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SFU student and volunteer Jinder Kaler works with students at Newton Elementary during the Racing Readers after-school program, a partnership between Surrey Schools and SFU Surrey - TD Community Engagement Centre.
It’s after school on a Wednesday and while most students
have gone home for the day, 35 kids have gathered in an all-purpose room at
Their attention is on a Simon Fraser University student,
who is showing them some phrases in sign language: “hello,” “my name is,” “how
Another SFU student asks the kids to recall an incident from
the week prior, which sparks a conversation about respect, caring about others’
well-being and feeling comfortable, safe and happy. Journals come out and the
children put pen to paper, answering questions such as ‘why is respect
important?’ and ‘who deserves it?’ Then it’s off to the gym for a floor hockey
The elementary and university students are all at the Surrey
school for the same thing: Racing Readers, a weekly program that matches the
youth with the university students, who lead sessions that nurture fitness,
literacy, numeracy and social connection. The program targets students
identified as needing additional support, outside the traditional classroom
Developed through a partnership between SFU Surrey-TD
Community Engagement Centre and Surrey Schools, the program has been running
since 2014 at Newton Elementary, where there is now a waitlist to participate.
It expanded in 2016 to Betty Huff Elementary, where another 30 Surrey students now
get together with their university friends each week.
Grade 5 student Ramandeep (pictured at bottom) is happy to be attending Racing
Readers for his second year.
“I like that the volunteers are really kind and we do a lot
of physical activities, using our brains and our bodies.”
His SFU buddy, Jinder Kaler, has been volunteering with the
program for a year-and-a-half.
“I was looking to help the community,” he says, while he
helps one of the youth with their journal writing. “I was surprised how much
impact it has on the kids. They are easily influenced so it forces you to be
the best person you can. I try to be the best mentor.”
Trisha Dulku was an SFU student when the program initially
launched and now works as a community projects coordinator at the university.
She said from the outset, it was never difficult attracting university
volunteers, who are often pursuing careers working with children and want
experience, or who simply want to meet more of their university peers.
“It was exciting to see that there were so many SFU students
who wanted to get involved in the program,” she recalls.
Gagan Parhar is the program coordinator at the Newton
location. She says it’s important for her to be able to give back to students
who, like her, may have started school with English as their second language.
She also values the opportunity to have open – and sometimes deep –
conversations with the elementary children.
“Every week there’s something important that we talk about,”
she says. And every week, she is rewarded when the kids surprise her with their
insight and growth.
Student Ayaan (pictured at right) is a big fan of Racing Readers.
“I like that there’s a little bit of everything and it’s all
His favourite thing, he says, is the reading – and
everything that follows.
“When we’re done reading, we draw something from the book or
write about it,” Ayaan says. “I like it, because then you really know what you