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Early childhood educator honoured nationally
Leslie Caines, co-creator of the Four Plus Program, runs the community's only preschool specifically tailored to special needs children

Randi Beers
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 22, 2014

Students, colleagues, politicians and the public assembled at Weledeh Catholic School Tuesday to celebrate a teacher who has recently been recognized for her pioneering work in early childhood education by the Office of Prime Minister.

NNSL photo/graphic

Twins Lawrence and Alissha Ongahok present a glittered congratulations poster to their teacher, Leslie Caines, at a ceremony where she received the Prime Minister's Award for Achievement in Early Childhood Education at Weledeh Catholic School last Tuesday morning. - Randi Beers/NNSL Photo

Leslie Caines co-created and teaches the Four Plus Program, Yellowknife's only preschool designed for children with special needs, and for this work she was this year's recipient of the Prime Minister's Award for Achievement in Early Childhood Education.

Dozens of her current and former students surrounded where she sat, cross-legged on the gym floor, to watch a tribute video and listen to school administrators, Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro and NWT MP Dennis Bevington sing her praises.

Bevington spoke of his own experience as a grandfather in describing the importance of Caines' work.

"I've got grandchildren and they teach me every day and that's the process of life that's so wonderful," he said.

"We are all very proud of Leslie."

Intermittently during the ceremony children ran up to Caines to wrap their arms around her. Although she reacted with surprise at each display of affection, the routine way she took each child under her wing demonstrated their closeness.

Caines joked about having to fight back tears at a small reception in the school's choir room right after.

"It's very overwhelming," she said.

"It was the video that got to me, I'm not going to lie."

In the five-minute tribute video, assistant principal Liz Baile interviewed students about what they think makes Caines such a good teacher.

"We love her," said a preschool student at one point in the video before stealing the microphone and asking if it works, followed by a former student who described Caines' classroom as "one big happy family."

Four Plus Program is the city's 'best kept secret'

Eighteen years ago, Yellowknife parents of children with disabilities were told their children couldn't go to preschool, according to Baile.

Baile told Yellowknifer this is why she and Caines constructed the Four Plus Program the duo wanted to offer special needs children the support to become prepared to enter kindergarten.

"It's a really important program I like to say it's Yellowknife's best kept secret," she said, describing how Four Plus started as a Weledeh Catholic School program but now accepts any four or five year old with special needs in the community.

The program is funded through the Department of Education, Culture and Employment's Healthy Children's Initiative and brings in Stanton Territorial Hospital's speech language therapists and other early childhood development specialists to help prepare preschoolers for school.

"Children can stay (in the Four Plus Program) for a second or even third year," said Baile.

Caines added her own thoughts on what makes the program successful.

"Early childhood education comes from a different philosophy," she said.

"Not all children think the same way and this program helps them become better learners."

The Four Plus Program has cumulatively taught 650 students over the past 18 years.

Caines was one of 25 teachers and 12 early childhood educators across the country to receive the Prime Minister's Award for Achievement in Early Childhood Education, which is a regional award.

In total, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office recognized 91 teachers for teaching excellence, excellence in early childhood education and achievement in early childhood education. Since 1993, his office has given over 1,600 of these awards to teachers across Canada.

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