RHFSP Difference Makers - empowering students to build stronger communities

Janet Dunec
“[RHFSP Difference Makers] was memorable for the kids because of the power of the message that anyone can and should make a difference. They still talk about it - and anything that sticks with them beyond a few days, to me, means it had an important impact on them."

- Janet Dunec – Grade 5 teacher, St. Maria Goretti Elementary School, Brampton, ON, and 2017 RHFSP Difference Maker of the Year Award Recipient
Understanding diversity and equality, and developing empathy and acceptance, are the qualities of a strong community – as well as an influential difference maker.

The main focus at educator Janet Dunec’s school, with grades from kindergarten to grade 8, was community building. When the school’s special education resource teacher suggested trying RHFSP’s Difference Makers, Janet was quick to register.

In the first activity, Janet asked her grade 5 students how they could demonstrate appreciation for others who face various challenges. As the class began embracing the lessons, Janet noted how well the resources fell in line with her school’s curriculum and the work it was already doing.
The RHFSP Difference Maker toolkit is designed to inspire, empower, and recognize students who make a difference in their school or community. It builds key skills such as communication, team-building, and leadership.

“It’s good to have RHFSP resources available because a lot of kids might not come across this information at home. I really feel it’s the school’s job to give them a view of diversity and equality for everyone,” says Janet.

Building communities by learning from each other

Janet’s class came up with the idea of grouping together older students with younger ones from various grades to increase understanding and reduce bullying. In pairs, the students interviewed each other about what they find challenging in their life. When they were done, they each made something for the other – for example, a bracelet or a portrait.

Her class next paired up with their kindergarten reading buddies and read them Rick Hansen’s story, Boy in Motion. The kindergarten students drew pictures of what they thought a Difference Maker looked like. Each day, students shared inspirational quotes during the school announcements.

As Janet’s class worked through weeks 1 -3 of the Difference Maker lessons, she presented a proposal to the principal to hold a school-wide event. The school celebrated completing the lessons with a Difference Maker Day and arranged for a RHF Ambassador presentation with Joel Dembe.

RHF Ambassadors are people with disabilities across Canada who share their personal stories of overcoming barriers. Students have first-hand contact with someone with a disability and can engage in conversations about how we all have the potential to make a difference.

Joel recently retired from high-performance competition after representing Canada at the Paralympic level. He works with RBC as part of the RBC Olympians Program and with Tennis Canada as a coach and ambassador, promoting inclusivity within the sport.

“For me the biggest impression was having a RHF Ambassador come to the school. Joel Dembe was a wonderful speaker who emphasized the fact that ‘even kids’ can make a difference,” says Janet.

Making an impact as a difference maker

Janet is very proud of her class’s accomplishments and the impact RHFSP has had on her students. In 2017, Janet was celebrated as a RHFSP Difference Maker of the Year for her work.

“Overall I think [RHFSP] provided many of the students a chance to shine—doing the morning announcements, leading Difference Maker Day, and then sharing their learning with parents,” she says.
Janet continues to promote RHFSP to other teachers and provides lesson ideas at staff meetings. The Difference Maker Award she received serves as a reminder of how meaningful the program has been to her.

“It was a surprise and an honour for me to be chosen as a Difference Maker,” she says. “It was nice, but I was just doing my job. The value of the resources is the effect they have on students. I found the activities relevant and empowering.”