Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Emmanuel Escueta that

Prime Minister’s award for lessons in French

Maple Ridge teacher Emmanuel Escueta developed Verbathon game.

Faced with a classroom of students who were determined not to learn anything, a Maple Ridge teacher created a now popular French grammar game.

Emmanuel Escueta has been recognized for that, and for the spirit of innovation that inspired it.

He is one of only two teachers in B.C., and just 10 across the country, to receive the Prime Minister’s Certificate of Excellence.

Escueta teaches second grade French immersion at Ecole Irvine Elementary School in Port Coquitlam, and is best known as the inventor of Verbathon, which teaches French grammar.

His career began in 1989, in front of a completely uninspired group of students in northern Manitoba.

Escueta was astounded at their negative attitudes toward education. He had been born in the Philippines, moved to Canada at the age of 16, and threw himself into his studies. He spoke Tagalog and a very formal brand of English learned at an all-boys Catholic school. French was exotic to him, and to learn it for free was a great opportunity. But a teacher essentially told him he would never be able to master it.

“I worked my tail off to learn it – I challenged myself,” he said.

He went on to do a double major in English and French at the University of Manitoba. To practise conversational French, he went to work as a waiter at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre, with a French-English dictionary in his pocket.

So in his first year teaching middle school, he was stunned to meet with intransigence in the classroom.

“I had students who didn’t want to learn,” Escueta said. “I was so taken aback by the negative attitude these kids had about learning – and most of all French,” he added. “How do I engage them – how do I turn them around?”

Verbathon was the answer. It took the driest and most tedious part of learning French, and turned it into a game – one where kids are timed on how fast they can conjugate verbs.

It was a huge hit, and still is. Kids play in teams, and they practise on their own, and even get team T-shirts made up.

It is so popular that even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had taught it when he was a teacher in Vancouver. The two men passed a few words about Verbathon when Trudeau was giving Escueta his certificate of excellence in Ottawa earlier this month.

Trudeau even signed a Verbathon T-shirt for him after the ceremony.

“I couldn’t believe how approachable he was,” said Escueta.

He developed a kit so schools across the country can have Verbathons of their own. He runs a  country-wide Verbathon tournament, and the Canadian Parents for French run a tournament in his school district. He speaks at national conferences about the game, and it has been expanded to Spanish and German.

“It has grown to a point where it’s beyond what I would dream it to be.”

His nominators also noted that Escueta takes advantage of cross-cultural opportunities for learning, such as teaching children to sing a Christmas song in three languages, to play a traditional Filipino bamboo instrument and to dance a traditional Filipino dance.

He also mentors fellow teachers on second-language instruction and the use of technology to enhance learning.

In his presentation speech, Trudeau joked that he became prime minister so he could hand out the awards to teachers. He said great teachers understand that they are not answerable to the board that hired them, or the parents and community that support them.

“Great teachers are ultimately accountable to the society that will be peopled by the citizens they create every day in their classroom,” he said, calling it an “awesome responsibility and humbling opportunity.”

Escueta said Trudeau made receiving the award an even greater honour.

“It was very special, in that we are the first batch of teachers to receive the awards under the Trudeau government, and he shares a common bond.”

 

Just Posted

Junior hockey back, as Flames host exhibition

Ice Hawks visit Maple Ridge on Aug. 23

Resident asks Maple Ridge council to skip UBCM reception

Doesn’t want politicians to attend China-sponsored event

The scenic route through Maple Ridge

Winding Fern Crescent offers relaxing views

Bulldogs defeat Ridge Meadows Royals

Exhibition game proved to be challenging for both teams

VIDEO: B.C. woman meets biological mother, 38 years later

Mother never gave up hope of finding daughter, despite all the obstacles

B.C. Lions fall to 1-9 after 13-10 loss to Ticats

Lowly Leos have dropped six straight CFL contests

VIDEO: B.C. woman meets biological mother, 38 years later

Mother never gave up hope of finding daughter, despite all the obstacles

B.C. man who died after rescuing swimmer was known for helping others

Shaun Nugent described as a dad, a coach, a hero and ‘stand-up guy’ at celebration of life

B.C. RCMP plane chases fleeing helicopter as part of major cross-border drug bust

The helicopter eventually landed at a rural property near Chilliwack

Border crossings across Lower Mainland seeing lengthy delays

Sumas, Peace Arch and Surrey-Blaine border crossings seeing long wait times

Thousands cycle to conquer cancer

The 11th annual Ride to Conquer Cancer took place Saturday morning, Aug. 24 in Surrey, B.C.

PHOTOS: Brazil military begins operations to fight Amazon fires

Amazon fires have become a global issue, escalating tensions between Brazil and European countries

Racist confrontation in Richmond parking lot caught on camera

Woman can be heard yelling racial slurs, swear words at woman in apparent parking dispute

Most Read