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Just behind the desk in her classroom Sylvia Smith has a piece of Bristol board with several pictures

from a demonstration that she and her students attended at Parliament to protest violence against Aboriginal women. This is just one of several pieces that Smith has around her classroom from the activism shes helped her students achieve. Smith grew up on a farm near a small town called Allan, Sask. which is situated 60 km southeast of Saskatoon. Smith lived on the farm with her parents, Bruce and Wilma, and was the fifth of seven children with three brothers, two older, one younger, and three sisters, again two older and one younger. Her family grew all their own food on their farm, with everyone doing their share. Smith referred to her childhood as a 50s upbringing in the 70s. She also mentioned that she and her siblings were ``Raised to know how to work.`` Growing up and working on the farm and having the childhood lessons she did, has led to her to be the driven, determined person and teacher she is today. But just being a hardworking, determined individual isn`t enough for Smith. Since she began teaching, she has been set on educating and empowering others, always with a new project or outlet for her passion. This drive allowed her to help a student follow their own passion to learn more about and take a stand against the past atrocities committed against Aboriginal peoples, which led to the creation of Project of Heart. Project of Heart was started in Smith`s class at Elizabeth Wyn Wood Alternative High School, and pushed through to success by Smith`s passionate personality. The project was first conceived when Smith showed her class a history text book called Canada: Face of a Nation and

the fact that there were only 63 words in the whole of the book on Aboriginal history. One student was appalled did more research on the subject discovering how poorly the Canadian government have treated the Aboriginals. At that point it was just in its infancy stages and Sylvia said to me, she said What do you think of this? said Warren McBride, Smiths co-worker at Elizabeth Wyn and friend of 17 years, recalling Smith telling him about Project of Heart at its inception. I remember driving her home and saying to her Be careful of this thing. This is huge. McBride warned Smith about the project and went on to compare it to the AIDS memorial quilt, in that it was going to have the same power and spread that the AIDS quilt had. McBride and Smith then began the initial planning stages of what would become Project of Heart. The student then educated Smith`s class and eventually the school on the atrocities they`d found out about. Smith then encouraged the students to go beyond the classroom, beyond the school and try to create bridges between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals. As a teacher you would be stupid not to guide that passion, she said. Smith described Project of Heart as an intergenerational, activist endeavour, where non-Aboriginal people Start walking the talk of truth and reconciliation. Smiths drive and passion for Project of Heart led to some of her friends and colleagues to submit her for the Governor Generals Award for Teaching Excellence. Smith knew since sixth grade that she wanted to be a teacher. She said that her role model for wanting to get into education was her older sister Sandy who has a Kinesiology Degree and

a Degree in Education, the same degrees Smith herself has, however she never went into teaching. In addition to the degrees she currently has, Smith is working on her Masters thesis for the University of Regina. Warren McBride and Laurie Joe, friend of Smith, were the two people who helmed the plan to get Smith the Governor Generals Award. McBride and Joe were at a Project of Heart with another friend Albert Dumont, an Aboriginal elder and poet, and came to the realization that Smith and Project of Heart deserved recognition for the work they were doing. Joe and McBride began researching awards that they could nominate Smith for and saw too many that they felt would be too political until they came across the Governor Generals Award and they thought it was perfect. On their initial approach to Smith to ask if they could nominate her she said no. Smith, an extremely modest person, did not want the recognition that a nationally recognized award would bring. I first approached Evan, her husband, said McBride. And the objective there was, youre not nominating Sylvia for the award, because if you say were nominating Sylvia for the award she wont accept it. And to be nominated for these things you have to be willing. She agreed that she would go forth as long as it was Project of Heart. Smith first met her husband Evan through his parents. Smith was working at a coffee shop in Saskatoon during university and one day his mother came in to the shop and invited her over for lunch. The next year they worked together on student council at the university, he was the

Vice President of External Affairs and she was the member at large from her faculty and they just never lost touch. Upon getting Smiths okay to go ahead with the nomination for the Governor Generals Award, they got right to work. Joe and McBride contacted a previous winner of the award, who came down to Ottawa and brought her project that shed won for, and the nomination package for her win. They used her winning template, the style of the package and made their own that applied to Smith and Project of Heart. They had their first binder which was just the basics of what the nomination package needs and then had supplementary binders which were full of extra letters of recommendation that people had wanted to write for her. Joe described Smith as being an amazing, caring teacher and being everything a teacher should be. After getting finishing university, Smith did not immediately go into teaching, but travelled instead. She left Canada in 1981 and during her travels she kept in touch with Evan who, after realizing she wasnt going to be returning to Canada in a very timely manner quit his job and met her in Greece. They then travelled to Japan where they both taught, Smith at private jobs working with children, while Evan was commuting two hours to teach IBM employees English. While in Japan, Smith earned her black belt in Aikido, a defensive martial art, a skill which she brought back to Canada when they returned in 1986. Smith began working for the Ottawa district school board teaching self defense classes both to students and physical education teachers on how to work it into their lessons. Joe described the nomination package theyd put together for Smith as the best nomination package ever. A press release went out on Dec. 5, 2011 that announced the winners of all the

Governor Generals Awards categories and Smith had won her category. When the official word came out, she did her best to keep it secret from her students, but one found out and spread the word around the school. Both Smith and McBride were doubtful from the beginning that she and Project of Heart were going to win. Smith believed that Project of Heart was too political, too harsh on the Canadian government and she was very sure that had it come to the attention of Stephen Harper they would have lost for sure. Though since Project of Heart was unlike regular curriculum and it was a little bit edgier than most submissions, probably helped put them over the top for the win. Smith and her husband Evan have been together since 1982 and have had two daughters. Both girls have a black belt in a form of martial arts, the youngest Evana in Jiu Jitsu, and the older Petra in Karate. Smith made it a big priority to make sure that her girls were able to defend themselves. Joe described Smith as the teacher that everyone wanted to have when they were in high school. Shes not only a very driver person, but also extremely caring about her students as a whole and as individuals. Learning with their hearts and not just with their heads, Smith said as she described that the best parts of her days, when she gets to see the students really engaged in what theyre learning. When Sylvia Smith and her class began working to make Project of Heart a reality, they began in the class room, but now its gotten so large that its moved out of the classroom and into the hands of others. While Sylvia is no longer running it Project of Heart wouldnt be if it

werent for her, she was the one who funded it from the beginning; she was the whole operation at the start. Her commitment to Project of Heart was truly defined by McBride when he said, If it wasnt for her drive it wouldnt be. We know that.

Sources Sylvia Smith Email: info@projectofheart.ca Home Phone: (613)-722-6861 Teacher Profile Subject Warren McBride Email: warren.mcbride@gmail.com Teacher Friend and colleague of Sylvia for nearly 20 years Laurie Joe Email: joechod@videotron.ca Home Phone: (819) 595-2055 Judge Friend of Sylvia for 13 years Danielle Powder Email: dani-powder@ncsa.ca Works at Project of Heart with the woman who took over from Sylvia

Sylvia Smith and Project of Heart

Jay Coghlan Julie McCann December 11, 2012