Melody Mitchell’s work is child’s play – and she’s passionate about it.
The early learning consultant, and newest board member of Briercrest College and Seminary, is excited about a play-based program she oversees for children three and four year olds in the Prairie South school division.
“I work with an awesome group of teachers and other professionals,” she said. “I really appreciate the mandate of our program. We’re not trying to offer early ‘schoolification’. We’re not trying to take children when they’re three and four years old and teach them how to read. They have more important things to be doing and that’s playing, exploring, discovering, making connections, talking and building relationships with others.”
The program utilizes what is called an emergent curriculum.
“We set up an environment that encourages children to get involved – to have hands on, moving around and to be active,” she explained. “They’re not empty vessels that we’re just pouring information into. We’re actually co-learners. We’re all learning together, and we want it to be developmentally appropriate. That’s why it’s play-based. We’re responding to the interests of the child rather than asking them to respond to our interests.”
Mitchell is a firm believer that positive early learning experiences for children not only prepare them for school but also for life.
“We know how important those first years are,” she said. “The most brain development happens in the first five years of life. After that foundations are established and trajectories are formed that are very difficult to change in spite of all the interventions within the school division that we have.”
President Dwayne Uglem is excited about the contribution Mitchell’s expertise will make to the Briercrest board of directors.
“It’s important that Briercrest connect to the various sectors of our constituency and our community,” he explained. “Melody comes as an expert in early childhood development with all sorts of connections and experience in the education sector. She comes with a strong business background and has competency in several of our core areas. She’s a resident of Moose Jaw and can access our local community. On top of all that, she’s absolutely passionate about our mission. Even before she was a board member she was ready to make a contribution to see Briercrest move forward.”
Mitchell enjoyed her first board meeting last April.
“I just think it’s such an exciting time to be part of the school as we work toward our university status,” she said exuberantly. “I was also really impressed by the board too. They come from all different walks of life across the country and they’re there because they believe in (Briercrest’s) mission.”
Mitchell’s connection with Briercrest began in 2006 when her oldest daughter enrolled at Caronport High School (CHS).
“When we went out to visit Caronport, one thing that appealed to her is that there was very much an international flavour there – the students that had come from other parts of the world,” Mitchell said explaining why her daughter chose to attend CHS. “I think that appealed to her because we had lived overseas. She had just spent nine years of her life in a very cosmopolitan type community. We were also impressed with the quality of education we felt we would get – a small school and a very close-knit staff – a community of faith.”
Mitchell and her family had lived on an air base compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia before moving to Moose Jaw where her late husband, Bryan was stationed at 15 Wing. In 2008, Mitchell’s husband was part of the Snow Bird’s squadron and was chosen to start in the show team. During a promotional photo shoot in October, Bryan was killed when his plane crashed while it was following other aircraft so a photographer could take pictures. “I guess the silver lining on all of that is he died doing what he absolutely loved,” Mitchell said.
The tight knit community of CHS proved to be a support for Mitchell and her two daughters during this time. CHS principal Deb Ike closed school early on the day of Bryan’s funeral so students, faculty and staff could attend.
“I was pretty impressed by that,” Mitchell said thoughtfully.
Mitchell says her faith in God has been an anchor that has helped her through the process of losing her husband – especially in the early days of her grief.
“I don’t know how people do it without faith,” she said. “I’d wake up in the morning, and (Bryan’s death) wasn’t part of my subconscious for quite a while. If I was in a deep sleep, I would wake up and it would take a couple of seconds really for it to hit me again. I remembered that verse, ‘Be still and know that I am God’ and I just had to really meditate on that before I seemed to build up the courage to just get out of bed.”
One of the most powerful ways Mitchell experienced God’s help was through people.
“You know, He provides for us in various ways,” she said as her eyes filled with tears. “Not just that internal strength that He gives us, but also through others – the outpouring of love and support that we had.”
It is this love and support that has drawn Mitchell and her daughters to stay and make Moose Jaw their home.
“So, here I am in Moose Jaw,” she said with a grin. “I have no relatives here except for my daughters. . . I have a really close family and they’re all wondering why I’m still here. It’s because of the people, really – and I really love my work.”