But in her current role as an instructor for Red River College’s Youth Recreation Activity Worker program, Kerry Coulter gets to re-connect with many of those same kids as they prepare to make a similar difference in the lives of others.
“My students are youth with multiple barriers, so often times they’re kids I used to work with, but now they’re all grown up and seeking access to post-secondary [education], and a supportive environment in which to be successful,” says Coulter.
“It’s full circle. These students want to go back and be helpers in their own communities … They grow up, come to college, and are trained and educated in how to be helpers themselves.”
The recipient of this year’s RRC Students’ Association Teaching Award of Excellence, Coulter has been a Youth Rec instructor since 2002. Before that, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Manitoba (and later, a Masters degree in Education from Central Michigan University), and worked for a number of child and youth care organizations, including Child and Family Services and adolescent treatment centre New Directions.
Each year, the College’s Youth Rec program trains 16 participants — many of whom face socio-economic barriers themselves — to work with inner city youth as recreational leaders. Graduates of the program often find jobs with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg (a program partner) and other inner city youth agencies, or as childhood educators and teachers’ aides.
Over the course of the 10-month program, Coulter sees her students gaining confidence and expanding their knowledge base — often, as a precursor to additional post-secondary studies. She says their accomplishments are all the more impressive given the specific obstacles they must overcome.
“I’m not a person who came to the field because of my own experiences,” she explains. “So I find [my students] very inspirational, because I know how much easier it was for me.
“They’re stronger, I think, and much more deserving of an opportunity for post-secondary. Because that’s what will change their lives, is having the education to help them get the jobs they want.”
For their part, the students who nominated Coulter for the award seem to hold her in similarly high esteem, crediting her with helping them to start a new chapter in their own lives.
“Kerry has helped me overcome barriers that I thought I would never be able to overcome,” said one student. “I’ve started accomplishing my academic goals, fighting anxiety, and using deadlines to my advantage thanks to the tools and tips I have received from her.
“Kerry helped me get back on track when I was lost, nearing failure. I thought I was done for, that I would flunk out once again. I am lucky to have an instructor as great as she is, because if I didn’t, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
The Red River College Students' Association Teaching Award of Excellence is awarded annually to an instructor in recognition of outstanding teaching practices and dedication to students.