In this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the work of Helen Wolfe, OTIP Teaching Award recipient in the Elementary Category, at Nelson Mandela Park Public School in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).
Now retired after 40 years of teaching, Helen Wolfe’s legacy is her exemplary commitment to students and student learning both inside and outside the classroom. By honouring students’ interests and backgrounds, she equipped many learners with the competencies needed to be effective citizens of the 21st century.
Helen’s commitment to lifelong learning helped promote student agency. She remained apprised of current research and technology and challenged herself by welcoming opportunities in various roles such as literacy coach, librarian, and reading teacher. This learning culminated at Nelson Mandela Park Public School where Helen continued to cultivate student voice and choice as a classroom teacher.
Helen’s students were immersed in comprehensive, cross-curricular, and culturally relevant learning in an environment that honoured and supported high expectations. To create an environment that fostered critical thinking, citizenship, and collaboration, Helen acquired the tools students need to learn in the 21st century. She modeled problem solving, creativity and collaboration for her students and peers by applying for many grants over the years. It is the funding she secured that often afforded the community of learners access to culturally diverse texts and resources. Computers, robots, a 3D printer, circuit boards and wearable technology were available to students to engage in STEM and Maker experiences and to participate in the Girls Crack the Code lunch club. Conferences that exposed students to areas such as coding and media literacy were also organized to enrich learning. Says former colleague, Ajike Akande, “Just the fact that she has been able to open these doors for kids while she herself is learning is so inspiring”.
Helen valued community connections and ensured that the classroom and her teaching honoured and celebrated the culturally diverse neighbourhood of Regent Park. She established extra tutoring opportunities led by community volunteers, former students, and colleagues. By forging relationships with families and community members, Helen was also able to connect students with mentors and guest speakers. By providing these opportunities, she helped to inspire her students. Julia Pham, for example, began to code and eventually became a programmer herself because Helen brought a computer programmer to school.
Her mission to design relevant and responsive learning environments and experiences led students to achieve success. Helen’s impact as an educator has been profound and she has left a lasting impression in the hearts and lives of her students, colleagues and community partners. Congratulations to Helen Wolfe, OTIP Teaching Award recipient in the Elementary Category.