Every month, I will be profiling an extraordinary human being who lives in our community. If you know someone who is doing something interesting with their life or has an inspiring story to share, I want to hear about it. Send me an email at [email protected]
It’s funny the way life happens.
You may find yourself genuinely happy with how everything turned out or full of regret and dismay because things didn’t go as planned. And sometimes it takes a good long while—years even—before you are able to look back and realize you made a difference.
For Sharon Brant, life just happened to take her in the right direction. She’s an Educational Assistant (EA) at Irwin Memorial Public School, the thriving little school perfectly tucked away in the quaint village of Dwight. All four of her girls went to that school. And that means something to Sharon. Community matters to her. Truly and deeply.
“It’s kind of interesting how it happened,” says the 58-year-old on how she came to land her dream job 28 years ago. “I originally started as a supply for the secretary at the school. Actually, I didn’t even have any intentions on staying.”
Her love for kids made her the perfect fit at the school. People were always telling her she should be a teacher, but Sharon couldn’t fathom going back to school to get a teaching degree. Been there, done that. She had spent two years at college obtaining a degree in travel and tourism. But when opportunity came knocking and the school was looking to hire an EA, Sharon applied for the job and got it.
And so, as they say, the rest is history (except she did spend two years at Pine Glen Public School but came back to Irwin and has been there ever since). But to end it there certainly wouldn’t make for a riveting story of a life spent enriching children’s lives, which is exactly what Sharon has been doing all these years. In fact, her dedication to the job recently paid off when she became the recipient of Trillium Lakelands District School Board’s Impact Award of Excellence. It’s an honour that has made Sharon reflect on her journey as an EA. After all, it’s the kids that keep her on her toes. Keep her loving what she does every single day.
It meant the world to me. I was overwhelmed. It was very humbling. Various colleagues of mine put forth letters and school council and the principal supported it. The other EA who started the process got letters from parents. You know what it did? After 28 years it gave me the feeling that maybe I have made a difference.
Because, she says, sometimes you question whether you are making an impact. Working with children with exceptionalities means Sharon goes the extra mile to make her kids feel special. Sharon has had the pleasure of working with kids who have ADD, ADHD, OCD, autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and children who are considered medically fragile. There is no uncharted territory, and no matter what that particular child may be enduring, whether it’s a behavioural issue or a physical disability, Sharon puts her heart and soul into every child she works with.
Sharon knows how fortunate she is to be able to do what she loves on a daily basis. She speaks highly of the incredibly dedicated team of educators she gets to work with; many she has become close friends with and that is so important to her. And the kids! She gushes about the students and the special bonds that have been made with some of them over the years.
You can learn a lot about yourself working with children, says Sharon. As much as she’s instrumental in helping them overcome barriers, she, too, is ever learning. Her patience and perseverance have sometimes surprised herself. Indeed, they are Sharon’s strong points. You have to be willing and able to stand your ground with a kid and you have to be kind but firm.
For me, being an EA is all about the relationship you build. And it’s in taking the time to build those relationships that you become most effective. There are no shortcuts. And in that relationship the student has trusted you to say what you mean and mean what you say. That is huge.
Something else Sharon has learned about herself thanks to her job is how much she enjoys being part of a small community. Living down the road from the school means a brisk walk to work every morning.
“I like knowing the postmistress and the bus drivers. I walk to the businesses across the road and there are the kids who have graduated from the school and they’re getting their first job. I like that the community is hiring the kids. I think the thing I like best is that we have lived in the same house my entire married life. I don’t know if I foresaw that. I grew up in Barrie and I was heading to Toronto because it was bigger and better and here I end up in a small community. That sense of belonging is so important to me.”
For Sharon, every day is a new opportunity to make a difference. As she strolls through the main hallway at the school, she’s giving students a high-five or just greeting them with a friendly smile and somehow you know that that small gesture has made them feel special. She loves to play with the kids too. She’s never one to turn down a good game of tag.
Retirement is just around the corner. Just a couple of short years away. Sharon admits she hasn’t given it much thought, though. Maybe because it scares her a bit. What would that life would look like? She’s not even sure what she would do with herself. So until then, she will continue to immerse herself into what matters a great deal to her. The smiling faces of the kids. The close bonds she shares with her co-workers. The school. Her home away from home.
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