“Ikigai” is a Japanese concept for finding one’s purpose and reason for being, and for Kimiko Shibata, it is the driving force behind her work supporting student learning as an English as a Second Language (ESL) and English Literacy Development (ELD), Itinerant Resource Teacher, with a current focus on Elementary Distance Learning.
It began as a one day a week role, meant to provide resources to ESL teachers who were supporting students learning from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. But, when more than 2,000 ESL elementary students opted for distance learning, Shibata took on the position full time and was provided an opportunity to make a difference for staff and students across the WRDSB.
“We had a huge number of newcomers and students from refugee backgrounds enter into the program – it was quite shocking to me,” said Shibata. “A lot of these families have come from significant trauma and this pandemic is a scary time for them. Many parents are afraid to send their child out of their home or have multigenerational households and it’s a risk they are not willing to take. That’s why our trauma informed approach and connection is so vital.”
During the closure of schools in March, the need for extra supports became especially clear. Quickly seeing the need, Shibata helped to deliver essential items to families in need, such as food, clothing, school supplies, books, passwords and login information or health care and mental health resources – all in the family’s first language through the help of interpreters.
“The pandemic has shown us the inequities and that the most vulnerable people continue to be our most vulnerable,” Shibata explained. “The best thing we have done as a Board once we reopened was taking that first week of school to connect with families – to figure out who needs a device, who needs internet, who needs care – that proactive communication and outreach was so important.”
Shibata speaks with great passion about her work. Her appreciation for the opportunity to work with thousands of staff and students through her resources and support is obvious.
“The impact that I can make doing this with a slight change in role has been so incredible and such a positive thing to come out of such a scary time,” she said. “It trickles down to the kids and makes them happy, and seeing them be successful is a happy thing for me.”
Nominated as a WRDSB 2020 Champion by her peers, Shibata was described as optimistic, determined, helpful and hardworking. She was praised for her commitment to supporting other educators in providing teaching tools for and resources to help students.
“The people who work in education know – we teach kids first, we teach curriculum second and we recognize that if we don’t address our students’ basic needs, the learning just isn’t going to happen,” Shibata explained. “As educators, and as community members, we will always step in and work together to ensure the needs are met.”