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Viewpoints: Welcome back ... and thank you

September 8, 2015 Brice Unland, President, Red Deer Catholic Local No 80

 As a teacher, I know the importance of public education. At times, one can lose sight of this. One year ago this September, I was personally reminded of how important public education is.

My wife Lindsay and I had planned to have some friends over for a barbecue the weekend before school started — one last hurrah before students arrived. As we prepared for the evening, our daughter Mackenzie sat on the couch quietly watching her stories ... too quietly. A three-year-old is never still for long.

Walking over to the couch, we found Mackenzie very warm and lethargic. Shortly after, she became sick and we moved her to the bathroom. This wasn’t normal. Lindsay asked if she should call an ambulance. Not wanting to tax our underfunded health system, I suggested it wasn’t a big deal. Then Mackenzie stopped breathing. As it turned out, calling an ambulance was prudent.

As Lindsay called 911, I tried my best to get a reaction out of our unresponsive daughter. She wasn’t breathing and she was limp. She had gone from pale to purple in seconds. I took her outside, in hopes the cool air would bring her around. No luck. We would have to wait for the ambulance.

Seven minutes. Seven eternal minutes. Lindsay paced around the house answering the questions of the dispatcher, requesting updates and shouting orders at me.

For most of those seven minutes I held our mostly lifeless daughter in my arms. I combed her hair. I told her stories about frogs jumping on lily pads, her new favourite narrative. I kissed her forehead.

For seven minutes I wasn’t aware of my surroundings, of the past or the future. I was simply in the present. I didn’t think about anything other than comforting our daughter.

Two ambulances and six paramedics arrived at the end of those seven minutes. The medics hooked Mackenzie up to fancy little machines in briefcases, poked her, prodded her and brought our little nugget back to life.

Lindsay rode with her in the ambulance to the hospital.

When I arrived, Mackenzie was sitting up in the emergency hospital bed, eating a Popsicle ... purple, her favourite colour. The best the doctor could deduce was that, due to an exceptionally high fever in a very short period, her body shut down.

Late that evening, as I lay in bed awake (sleep would not come easy for quite some time), I thought about who needed to be thanked. Plainly, the six paramedics who showed up and took care of Mackenzie were to be thanked. They did all the work. Yet, as I reflected on this experience, I started to think that more people need to be thanked for saving my daughter’s life.

Those people are you.

Without public education, those paramedics could not have done their job. That’s God’s honest truth. So let me be clear.

Thank you to the Grade 1 teachers who taught these folks how to read and play nice when they were too young to know what important role they would fill later in life.

Thank you to the bus drivers who drove these young kids to school on a ­yellow bus.

Thank you to the librarians who insisted that other students return their texts, so these students would have the resources they needed.

Thank you to the IT staff for ensuring these students had meaningful access to technology with which to learn.

Thank you to the music teachers for putting up with their likely inability to make music, and hence they focused on the sciences and became paramedics.

Thank you to the chemistry teachers who instilled a love of mixing compounds together to watch them explode or start on fire. This would push these students further into science classes in post-secondary. Little did they know that their jobs would never require them to mix substances together to make explosions.

Thank you to the caretaker who ensured these students had a safe and maintained building in which to learn.

Thank you to the counsellor who counselled these students, in both career and personal choices.

You see, the whole setup relies on you.

It is quite possible my daughter would not be alive today if it were not for the intervention of the paramedics, and the paramedics could not have done what they did without you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for saving my daughter’s life.

Remember that when we walk into our classrooms. It’s not just literacy and numeracy. It’s people’s lives that we hold in our hands. It doesn’t get any more important than that.

Brice Unland teaches high school social studies for Red Deer Catholic Schools. This article is an adaptation of a speech he delivered at the division’s opening mass, which marks the official beginning of the 2015/16 school year.

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