"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Kateslem Program: The Inside Story

I spent this evening at a fundraiser at the John B Pub in the company teachers, parents, community workers, civic leaders and other supporters of the Kateslem After School Program.

I first became aware of this worthy project when the Coquitlam Foundation decided to award it a grant last year. Following up on that, I wrote a feature story about the program for what was supposed to be a revamped new Coquitlam Foundation website. Well, more than four months later, the old site is still in place, and the story still hasn't been published on line.

Until now.

Yes, I've decided to use this opportunity to draw some well-deserved public attention for the program by publishing the story here first. So, without further delay, here it is:


Como Lake Middle School’s Kateslem program is using its Coquitlam Foundation grant to cultivate healthier children

‘The more engaged we are with at-risk kids, the less crime we’ll have on the streets.’ --Principal Cindi Seddon

It has been said that children are like plants. Both need nourishment to flourish and thrive. But whereas plants need cultivation, children need education.

There are few more fertile grounds in which to nourish children through education than the rich fields of our community’s classrooms. But when school ends for the day, and there’s no safe place for an at-risk middle-school-aged student to go for the rest of the afternoon, what then?

It is a question that was being asked in 2008 at Como Lake Middle School in Coquitlam. And the answer that parents and educators found was the Kateslem After School Club, a unique, no-fee program for 11- to 14-year-olds offering everything from homework help and life-skills education to community-service opportunities and sporting activities.

A Kateslem program (the name comes from a First Nations word meaning “coming together”) had been operating successfully for a decade at Banting Middle School in Coquitlam, but new funds needed to be raised for a similar one to be launched at Como Lake. Cindi Seddon, Como Lake’s principal, explains that all funding for the program has to be raised from outside sources.

This is where the Coquitlam Foundation entered the picture. After receiving an application for funding in early 2009, the Foundation decided to grant the program $3,500.

“In recommending the awarding of the funding, our grants committee was most impressed by Kateslem’s potential to make a positive difference in the lives of children who may be at risk of falling into crime, drug addiction or even prostitution,” says Coquitlam Foundation Chair Colleen Talbot. She points out that the Kateslem program’s goals mesh well with the Coquitlam Foundation’s mission to encourage and support initiatives that build a vibrant, sustainable and healthy community.

Seddon says programs like Kateslem would not be possible without community support. “At Como Lake, we have been incredibly lucky to be the second site in the district to have the Kateslem After School Program for middle-school aged children,” she says, explaining that the program provides students with a structured, after-school program from Monday to Friday. “The more engaged we are with at-risk kids, the less crime we’ll have on the streets.”

Seddon continues, “This kind of targeted programming only comes at a cost, and we are most grateful to the Coquitlam Foundation for helping to financially sponsor Kateslem.”

While the Como Lake program is only just beginning, its Banting counterpart is enjoying ongoing success. Program Director Karyn Bell points to the story of Brianna, a shy and withdrawn Grade 6 student at Banting. “She didn’t make friends easily,” says Bell, “and her teachers were concerned about her development.” Brianna (not her real name) entered the Kateslem program and began to blossom. “It benefited her in every way—academic, social,” adds Seddon.

After Brianna graduated from middle school to high school, she came back to volunteer at Kateslem. “She and others her age act as role models for the kids,’ Bell explains. “They know the program really well because they’ve already been through it.” Brianna was so involved with Kateslem that the program rewarded her by adding her to its part-time staff while she was in Grade 12. “It was a way for us to give back to her for giving to us.” Today, Brianna—the one-time social outcast—is studying in a post-secondary institution with the aim of making a career of helping children, just as she was helped.

Brianna is just one of many success stories. Kateslem’s participants often improve their marks and are less disruptive in class. And, outside of school, there’s no telling how many children have been steered away from anti-social behaviour.

With such positive outcomes, the Coquitlam Foundation’s grant can be viewed as an investment in the future—not only the future of at-risk children, but also the future of the entire community. What’s clear, says Seddon, is that without the kind of community support shown by the Coquitlam Foundation, “the Kateslem program would not be possible.”


You can learn more about Kateslem by contacting Karyn Bell, Kateslem co-ordinator, at karynskateslem@yahoo.ca or 604.250.9332.

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