Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A fundraising concert that has been held annually in Calgary for seven years is being expanded to include a Toronto date this year.
And all proceeds from that event will go towards bringing Classroom Champions programming to Indigenous students who attend schools on-reserve or off.
The Concert for Classrooms will be held Nov. 10 at Toronto’s Glenn Gould Studios. As for this year’s Calgary concert, it will be held Nov. 4 at Mount Royal University's Bella Concert Hall. For more information go to https://concertforclassrooms.org/concert-for-classrooms-calgary
As in all previous concerts, the fundraisers will feature veteran Canadian rock singer Barney Bentall and his current band, The Cariboo Express.
Classroom Champions was founded by former American Olympic bobsledder Steve Mesler in 2011. He expanded the program to Canada two years later.
Classroom Champions is now in all 50 U.S. states and in all of Canada’s provinces and territories.
The non-profit programs brings well-known amateur or professional athletes into school classrooms virtually to share a powerful and engaging curriculum with students.
Since the program inception, more than 300 Olympic, Paralympic, professional and university athletes have been virtually paired with schools throughout North America.
Mesler said Classroom Champions expanded last year to include a more Indigenous-themed curriculum called Circle Program.
It had been in recent years that teachers from Indigenous schools had started to wonder if any Indigenous athletes would join the program.
“The teachers were loving it and we just had them matched with whatever athletes we had at the time and that we could match them with,” Mesler said. “But we weren’t thinking of it from an intentional point of finding Indigenous athletes for these kids. We were just happy to run our programs that we were serving in different areas.”
But when teachers started asking whether Indigenous athletes could be involved, Mesler said his organization made that happen.
Indigenous athletes who are now part of the program include hockey players Brigette Lacquette and Jocelyne Larocque and long-distance runner Rilee Many Bears.
“Last year and this year we focused in on our Circle Program,” Mesler said. “Ultimately we need to invest more into that program. And it’s working. We’ve been able to do more things.”
Mesler said Bentall was keen to add a Toronto fundraising concert.
“Both Barney and the band really wanted to help us out in the Toronto area,” he said. “He was really excited to do something out there as well. They go around all of western Canada to raise money for charities in the fall. They spend most of the month of November going around doing different shows. Their Calgary event is the biggest one they do with us.”
Mesler is confident the Toronto concert will be a success.
“We’ve set it very modest to begin with,” he said of the program’s fundraising goal. “I would be happy with over $100,000 to start with. It would be a very modest first year. What that does for us is that allows us to be able to build the curriculum out in a more thoughtful way.”
Mesler said Classroom Champions has worked with several dozen Indigenous schools throughout Canada.
“To me, that is hundreds and hundreds less than what it should be,” he said.
Mesler is hoping both the Calgary and Toronto concerts will help raise more awareness about Classroom Champions.
“I’m hoping that this concert can show school districts, as well as the First Nations communities, that there is a program that is tailored towards their culture and their community that is putting successful Indigenous athletes in front of their kids on a regular basis,” he said.
Mesler said his organization is ready to expand to other Indigenous communities immediately.
“If schools put their hand up in Ontario, we’re prepared right now to be able to serve them,” he said. “And then next year, as we build this event year over year, hopefully next year we have a lot more schools that are ready to go.”
Mesler is thrilled the program is also available in remote places.
“We serve schools in really remote areas,” he said. “We have a school in Northwest Territories that does the Circle Program. And we have a school in Yukon. We’re able to engage kids and teachers in these places that don’t necessarily get special programming.
“In Toronto there’s no shortage of enrichment programs to make the school day more engaging and to teach these skills that we’re trying to teach. But it’s harder in little communities.”
For more information on the Toronto event or to purchase tickets go to www.classroomchampions.org/concert-for-classrooms-toronto
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.