Cathy Comb is an Aboriginal support worker at McCammon elementary. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Cathy Comb is an Aboriginal support worker at McCammon elementary. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Heroes in Education: Carving out a safe space for students

McCammon elementary’s Aboriginal EA Cathy Comb tries to be a good nurturer

The Chilliwack Progress is honoured to profile seven ‘Heroes in Education’ from a long and amazing list of nominees sent to us from the Chilliwack community.

Cathy Comb is an Aboriginal education assistant at McCammon traditional elementary school who says a big part of her job is nurturing her students.

Comb strives to carve out a safe space for everyone in her orbit at McCammon.

“Unless students and parents know that you genuinely care, they will never feel safe,” she noted.

“It’s all about making connections.”

In the four years in her role as AEA, Comb has provided one-on-one educational support to Indigenous students in the classroom, but also can be found whipping up tasty, nutritious breakfasts, lunches, and food hampers to feed children and families in need.

Comb likes to make scrambled eggs and toast, or smoothies for breakfast at the school to fill empty bellies.

“The healthier the better,” is her approach on what to serve. “I try not to give them anything I wouldn’t feed my own kids.”

There still may be a ways to go in Chilliwack schools to reach equity and reconciliation for Indigenous peoples, but the Chilliwack School District has taken many key steps in the right direction, Comb said.

“My goals under Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement are to increase their sense of belonging and engagement at school, to increase academic success of all Aboriginal students, and thirdly, to increase the respect and the understanding of the language, culture, governance and history of the Stó:lō people, and all Aboriginal peoples.

“And what I do to fulfill those goals every single day is different.”

Like most real-life heroes, she’s extremely humble about the whole process.

“This was a complete shock and I feel so very embarrassed and undeserving on so many levels,” Comb said about the nomination. “We all just do our part to help out in whatever way we can.”

Comb said she finds it very gratifying to be part of a dedicated team in the Aboriginal education department.

She added she has no idea who nominated her, but said that person was likely far more deserving than she is.

But as her nominator, fellow McCammon teacher Shauna Monkman, stated ever so succinctly in her nomination letter for Comb: “She. Is. Amazing.”

Comb patiently and gently helps McCammon families with things like paperwork or online registrations. She has built the parents’ trust and confidence with every act of consideration. She chats with everyone at hamper pickup time, and actively listens to their news and stories with genuine interest.

She’s quick to hug a kid in tears.

Part of Comb’s job is supporting teachers and school staff with incorporating Aboriginal content. The way she performs her duties is by going out of her way to be “a warm and welcoming person,” as her nominator put it.

As a former stay-at-home mom, Comb raised five children over 14 years and loved it. More than anything, that taught her how simple, consistent acts of loving kindness can make a colossal difference in someone’s life.

“I think one of the most important skills as an educator is to be a good nurturer and that’s what I try to do,” she added.

“The students have to know you’ll really be there, and not just grilling them on their ABCs.”

Go to theprogress.com/community to read about Chilliwack’s other Heroes in Education. All seven features will be published May 1 and 2.

Chilliwack School DistrictEducation