Education at the core

Inner-city learning the focus of Heather Hunter’s course

After years of working in Manitoba’s education system, Heather Hunter is helping others learn through her extensive experience.

Hunter is the instructor of an inquiry-based urban and inner city studies course at the University of Winnipeg called “History of Education in Winnipeg’s Inner City.”

“[This course] is a way for me to continue to share my experiences in inner-city teaching and research,” she says.

As a former public school teacher, vice-principal, and principal, she is an educator working to make schools work for all and to get people thinking about what that may look like.

Laurel Cassels is the community programs assistant in the department of Urban and Inner-City Studies at the U of W, and is currently taking Hunter’s class.

“Heather Hunter is one of those rare profs that really inspires students with her obvious passion and insight for the subject she teaches,” Cassels says. “It’s hard not to get swept up in her enthusiasm for improving outcomes for inner-city learners.”

Hunter says teaching at the university is an extension of her work that started in public schools 30 years ago.

After graduating from the UW she planned to become a librarian and worked in a library for a time, where she enjoyed doing story hours for kids, but her involvement in other aspects of the community soon led to a different kind of job.

Hunter began working on a project to offset tax discounting which was set up by now-premier Greg Selinger.

“It was a real exposure, [a] tough area,” Hunter says.

The goal of the project was to help people fill out their own income tax forms rather than sign them away for a measly sum.

“Next to dollars in the pocket, education is the best way to make a difference,” Hunter says. 

“For young people with lots of turmoil, education can be part of the solution. And it really did seem to make sense.”

She went back to school and got her education degree, doing practicum in the inner city. She then taught at William Whyte, Hugh John Macdonald, and Argyle Alternative schools and later completed a master’s in social work examining how education can be used to re-engage students.

At one school, Hunter ran a group where gay students could meet and support one another, working with a gay public health nurse. It was the mid-80s, so AIDS was just becoming a big scare.

Hunter also earned a PhD in education from the University of Manitoba, focusing on the role of schools and public education in community economic development.

Now as the director of the Manitoba Education Research Network, which she helped start 11 years ago, Hunter works with all five faculties of education in Manitoba.

“In my work I always feel like I’m learning,” she says. “That [learning] is what the spark is for anyone.”    

To connect with Heather Hunter and the Manitoba Education Research Network visit www.mern.ca.

Published in Volume 69, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 26, 2014)

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