by Heidi Riley
Leanne Perry, from Cornwall PEI, is one of three winners of the 2023 Phyllis Pitre Bursary for Adult Learners.
“I am elated,” says Leanne. “I feel honoured and excited to be chosen to receive the bursary, and it will really help my husband and myself. I am so grateful to the bursary committee and the Career Development Association for this award.
“I have had a wonderful life and career up to this point, but I have had to deal with some health issues that led me to change my career path. I worked as a Combined Service Worker on the Alzheimer’s unit at the Prince Edward Home for nine years. I had the privilege of feeding the residents, having activities set up for them, and general cleaning up duties. I absolutely loved this career and the residents!
“Unfortunately, this work is very hard on the body. My job was extremely physical, and I was on my feet eight to 12 hours a day. Over the last four years, I have had both of my knees completely replaced and am unable to continue in this career.
“One surgery was in January 2020, and because of COVID-19 restrictions, I was not able to go to physio, so that prolonged my recovery. It was a very trying time, but it is not in my nature to give up. It has been a long recovery, but I am getting there.
“I heard on the news that they were crying out for substitute teachers, so I wanted to help. I have always wanted to work with kids, so I decided to go back to school to become a primary school teacher. My goal is to teach grades 1 to 3.”
Leanne earned a BA in Psychology in 1995. Now she is returning to university in her 50s to take the one-year Bachelor of Education program at UPEI. “I am loving every single minute of it!
“The program costs $14,000 plus books. I have a student loan and I have been lucky to receive a few bursaries. That helps, because being off work for so long has made us go through all our savings.
“I love teaching. It allows me to make an impact with young children and helps shape their academics. One highlight is when I see a child light up when they ‘get it’; whether it be a new word in a book or a simple math equation.
“I have had the chance to substitute at local primary schools during the past year and cannot believe I haven’t been doing this my whole life! My knees are getting better, and there are options for sitting or leaning on something while teaching. I know things will work out.
“Sadly, due to COVID-19 and my two knee replacements and recovery, I have not been volunteering in the past few years. Prior to that I was involved with fundraising efforts for the Mikinduri Children of Hope Foundation, and also volunteered with my children’ schools throughout the years and their different sporting teams, Beavers, and catechism. When this next intense year of studies is complete, I hope to get back to volunteering.
“During the time I volunteered in the school system, plus my recent opportunity to be a substitute teacher, I became increasingly motivated to achieve my calling as a primary school teacher — this is my vocation.
“My greatest strength is two-fold. One side is my determination and hard work ethic. The other side is my incredible husband’s unwavering support. I couldn’t go through this journey without him. Before I started back to school, we had a family discussion, and he was behind me 100 percent. He said I could go study and he will do everything else.”
The challenges and high points of going back to school
“A few professors have indicated that it has been helpful to have a person of my age in the classroom because I bring a different point of view from the students who are not married and don’t have children. They tell me things that blow my mind and I have a lot of stories about when I was at school that really surprise them. Having been in positions where I was organized and in a leadership role, I can teach them those skills, and they appreciate that.
“My challenge is that I am behind the times when it comes to the technology side of this adventure. When class started, the professor listed the apps we would need to know how to use, and I was not shy to ask my classmates how to use them. Now I can create a Google Docs slide show, and it feels great.
“I have incredibly supportive classmates who take time every day to teach me new computer skills. The experience has left me confident that I can learn whatever I need to be a great teacher in this day and age.
“I feel so privileged because the UPEI class has been wonderful. There are 30 students in my Primary English Education class, and I couldn’t have asked for better people to go on this journey with. When I started class in May, I was still using a walker. Then I progressed to a cane, and now I can walk on my own. They were all really considerate of me.
“The decision to change careers and go back to school after so many years was terrifying – in the best way. It is challenging because it is an accelerated program. We take new courses every four weeks, and we cram a lot in. I spend hours doing homework every day, but I know I can stick it out for a year. When I get a job in this profession, I know I will need to spend lots of time on lesson plans, so I will be ready for that lifestyle. In the past I could leave work at work, but this is a whole new world!”