of lunchtime plastic milk containers. Still others are  working with Artist in Residence to write and act in a play about their personal experiences concerning Sustainability.

The Reading Week project facilitated by the UBC Learning Exchange gives UBC students the chance to give back to the community at Reading Week as opposed to heading down to Cancun for the week. Since UBC has extended Reading Week to two weeks due to the Olympics, there was an opportunity this year to expand the project. This year 500 UBC students involved in 20 projects in 16 Vancouver Elementary schools, connecting with 2500 Vancouver Board of Education students. 24 Project leaders, made up of SAP employees and UBC staff, and 40 Student leaders are leading the projects.

I’m even more proud of SAP’s participation in the program. For the past three years, SAP (and Business Objects before that) has provided financial support and our staff to lead community projects. This is not just volunteering. The SAP employees, along with UBC staff, took part in a leadership development program. As part of the program, staff learn about managing teams, dealing with change, encouraging reflection and improving their personal leadership skills. These skills are extremely valuable when brought back into the workplace. The partnership and community learning philosophies are very innovative and gaining interest from other universities across the country.

Last year I had the opportunity to lead a team of 6 second year Nutrition students as we put together a nutrition workshop for a single mom’s group at YWCA Crabtree Corner. It was a great experience working with incredibly passionate students (seriously I was NOT doing this kind of thing when I was 20!!) and making great connections with the women at Crabtree. Having the opportunity to engage with my local community, introduce young people to the issues facing our city, creatively engage in making change all as part of a development opportunity at work was just incredible.

This year I was blown away by the energy in the open-plan school. The principal, Steve Agabob, knows everyone and is so passionate about creative programming for the kids and creative partnerships with the community. They even fund raise to have an “artist-in-residence” who was helping the kids rehearse for a play about the environment with lots of laughter and kids acting like schools of fish winding around the gym.

Next week I’m going to visit another project at Britannia Elementary and can’t wait to see what’s happening there!!


One thought on “Volunteering in Reading Week: SAP and UBC at Mount Pleasant Elementary

  1. Hi Steve,

    thanks very much for sharing this wonderful story. It reminded me again of why I became involved with this program.

    See you on March 11.


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