George “Sonny” Henry with his students during the after school program at Prince Rupert Middle School. (Matthew Allen / The Northern View)

Making students feel at home

George “Sonny” Henry has been a learning facilitator for eight years

A glance inside George Henry’s office will offer insight into his life’s loves.

Posters on his wall of Michael Jordan and Lebron James betray his love of basketball, the pictures he proudly displays of his children show how much he loves his family, and the clothes and shoes he has stacked on shelves in his office show how much he loves to help the kids he works with everyday.

“Since I’ve been working here, that has been a huge role that we play,” said the Aboriginal family resource worker. “Being able to provide for the kids.”

Henry, or Sonny as he is affectionately called by all those who know him, has worked for School District 52 as a resource worker since 2009, but he has always found a way to involve himself with helping young people around him succeed either in their athletic or academic endeavours.

Before he worked with the school district, Henry helped coach his eldest son Jacob’s minor baskteball and elementary school teams. Once Jakob was old enough to play at the high school level, he continued coaching, first with his daughter, Payton, before moving on to coach his youngest son, George Junior.

“Once you’re done with one kid, you kind of move on to the other,” he said, laughing.

At this time, Henry was working as a general labourer in the copper, silver and gold mining camps approximately 800 kilometres north of Prince Rupert in Tahltan Nation. Often away from Prince Rupert for weeks, he would take the spare time he had when at home to help coach his children and other kids on minor league teams. Eventually, Henry left his job at the camps because of the difficulty of his family being so far away, but he continued coaching.

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“It’s nice that the parent’s have nice programs to stay involved with their kids,” he said.

Teachers at the school district noticed the rapport Sonny built not only with his own children, but also with the other kids that played for him. They suggested that he pursue a role with the school district. In 2008, Sonny applied and accepted a role as an education assistant at Roosevelt Elementary School. In 2009, the former Aboriginal family resource worker retired from his position and told Sonny that he should put his name in the hat for the position.

“He said, ‘You should apply for this position, it would really be beneficial to the kids to have a role model or someone like you in this position to help with them,’” Henry said.

In 2009, Henry accepted the position as resource worker at Roosevelt before being transfered to Prince Rupert Middle School in 2010, and he has been doing the job ever since.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect working with the Grade 6, 7 and 8 kids, but it didn’t take much time,” he said. “I enjoyed it right off the bat.”

Today, he describes his job as merely doing whatever he can to help the kids he works with succeed.

“The way we like to look at it is we’re here to help out with the Aboriginal students as best we can,” he said.

Making that change comes in different forms. Sometimes, it means providing for daily necessities, like giving the donated clothes or shoes on his shelf to a student who needs it. It could also mean going to a student’s house if they’ve been missing school to find out what is wrong. Henry said that sometimes in these situations its as simple as the student living far away from school and needing a way to get there.

“We’ll help out with bus passes if we can,” he said.

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Henry also hosts what he calls “sixer mixers” which are social events to help transition younger students to their new environment with games, mingling activities or scavenger hunts. In addition to the coaching and mentoring, Henry hosts after school activities for students. He said it is important to provide these activities for students who may not have access to the pool or other costly after school programs.

“It really helps the kids connect with the school, and then also be able to have a familiar face when they walk in through the door,” he said.

Eight years into his role, Henry said he is still figuring out how to better connect with his students and make them feel a part of the school environment.

“I think as every year goes by we’re learning new things,” he said, “And we’re learning new ways to help make our kids comfortable in the school.”

Whether it’s handing out clothes, helping them feel comfortable or teaching them a new game, Henry said he will always enjoy doing what he does.

“We’re not going to change the world or anything,” he said. “We just want to make a difference with Aboriginal youth in Prince Rupert.”

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