Newsletter for May, 2020
It continues to be strange times, though we've been heartened to hear that some things, in their way, are getting back to some semblance of normal. Schools on island will begin having physical classes in the next couple weeks, and after-school programs will be starting back up as well, all closely following distancing protocols.

Yet despite all the distancing over the past weeks, we've made some important connections. First was a lovely note from Sandy Domina, who many will recall from the early days of the Learning Center. “In 2010 a young student came up to me and asked me if I would teach her how to write poetry,” she writes. “We ended up with an en plein air classroom at the Fig Tree.” Simple, informal. "All the while I had this feeling that this was the tip of an iceberg," she later recalled. That "there was a lot that could happen here." And indeed there was. Those poetry lessons were the leading edge of an idea which, through the direction and stewardship of Ray and Dawn Goodwin, grew into the Learning Centre, an after-school program supporting academic development for elementary, middle, and secondary students.
With various life changes, Sandy is no longer able to visit Bequia, though was in touch in part to see if any of the work continues at the Center. She was happy to hear that not only is the program still in place, with the addition of the student sailors, it is also supporting an even greater diversity of learners. “It is heartwarming to know the Center will continue to thrive,” she says.

It has thrived, possibly in more ways than she could have imagined those years ago. More than anything, The Learning Center is an example of a lot of things done right: starting where you are, making use of local talent, supporting wellness along with academic outcomes. Students who have come through the Learning Centre have grown within a community of learners, sharpened their skills, and gone on to secondary and post-secondary programs. 
 A new book by an old friend

By Glen Herbert
We also had a note this month from Moashella Shortte, who is the author of “Mirror” a book for children released on May 4. Shortte is an early childhood educator who grew up in Lower Bay and who now makes her home in Montreal with her husband, Dr. Daniel Pérusse, a researcher in the field of child development and neuroscience. Together they founded Learning 4 Young Minds , a company that builds learning programs and resources.

In some ways, the impulse that drove Shortte (pictured at right with her daughter Siena) isn't all that different from the one that drove Sandy Domina, namely to help build a strong, positive foundation for learning. Shortte knows, both from her work and her personal experience, that often it's the seemingly little things —and that one person who takes a moment to reach out that can make a difference in the life of a child. For her, a love of learning began, simply, with a book a friend gave her. "I was ten years old carrying around Little Women ," she says. It was given to her by an American with a home on the island. "That was a big part of why I love reading so much. She opened my eyes to the world of books and what was out there."

She credits her father for supporting her to follow her curiosity and her intellect. " He made me feel like there will always be a chance for you to go further if you work hard enough,” she says. “That makes a massive difference. Even if there's just one person in your life who looks at your desire to learn and to expand. Who looks at that as something great. It just takes one person." She likens that to the support that Jamell Ollivierre received, something that came to mind when she read a story about him that we first published in this newsletter. Of Jamell, who was a neighbour for a time, "I thought, o h my God your mom, you were blessed with that amazing woman who saw that an education would be your key to really be who you were meant to be."

After completing degrees in early child and youth development, daycare management, and business management, Moashella spent two decades at the East Preston Day Care Centre, one of the largest child care centres in Nova Scotia, most recently in the role of executive director. She has also served on the Child and Youth Study Advisory Board at Mount Saint Vincent University, the Workplace Education Committee at the East Preston Day Care Centre, Child Care Connections of Nova Scotia, and the Non-Profit Directors Association of Nova Scotia.

The development of Learning 4 Young Minds fulfilled a desire to create programs that weren’t tied to a specific setting, but which could be easily implemented by teachers across the country and, ultimately, around the globe. They would address core curriculum as well as wellness, including esteem and a developing sense of self. The book “Mirror” is a direct expression of all of those goals. “When my daughter was only months old I took a series of photos of her interacting with her reflection in the mirror,” says Moashella. “I was overwhelmed with the joy she expressed for what she was experiencing. She had discovered herself and she was in love! I vowed in that moment to do everything in my power to help her to always look at herself in that way. A few days later ‘Mirror’ was born.”

In some ways, the book began much earlier, in that moment when a friend decided to give a copy of Little Women to a girl in the neighbourhood. Which we can all do, of course, and we should. Right now, even at a distance. Sharing our passions, even the ones that seem little (though they never are) is one of the best ways of connecting with others. And connection—sitting together to talk about poetry, or to work through some times tables, or to discuss an idea—is important. Among other things, it helps us see ourselves in new ways, and to open our minds to new possibilities.
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