The Abbotsford News is honored to profile 2023 “Heroes in Education” from a long and amazing list of nominees sent to us by our readers. “Heroes in Education” is graciously sponsored by Abbotsford School District, University of the Fraser Valley, City of Abbotsford, Easy Build Structures, Curtis Tire & Wheel, Kafka Denture Clinic and 5 Corners Furniture.
One snap decision to agree to help out in her son’s kindergarten class has led to almost two decades of involvement in the Abbotsford school district for super volunteer Tanya Coghill.
Heroes in Education aren’t just teachers or support staff – they are also the people who fill in the gaps that can occur in our schools; those who give up their own time to make school life a little better for all involved – people like Coghill.
Coghill was nominated by Winsome Rauch – Abbotsford Senior Secondary PAC (parent advisory council) chair and district PAC secretary – who said her contributions have been vast and she has improved the educational experience for so many in Abbotsford.
“The maxim she brings to every school group she has contributed to is ‘Serving with Joy,’” Rauch said. “In Coghill’s tireless years of involvement with our schools, she has been investigated, responded, and advocated for parental concerns, held countless staff appreciation events, and has coordinated new family planning course sessions. She was a director on DPAC and uses her over 15 years of PAC experience to mentor numerous PACs.”
Coghill said volunteerism was instilled in her through her parents, but she doesn’t see it as a burden or a responsibility. As Rauch shared, Coghill believes in serving with joy and aims to bring that attitude to all school-related activities. She adopted that model early in her volunteering journey at Sandy Hill Elementary.
“I thought we needed a model that showcases why we were doing what we’re doing,” she said. “So our mandate was that if we’re going to give joy to someone else or get joy ourselves out of doing whatever we’re doing, then it fits the bill for what we want to do.”
Coghill explained that she carried that basic model with her as her children aged out of Sandy Hill Elementary and moved on to Clayburn Middle School and then eventually to Robert Bateman Secondary. She noted that all three schools adopted the “serving with joy” slogan as their PAC model. Word spread to surrounding school districts about the success in Abbotsford and many of them also adopted some of Coghill’s techniques and strategies.
One of the key things that Coghill has worked on during her years in Abbotsford was creating and perfecting a Gender Equity Message for the district and all secondary school PACs. She said she got inspired to look into it more after noticing the difference between the way schools celebrated and supported boys’ athletics compared to girls’.
She pointed to the Grade 9 Bateman girls basketball team as an example. The team was extremely talented and went on to win the school’s first-ever provincial title, but there were doubts initially if the team was going to be able to attend the finals.
“There were some questions if the team should even go,” she said. “I didn’t even have any kids involved but I just knew a lot of these girls from Clayburn and knew how good they were. The question was if we could afford a bus to take them because the tournament was in the interior.”
Coghill said no similar questions or discussions were raised when the senior varsity boys football team had to make a similar trip for an exhibition game.
“So we started asking more and more questions and you follow the rabbit trail,” she said.
She continued gathering information and asking more questions in the years that followed and presented her findings to the secondary PAC executive boards in March 2022. She is hoping to present her finished product and all her findings later this year.
She also pointed out that it’s not just athletics, but also academic and even activities like bands where she is concerned that girls sometimes don’t get the same opportunities as boys.
Despite all of her children graduating out of the Abbotsford school district last June, Coghill agreed to take on another unique volunteer role – helping to set up the brand-new Irene Kelleher Totí:ltawtxw.
“We started in the middle of August and there was just so much to do,” she said. “At one point there were literally thousands of boxes in the gym waiting to be unpacked. That building was literally put together on the backs of volunteers and we just coordinated and people came together and it was amazing.”
Coghill said being involved with the school’s first year has been extremely rewarding and he enjoys getting to work with principal Shelley Portas, whom he also worked with at Sandy Hill.
She said she encouraged anyone and everyone to volunteer and “serve with joy.”
“Find something that meshes with your passion,” she said. “If you’re really good at sports, then coach a team. If you love literature, do a reading group with kids. If you are super organized, take on a fundraiser. If you’re good with numbers, offer to be the treasurer. I know we always try and be mindful of where we plug people in and it’s always being part of a group. All I’ve done has not been a one-woman show; I was always part of a great group.”
She said she doesn’t regret a moment of volunteering and is thankful for that first opportunity.
“Getting involved in a small way like I did at Sandy Hill turned into 17 years of being super involved,” she said, laughing. “And it’s so nice and humbling to be recognized.”