Dare to do more

A New Brunswick educator enriches classroom lessons with service-learning.


Dare to do more

A New Brunswick educator enriches classroom lessons with service-learning.


In the three and a half years since he first saw WE co-founder Marc Kielburger take the stage at a speakers’ event in Saint John, Dan Foote has grown from being blissfully unaware of many crises around the world to being an agent for global change in his community. “The difference has been like night and day,” says the teacher at Hampton Middle School in New Brunswick. “I looked inside myself and saw the lack of knowledge that I had. I wasn’t aware of the issues.”

Dan had heard of WE before, but had wondered if it was mostly hype. After hearing the organization’s co-founder speak, though, he was moved to the point of tears. “I saw that he was the real thing.”

Dan, who had been mostly community-focused as a teacher in the past, says he was inspired to take action in an unprecedented way. Creating change, he ascertained, is less about theorizing and more about doing. “I realized the simplicity of making a difference in our world,” he explains. “We can all make a difference, we just need to do it.”

Earlier this year, after taking on numerous WE campaigns with students and other community-based causes, Dan was given a WE Local Champion Award from the organization. For him, the achievement feels like a journey that began in childhood.

Dan was born in the Maritimes, on Grand Manan Island, and spent his youth moving around Canada with his family, from the East Coast to the West Coast, from northern Ontario to Toronto. His father was a Methodist minister who introduced him to philanthropy at a young age.

Later, his father was diagnosed with brain cancer. On the evening he died, he left his son with a call to action: “Danny, go make a difference. Be the best teacher you can be.” Dan credits WE for helping him live up to his father’s wish. “He would have loved WE,” he shares. “And would have been even more passionate than I am about the WE Movement.”

After spending a few years as an inner city teacher at Prince Charles School in Saint John, Dan moved just outside the city to the town of Hampton, where he joined staff at the local middle school. Soon after, he saw Marc Kielburger speak in the presentation that changed his life forever. Inspired, he immediately registered his school to take part in WE Day.

Since then, he and his students have pooled their energy and creativity to tackle various global and local issues through the WE Schools service learning curriculum. Usually the students pick causes that they care about, with Foote and other educators providing guidance.

"As we encourage these kids to realize their own passions, they are going to go out and light the world on fire."

Their first major achievement was global: raising money to buy 19 goats for a community in Nicaragua, a country about which they are particularly passionate. They have also funded the drilling of a well in the region, and their next project will be raising money to build a school there. They also organized a battery campaign, collecting tens of thousands of used batteries to harvest zinc for dietary tablets. According to the World Health Organization, worldwide, zinc deficiency contributes to hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.

On a local level, they have taken part in food drives, donated to food banks, picked up garbage around their city and helped out at the local youth shelter.

The effect of students’ continued volunteer work, Dan says, has been contagious. As students become more involved in humanitarian causes, they inspire their friends and family to do the same. “It’s absolutely amazing how the kids have motivated the adults,” he says proudly. “This movement has become the fabric of our community.”

In addition to facilitating change worldwide, the educator says his school’s participation in WE Schools has fundamentally improved his capacity as a teacher. “I love how easy it is to incorporate the program into my daily teaching assignments,” he explains. “Service-learning should be tied to all subject areas.”

As such, he is sitting on a committee to make volunteering part of the Grade 12 graduation requirements in New Brunswick. Currently, the province is one of the few regions in the country that does not mandate some form of volunteering for high school students.

At a time when poverty remains significant in New Brunswick, the efforts of Dan and his students to spread selflessness are important. According to the Human Development Council, one in five youth in the province are living in poverty—the fourth-highest rate in the country.

By fostering change around the world, the students have also fostered change within themselves. Dan recalls one student in particular who transformed from a troubled youth—unable to participate in the regular school curriculum—into a social justice-minded leader known for writing motivational quotes on the chalkboard.

Others have been equally as transformed. “It helps me to be an empathetic person,” one student shares. “Every day I become more compassionate about the world around me.”

Dan is excited as he talks about becoming a gatekeeper for other local teachers looking to follow a similar path. He hopes that continued engagement with world issues will allow students to maximize their potential as they grow up. “As we encourage these kids to realize their own passions, they are going to go out and light the world on fire.”