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A commitment to teaching

Scott Ormiston, who works at  Garibaldi secondary, has helped increase the school district’s  aboriginal graduation rate to 74 per cent, 20 points higher than the provincial average.    - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Scott Ormiston, who works at Garibaldi secondary, has helped increase the school district’s aboriginal graduation rate to 74 per cent, 20 points higher than the provincial average.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

A Maple Ridge educator has been chosen to receive a rare honour from his alma mater.

UBC has selected Scott Ormiston to receive the 2014 UBC Alumni Teaching Award, citing his “indefatigable commitment to teaching, and the passion, kindness and caring he brings to his practice.”

“It’s tremendous to be recognized, amongst all the amazing colleagues I’ve worked with over the years,” he said.

Dave Derpak was one of the people who nominated Ormiston. Derpak is a district principal in charge of international education for the Vancouver school board, and attended UBC at the same time as Ormiston. They graduated together in 1982, “back when we both had hair.”

The two have remained friends for more than 30 years.

“Scott has always had a great sense of humor, and a great sense of family,” he said.

Derpak said Ormiston demonstrated his expertise and commitment to teaching in recent years, when he took on a new challenge in the Aboriginal education department with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district.

The district has increased its aboriginal graduation rate by 20 per cent in the past two years. If present trends continue, the aboriginal grad rate in the district will be the tops in the province.

Ormiston has a long relationship with this district. He came here in 1983, but left for Calgary after meeting his wife at the Winter Olympics in 1988. After five years in the Stampede City, they returned to B.C. in 1989, and he has been in School District No. 42 since.

For about 20 years, he worked at Garibaldi secondary in the resource room, keeping kids considered “at risk” strongly linked to the school system.

Two years ago, he was asked to become one of two resource teachers for secondary school aboriginal education. In this new role, Ormiston works at Thomas Haney, Garibaldi and Maple Ridge secondary schools, supporting aboriginal education workers and dealing directly with students.

He credits the case management model of working with aboriginal students for the district’s success. In this individualized approach, each student who is struggling to pass courses is dealt with individually, and staff try to minimize any and all obstructions to their graduating.

“You’ve got to build good, really strong relationships with the students. You try to become an advocate for them,” explained Ormiston.

The results have been impressive. The district boasts a graduation rate of 74 per cent for first nations students, compared with a provincial aboriginal grade rate of 54 per cent.

“Scott’s influence as a teacher cannot be fully expressed through figures,” notes the nomination. “Throughout his career, the relationships that Scott has built with his students have been at the core of his teaching practice.

“He is described as having a remarkable ability to generate mutual respect with his students, and to both advocate on their behalf as well as encourage them to advocate for themselves.”

During his time at Garibaldi, Ormiston established traditions to foster school pride, including a Terry Fox Run, staff appreciation lunches for students helping other students with special needs, and an annual Christmas party.

First Nations 12 students at Garibaldi traditionally give paddles to teachers who have made a significant impression on their lives. During his years at the school, Ormiston has received numerous paddles.

He and his wife have two adopted children; one was born to a young mother attending Garibaldi; the other the daughter of a work colleague.

Ormiston has been heavily involved as a coach of various sports in the past 43 years, both in schools and in the community.

“I really enjoy my time with the kids, and when you’re with them in sports, you know them in a different context,” he said.

A former competitive swimmer, Ormiston has remained immersed in aquatics. The Red Cross National Water Safety Program uses the 1-2-3 Breathe manual and video that Ormiston co-authored – a method that helps non-swimmers learn front crawl.

He will receive his award on April 9 at the Gordon Smith Art Gallery in North Vancouver.

It includes a $1,000 prize and $1,000 to be donated.

“It’ll be used somewhere in the system for our kids,” he said.

Ormiston will now be nominated for the Prime Minister of Canada Award, which Derpak calls “the Nobel Prize of teaching.”

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