When Island Pacific School (IPS) teacher Jennifer Henrichsen received the email from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, she almost thought it was spam.
Spam it was not. Last Friday, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, MP for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, presented Henrichsen with a Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in a small ceremony at IPS.
Goldsmith-Jones described the award as “Canada’s highest honour for school teachers and early childhood educators” to the audience of students, parents, teachers and Mayor Gary Ander.
Henrichsen teaches math, is assistant head of the independent middle school and runs the grade nine Masterworks program. She thanked her co-workers who put together the 30-plus page nomination package (all without her knowledge), her mother for teaching her the value of community and IPS founding head Ted Spear.
“He taught me what education can be,” Henrichsen said. “And I’ve tried to take that into everything that I do day to day. It’s this lofty goal of expecting great things from teenagers.”
“I feel very honoured,” said Henrichsen.
“We’re part of this little school that we’ve created and it’s the little school that could. And all of you are part of that as students, all the teachers, all the staff, past and present, have created something really, really special,” she said.
Henrichsen came to the school, her first teaching job, in 2000 after an earlier career in wildlife biology. She worked there for three years before leaving for seven –during that time having two kids and living in New Brunswick, Argentina and Ghana.
She returned to Bowen and IPS in 2011 and has been at the school ever since.
“Through outdoor adventures, community service projects and even math class, [Jennifer] encourages constant self-reflection on the three cardinal virtues featured in the school’s motto: wisdom, courage and integrity,” reads Henrichsen’s profile on the award site.
The profile describes a teacher who not only spends a lot of one-on-one time with students but comes up with “ingenious” math projects such as making cookies to understand fractions and proportions. She builds empathy in students through exercises such as the annual sleepout. In the sleepout students visit Covenant House, a centre for homeless youth in Vancouver, and the Downtown Eastside and then return to the island to sleep a night outside. The exercise is to create empathy for those whose life experiences have resulted in homelessness.
“On a daily basis, Jennifer finds ways to channel her passion for teaching into rich and meaningful experiences that inspire our students to express the very best of what it means to be human,” head of school Scott Herrington is quoted in the profile.
In an interview posted on the school’s website earlier this year, Henrichsen goes into more detail of her career on Bowen and why she loves teaching.
“What gives me energy? Kids give me energy. And teaching, I’ve got a whole class of engaged kids doing something that they find really worthwhile and opens their eyes,” she said.