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Debbie Mar: Following the student voice to learning

Year: 2020 — Province: British Columbia
Certificate of Excellence Recipient

Upper Sumas Elementary School
All subjects, grades 3 and 4
Abbotsford, British Columbia

[Mrs. Mar] has been able to reach into our son's creative outlet and help him enjoy school to an amazing level. We … couldn't be happier to hear and learn all the things she [does] to make our son's learning more intriguing and challenging, taking his academic excellence to a new level.


Debbie Mar has triggered security alerts at her school more than once when she has stayed well past 11 p.m. creating resources and planning lessons. Even after 26 years in the classroom, she passionately pursues her job of changing young lives and getting students to believe they can make a difference.

Teaching approach

Debbie believes her role as an educator is to be passionate about introducing the wonder of the world to her students. She seeks to inspire her students to love and care about themselves, each other and their learning, recognize their strengths and move forward, overcoming obstacles with courageous optimism.

In the classroom

  • Uses STEM projects to engage students: they learned robotics by building LEGO animals (it was so popular that Debbie led after-school sessions so intermediate students could try it); students learned coding skill, designed their own video games and showed other classes how to play.
  • Follows student interests to develop meaningful learning opportunities: a gift of 75 tulip bulbs led students to learn about Canada's Second World War link to Holland, meet and speak with a veteran, visit the local cenotaph and soldiers' graves (decorating them with construction paper tulips they had made), learn about their lives and pay tribute to them at the Remembrance Day assembly and on video
  • Brings real-world learning into her classroom through engaging, hands-on experiences: students learned about the life cycle and the scientific method by raising salmon in their classroom and then shared their knowledge with other students using facts, diagrams and games.
  • Sets a high standard for student achievement: students keep reading and writing journals and meet weekly with Debbie to set goals for both skills; she meets families to create home-reading plans for children not yet meeting expectations; students follow the draft/revise/publish process for their writing.

Outstanding achievements

  • Spearheaded efforts to improve student literacy: worked with public library staff to form teams of students to take part in book-based trivia challenges; avid readers meet with Debbie weekly at lunch to prepare.
  • Persisted in learning to code, taking a night course, even though it didn't come naturally to her; immediately taught her Grade 3 students what she had just learned, using herself as example of perseverance and the growth mindset that students need when they get stuck or frustrated.
  • Partnered with a homeless advocate who had just opened a new shelter for older adults; her class decorated it for Christmas; students willingly gave up their Secret Santa exchange in order to fill stockings for shelter residents, and wrote a poem together called "Reaching Out" to place in each stocking.

Get in touch!

Upper Sumas Elementary School
36321 Vye Road
Abbotsford BC V3G 1Z5

Facebook: @uppersumaselementary

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