Long-time Cariboo Chilcotin educator June Striegler is still hard at work promoting literacy and learning in her community at 92 years of age.
Married to a rancher, she was both a teacher and a principal during her long career, and describes living in a log house with a dirt floor and riding to get groceries with her baby son on the saddle.
She began teaching in Springhouse in 1939 when she was 19 years old, and moved to Clinton as principal of a three-room school in 1941.
She taught at Alexis Creek, was principal at Lac La Hache for 16 years, 150 Mile for three years, Marie Sharpe for four years, and after being transferred to Poplar Glade for two years, took a leave of absence for a year and went to the Philippines.
“After that year I came back to the Cariboo, quit my job with the School District and went back to the Philippines to teach kids whose parents worked for Gibraltar Mine’s parent company, and was Education Director for the island of Marinduqui for about eight years,” she said, adding that she also went to Africa to work in Liberia heading up a team of teachers. “The rest of the team went home and I stayed, working at the University of Liberia in teacher training for several weeks.”
While on a holiday in Mexico she was contacted by the School District and told that Tatla Lake School needed a principal.
“I went out there for several weeks and then ended up teaching at Columneetza for about seven years when I was 60 years old,” she continued. “I also worked in Nemiah Valley for over a year and was principal at Crescent Heights.”
When she was 80 years old, she officially retired and began working with Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy, and has been involved with ‘Partner Assisted Learning’ (PAL) since 2002.
June is an avid reader, enjoying things like philosophy, science and mathematics. She sews and designs clothing, does most of the cooking and gardening for her family, and friends say she is wonderful to travel with because she is both knowledgeable and curious.
She is an accomplished pianist — she picked the piano up again when she was about 75 years old.
She researches the composers to find out their histories, characteristics and motivations so as to play their music the way that they intended it to be played.
June Striegler calls herself a “world traveler” and a “frustrated archeologist” and says that she’s now looking into “the reason for being.”
She explained that she thoroughly enjoys working with PAL, adding that it is offered to people with low literacy levels.
“We’re staffed with a full-time and a part-time co-ordinator and by trained volunteers who spend two hours a week with people 18 and older who have literacy issues,” she explained.
“This covers everything from people who can’t read at all to people wanting to upgrade to get into university.”
Working with PAL is deeply satisfying to her.
“Just before Christmas one of my students completed his entrance requirements for the Emily Carr University,” she said. “He was with us for one year.”
Another ‘learner’, as she calls them, was with the program for eight years.
“I took him from Grade 4 to the end of Grade 12,” she added. “I’ve worked with people from age 18 to age 50 and even older.
“Canada is really missing the point. We are a top developing country with no comprehensive literacy plan,” she continued. “Instead, we have unpaid volunteers holding up the whole structure.”
She said that PAL is desperate for volunteers.
“The people we have are marvelous, but we need more tutors,” she stated. “All it takes is the desire to help people and some brief training.”
Improving people’s literacy skills and confidence has an enormous impact on their self-esteem.
“We take the time to talk to them and get to know them and what their interests are and what their problems might be,” she continued.
“They were probably told at one time that they were stupid and that makes it hard for them to reach out.
“Their personal growth is absolutely tremendous as their self-esteem increases — their posture, grooming and health are all affected,” she said. “It’s truly profound.
“I’m 92 years old and I go out of here every day with more than I brought in.”
For more information about Partners for Literacy phone 250-392-8130, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.caribooliteracy.com.