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AARSSEN e@ca.on.kent_county.wallaceburg.wallaceburg_courier_press 2003-06-04 published
   category e is education election employment athletics
'Burg native wins national award
Cheryl HEATH Courier Press staff
One of Wallaceburg's homegrown students is now recognized as one of the top teachers in the land.
Kim LEWIS, who hails from Wallaceburg and is now a drama teacher at John McGregor secondary school in Chatham, has been awarded with a Certificate of Excellence as a recipient of the 2002-2003 Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence.
The award, presented by Prime Minister Jean CHRETIEN at a May 15 ceremony, recognizes the efforts of outstanding teachers who provide students with the tools necessary to become upstanding citizens, develop and thrive as individuals, and to contribute to the country's growth and prosperity.
LEWIS was one of only 16 teachers and 10 early childhood educators to be honoured at the national level while 72 teachers and 31 early childhood educators will be presented with certificates by their respective Members of Parliament.
It was a climactic moment in her teaching career, says LEWIS, who is the daughter of “Radio” Ray and Janice AARSSEN of Wallaceburg.
LEWIS, who has been a teacher for 24 years, began her teaching career at Our Lady of Help school in Wallaceburg. She then worked out West and later in Fergus, Ontario, before moving back to the area with her three children 12 years ago.
There weren't any teaching positions available in Chatham-Kent when LEWIS first arrived, but she was interviewed by a Lambton Kent District School Board administrator to whom she promised that he “won't be sorry” if he gave her a chance.
He obliged. LEWIS then began teaching English, but in time, had the chance to teach her true love -- drama.
The program at John McGregor school proved so popular with students over time that the number of classes offered has grown to nine from three, which is quite a feat given that drama is not a required course in the curriculum.
"I can't tell you how fulfilling it is," says LEWIS. "It really is amazing that I get paid to do this."
She says being nominated for the award by both the parent council and school principal Ross DAWE at John McGregor school was an honour in itself.
"I tried to dissuade him (DAWE,)" she says. "He wouldn't hear of it. He insisted on putting this nomination together."
LEWIS notes "there are so many great teachers in our building" that she was awed when she received the call from Ottawa informing her of the win.
"It blew my mind," says LEWIS, adding she and her entire family, including husband Dan, who is an accomplished physical education and math teacher as well as guidance officer at McGregor, enjoyed the five-day trip to the nation's capital.
"It really was invigorating to hear other people who are passionate about what they're doing, too," says LEWIS of the experience of meeting with Canada's top teachers.
Indeed, LEWIS says the event was inspiring as well as a real shot in the arm for her teaching career.
"I kept walking around saying, ‘I've just been inoculated, '" she quips.
LEWIS says her childhood inspired her interest in the dramatic arts. She recalls that her parents were heavily involved in the theatre and they often held cast parties at the family home. In her later years, LEWIS took part in theatrical studies at Wallaceburg District Secondary School and she also joined the Wallaceburg Little Theatre. These days, in addition to her teaching duties, LEWIS directs, organizes and writes several community-based drama programs, including the incredibly successful Stop Bullying production presented in cooperation with the Chatham-Kent Police Service earlier this year.
LEWIS notes her high praise for her students and their commitment to drama.
"The opportunities with drama are endless and the rewards are immeasurable," she says. "My students change the world and that's what it's all about."
LEWIS adds her motto as a teacher is a simple one. She offers her students with a safe environment to test their abilities.
"The biggest word of my career is risk," she says. "I provide a safe environment, which allows for risks. Then I say to students, ‘let's find out what you're capable of.' Success is absolutely a given if you come in here with the right attitude."
Thanks to LEWIS's achievement, her school will also receive a $5,000 donation to be used with LEWIS's direction in consultation with the school.

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