When Brian VanGarderen became a father this March, he knew he wanted the community to be a better place for his daughter.
“How can I start making an impact?” he asked himself.
While he’s a resource teacher in the Abbotsford, he looked for ways to volunteer in Chilliwack where he lives. And as he learned more about the city, he learned about the divisivenes at the Chilliwack school board table. He felt his skills and knowledge would help get the board back to good policy making.
“I realized that I have such a passion for education, that it’s important for me to start giving to my community and that I am qualified,” he said in a Zoom interview with The Progress. “As I started going down that rabbit hole, I started thinking ‘why not? Why not run for school board?’ I have the skills, I have the knowledge of the public eduction system and I work in it, so I can see every day what affects students and teachers and support staff and the community.”
VanGarderen sees himself as a “bridgemaker” and would like to use those skills to help connect with the school board’s partner groups, including DPAC, teachers, parents and the larger community. That’s the only way boards can create policies that fit the school community, he says.
“I want to make sure that I hear every side of people’s opinion,” he says. “I want to encourage the school board to focus on the students.”
And that includes inclusion of all students.
“We need to be creating more opportunities for these students that are vulnerable or left out or feeling like they’re underrepresented,” he adds.
VanGarderen says he’d like to see a district-wide gay straight alliance club to help LGBTQ+ students connect with each other, stay engaged and show them they are part of a larger community.
But inclusion doesn’t just mean queer students, he adds. He works with deaf and hard of hearing students and their families, and is familiar with the pressures and needs of students who are vulnerable or have exceptionalities.
He also wants to see more opportunities created for First Nations students and their own elders to connect district wide.
He knows that his strong feelings on inclusion be a surprise to some, as he is as graduate of King’s College in Edmonton, a private Christian post-secondary institution. But his experience at the school, offered up to him as an opportunity from the generosity of his parents, was not what he expected.
He said he was able to find like-minded people, enjoyed the small class sizes, and was happy to stay there for his entire post-secondary education. In the end, he says, he gained an education and feels he is in a strong moral position to be a community leader.
As for COVID-19 concerns, he’d like to see districts ensuring they are going “above and beyond” the minimum requirements set out by the province, supporting schools with extra staffing, cleaning supplies, and with proper supervision before and after school.
And VanGarderen’s plan is to run again in 2022, he adds. In the meantime, he will continue to look for ways to get involved in the community in a positive way, he says.
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