Pictured above: Longtime teacher Joan Stephens in front of the mural dedicated to her in the gym at Sunshine Hills Elementary in North Delta. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
By TOM ZILLICH, Surrey Now-Leader
After 30 years of work, Joan Stephens says goodbye to Sunshine Hills Elementary – well, not quite.
After 30 years of teaching at the same school in North Delta, Joan Stephens is ready for retirement, with a catch.
“I’m leaving with mixed emotions, but the good part is I live so close that I can still come and volunteer,” said Stephens, a Boundary Park-area resident who works at Sunshine Hills Elementary.
“I would not be able to survive without that – just reading with the children, things like that. I’m thankful I can still do that, and this way I can still come in on my own time and still be part of it.”
Stephens taught Kindergarten and primary-grade classes during her first two decades at school, before shifting roles to become a French learning assistance instructor about a decade ago.
In 2009, she launched a We Team at the school when some students were inspired to do so, after attending the first We Day event held in Vancouver.
In years since, Grade 7 students led by Stephens have raised close to $200,000 for charitable work around the globe – money to build schools, medical clinics and water wells in Sierra Leone, Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya and, this year, Afghanistan.
“That’s the students’ hard work,” Stephens underlined. “For the children to be able to extrapolate and think about situations so far away, on the other side of the world, that need their help, it just amazes me. They’re inspired enough to empty their piggy banks, set up their little lemonade stands, and this year it was selling slime, of all things, to raise money.”
This year, the team raised $17,000 – significantly more than the original $10,000 goal – to fund a classroom at a girls’ school in Shebergan, Afghanistan.
The school’s We Team was recently given a Delta Rotary Youth Award for its fundraising work, and, at a year-end assembly on June 27, will present a cheque for $17,000 to Dr. Eric Rajah, founder of the Alberta-based A Better World organization that has partnered with the Sunshine Hills We Team since 2011.
In the school gym, a mural of student “helping hands” painted on a map of the world is dedicated to Mme. Stephens, who has organized and inspired hundreds of We Team-ers during her time at Sunshine Hills.
The team will continue in her absence, she hopes, under new leadership next school year.
“Oh yes, I’m sure of that,” Stephens said. “If not I’ll come in,” she added with a laugh, “but I’m truly retiring, yes. I’m going to be 65 in the fall, so it’s time. It’s not that I don’t absolutely still love it, I just can’t keep up with, you know, all the roles I play here. I couldn’t say goodbye to Sunshine Hills, ever, ever. I’m just lucky to be part of this community, it’s wonderful.”