When Augustina Foley’s young charges at the Morrow Avenue Child Care Program (MACCP) at Hastings School go home each day, they take a little piece of Foley along with them.
“Parents will tell me, ‘We take you home, because these kids don’t want you to know that they’re being disobedient at home; they have that much regard for you,’ ” Foley says.
The 2007 graduate of Red River College’s Early Childhood Education program is proud of the relationships she’s built with parents and the kids in her care. As MACCP site manager, she’s on hand at 7 a.m. each morning to greet parents so they can share information about daily activities and any issues that arise in the child’s life, both at the centre and at home.
Sometimes, if kids are acting up or acting out at home, Foley will sit down with them to see if she can get to the heart of the matter, and then invite parents to join the discussion when the child is ready to talk about any underlying causes.
“Which has helped most of the parents, too,” she says. “I do appreciate when parents trust us that much to be involved in that manner with their kids.”
Along with three other child care workers, Foley is actively engaged with 30 kids in kindergarten to Grade 6, before and after school, and during the lunch break. They learn about each child’s particular interests and plan a combination of guided and child-led activities, both indoors and out. Foley is well aware that once MACCP closes at 5:30 p.m., families are on the go, preparing dinner and dealing with the hustle and bustle of daily life, so she encourages kids to complete any homework they may have before they leave the centre.
“[That’s] so they have more time to play when they get home, because they might not have that time to sit again and do homework.”
Originally from Freetown, Sierra Leone, Foley already had a wealth of child-care and teaching experience when she started classes at RRC in 2005. During the decade-long civil war that raged in her home country until 2002, she fled with her children to a refugee camp in Ghana, where she was a volunteer teacher in a nursery and preschool program for almost five years.
She arrived in Winnipeg in 2001 with her five daughters, then aged two to 18, and faced the challenges of starting over in a new country as a single parent.
“Two of my siblings had come here, but just a month prior to my coming, so they were settling down too at that same time,” she says.
Coming from a tropical climate on the west coast of Africa to the landlocked Prairies took some getting used to. When she landed in Winnipeg, people were commenting on the beautiful weather, which she found funny because it was so cold. That was in June, months before she got a taste of her first Manitoba winter.
“Even August was cold compared to what I knew. I had my jacket on all the time,” she laughs.
“Now I’m OK — now it’s the opposite. Going back home now, it’s like, ‘Oh it’s too hot.’ ”
It took some time to adapt to the Canadian child-care system as well.
“The kids here — how should I put this? Sometimes the way you talk to the children back home, they listen. They get it, they understand,” she says.
“Sometimes you don’t need to talk. You just look at them — they understand exactly what you mean. Our kids here, you look at them and they say, ‘What?’ ”
The Early Childhood Education program at RRC helped Foley adjust to cultural differences in the system. She says the principles of management are the same, but what’s considered acceptable here is much different. For example, parents in Sierra Leone might ask a child-care worker or teacher to discipline their child if she or he misbehaves, which might mean having a child stand and face a wall during class. That doesn’t happen in Winnipeg, but Foley is well equipped to handle anything her kids throw at her.
“Your knowledge and your understanding, also merging with what you learn here, gives you an edge,” she says. “And also experience, life experience with your own kids and volunteering with all the organizations back home, all of that equips me for the position I’m in.”
Before attending RRC, Foley connected with her new St. Vital community through the EDGE Career program, then called the Victor Mager Job Re-entry program. Within a month, she was ready to join MACCP, where she continued to work three days a week while attending RRC.
“You still have to raise the kids, and you want to further your education also, so that was very accommodating for me to work three days and then be in school two days.”
Foley became site manager at MACCP right after graduation. During the 10 years she’s been with the centre, her own children have thrived. Her youngest daughter, Janice, is about to enter Grade 11; her oldest, Lynvic, is happily married and living in Edmonton with her family; Antonia is studying international law at the University of Manitoba; Magdalene is a U of M and CDI College grad now employed as a crisis worker, and Brenda owns her own hair salon, Main Event/Hair Estate.
“I’m very proud of each and every one of them,” Foley says, adding that for a single mom, she feels she did well.
She’s also proud of the work she’s done with children at MACCP. During her time there, many have grown up and moved on to other schools, and she admits she often finds parting difficult.
“Some of them, it’s really hard. I have some of them [where] we’re still in contact,” she says.
“Just the past two weeks one of them even stopped by. She said, ‘Oh I just stopped by to see if you’re still there,’ and she’s in Grade 12 now. She stopped by just to say hi and give me a hug. So those things make you feel like you’ve accomplished something — you’ve made an impact in this child’s life somehow.”
— Profile by Pat St. Germain (Creative Communications, 1989)