Kyle Brown, left, and Dyson Blitterswyk receive commemorative coins from Janet Ruest in advance of their trip to D-Day celebrations. (Photo submitted)

Retired teacher’s generosity provides historic opportunity for two Chemainus students

Blitterswyk and Brown looking forward to being at Juno Beach for 75th anniversary of D-Day

An incredible experience awaits two Chemainus Secondary School students at a renowned site in world history on a landmark anniversary.

June 6 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Grade 11 students Dyson Blitterswyk and Kyle Brown will be there, through the generosity of retired Chemainus Secondary teacher Janet Ruest and their own essay-writing prowess.

“These Grade 11 students were selected to receive ‘travel scholarships’ after completing a rigorous application and review process,” explained Ruest. “Dyson and Kyle will be travelling with students and teachers from two Victoria area schools, Claremont and Mt. Douglas.”

The tour runs May 31 to June 9 and will include stops in London, a visit to the Churchill War rooms, Bletchley Park and other historically relevant locations. The group will travel via ferry to France and visit cemeteries and battlefield locations. Topping it off, they’ll be at Juno Beach on June 6 and take part in the official D-Day commemorations organized by Veteran’s Affairs Canada.

The two students received commemorative coins from Ruest Monday.

As a recipient of the Governor General’s History Teaching Award, Ruest was offered a trip with EF tours for the special 75th anniversary commemoration.

“Because I have been very fortunate to have been to Juno and Vimy, I asked for my trip to be given to one of our Chemainus Secondary students instead,” Ruest indicated. “I felt that a student experiencing Juno and Vimy for the first time would be more profoundly impacted than someone who had been there previously. EF agreed to this idea and we found a school tour that will be participating in the commemorations – Claremont/Mt. Douglas schools from the Victoria area.”

Ruest was asked by EF to write the content for an app that would be used by EF tour students while they are at the Juno Beach site.

“I did extensive research on the history as well as geography of the area and the D-Day landings,” Ruest pointed out. “EF formatted the content and the app is being used as an enhancement for tours.”

Instead of being paid for her work, Ruest suggested the funds be used to send a second Chemainus student on the tour and it was agreed.

Grade 11s were deemed as the target group.

“They are mature enough to participate in such a monumental occasion and will be back at Chemainus Secondary to share what they learned with staff, students and the community, kind of ‘paying it forward,’” Ruest noted.

“To create a fair opportunity for all interested students, a series of questions was asked that required written responses. All names were removed from the entries so the selection committee was not aware who the students were until I tallied up the ‘marks totals’ and the names were revealed. While there were several very strong entries, Dyson and Kyle definitely stood out above the rest.”

EF Tours is the company that Sue Baker and Ruest used on their five international trips with students.

“The company obviously focuses on travel, but the education piece is foundational to all their tours,” Ruest indicated. “I was asked to participate in Vimy 100 because of a contribution I made to their massive conference centre educational exhibition they hosted in Artois, France.

“Early this year, I was surprised and humbled, when EF asked if I would be the group leader for the teaching tour to D-Day 75. Yes! I assume that they selected me partly because of my extensive tour leader travel experience with EF. Additionally, I was a participant on the Vimy 100 teacher learning tour.

“Lastly, several of the teacher participants are those who received the Governor General’s History Teaching award the same year as me (2017). We know each other and will be able to collaborate in creating lessons and activities from our tour experiences, bringing this fabulous opportunity back to classrooms across Canada.”

Blitterswyk and Brown are excited about this trip to say the least. See relatated story on Page 2 for their thoughts.

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