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Teacher gets nod for program

EDSS teacher Phil Sauder was one of three teachers honoured last week at the annual Stewart Awards for Teaching Excellence, singled out for excellence and dedication to their work.

“The Stewart Awards are a tremendous honour, recognized across the school board by teachers, administrators and staff so to be nominated and then to win is an incredible achievement,” said Dave Mitchell, chair of the Stewart Awards Trustee Committee.

 EDSS teacher Phil Sauder was cited for his work with the Elmira Life and Work School program, which encourages Mennonite teens to stay in school.
EDSS teacher Phil Sauder was cited for his work with the Elmira Life and Work School program, which encourages Mennonite teens to stay in school.

Sauder was the recipient of the Grant R. MacDonald Award, established in 2004 to honour an outstanding teacher in the local secondary school community. It was named to recognize the long-time commitment to secondary school education of Grant R. MacDonald, a minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in downtown Kitchener, where the awards were handed out.

Sauder co-ordinates the Elmira Life and Work School program, in which rural Mennonite students are encouraged to stay in high school.

“At ELAWS, we strive to create opportunities for students, but at the same time stay true to their values and traditions,” explained Sauder.

The school was started within Elmira District Secondary School in hopes of getting a high school education for these students, many of whom were traditionally removed from school by their parents in order to work on the farm or on the family business. The program has grown from a handful of students to 120, “thanks to Phil’s inclusive vision of providing educational opportunities for all students,” a colleague wrote in support of his nomination.

“My role within the school is a bit tough to describe,” said Sauder. “We function as a school within a school, so we do everything; from shoveling snow to plunging toilets, as well as creating the vision for the program.”

“Almost all of these students would not be attending any secondary school program without Phil’s passionate, personal and professional persistence to ‘build it right so they will come,’” reads the nomination letter.

While noting that it was his name on the plaque at the awards ceremony, there were a number of other people who should have received credit for the project as well, Sauder stressed.

“These awards really celebrate the power of education, and that is an exciting thing. Our program here is about valuing high school education and the doors it will open for students later in life. We work with the community and have our own parent council so there are many people who deserve credit.”

For now, the honour is all his and he is supported by his fellow staff and students for the hard work he has put in over the years.

“From what I have heard, the nomination was put forward by my colleagues but also supported by others including students and the community as well,” he said happily.

“It’s a real honour. Whenever you’re recognized for something that you work hard at and have a passion for, it’s a good thing.”

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