It’s not very often that the leader of a provincial political party visits Bluffton – and even less if they’re not campaigning, but that’s exactly what happened on Friday, May 2 when Liberal Leader Kevin Taft paid a visit to the community as part of the Read and Learn Program.
The program, which is sponsored by the Bluffton and District Chamber of Commerce, is intended to encourage children to read as well as creating a positive environment in which adults can share time with the kids in the learning process.
“The program was launched in February of this year with the intent of getting together in our community with our children and help to guide them in their success,” said Chamber President Maeghan Menear. “We’re encouraging them to read and we’re also encouraging volunteers to come out so that the kids know that we do care about them, and to get to know the volunteers as well.”
In an effort to increase the program’s visibility, the Chamber decided to invite celebrity-type individuals to read to the children which, inevitably, led to the political arena.
“We’ve had several guests come out already, we are still trying to get Ray Prins to come as well – he hasn’t given us an answer yet, but today we have Kevin Taft here to read to our kids and he’s very excited about it,” Menear said. “He’s very special to us. This is his first time out to Bluffton and he’s so impressed with our kids and our school.”
Menear said it wasn’t very difficult to convince Taft to visit the community however they did have to stay within the constraints of his schedule due in large part, to his commitments in Edmonton.
She added that while the program has no set schedule as to being held on a weekly or monthly basis, it all comes down to the volunteer readers.
“When it first started we had weekly volunteers to come in but sometimes it’s very hard to get the volunteers to come, so in the meantime, what the Chamber does is try to arrange for other people to come in during the slow times,” Menear said. “We’re so very please that Kevin took some time out of his busy schedule to come and join our program and participate in it.”
Joined by Edith McPhedran who ran under the Liberal colours in the Lacombe-Ponoka riding during the recent provincial election, Taft took a brief tour of the school before hitting the books.
“I’m here to read to the kids at the school. I love doing that – I got invited out here to do it and I think it’s really important for the kids to see where reading might lead, and it’s equally important for me as a political leader to be out in places like Bluffton and meeting people and talking to the kids,” Taft said shortly before entering the library full of excited kids.
“In the course of a whole year I do all kinds of things and one of the real highlights for me is being able to go to a classroom and talk to the kids and answer their questions and read to them.”
Taft said he’s dome this before on a number of accessions at a number of different schools and said it was important for kids to see and meet a political leader in person as opposed to television, and to know that anyone of them could grow up to be a Member of the Legislative Assembly or even a premier.
“I also really make a point of telling the kids how important things like reading skills are,” he said. Oftentimes, the most important thing that a child can get out of school is good, basic reading skills.”
As for his first visit to the small community north of Rimbey, Taft said he was very impressed.
“I’ve never been to Bluffton before, although I married a girl who attended high school in Ponoka and grew up on a farm towards Bashaw, but I’ve never been to Bluffton before. We took time and drove around and it’s flourishing here. You can see new homes are going up, the attendance at the school is solid, it feels like a community that not only has a long past, but a great future ahead of it too,” he said.
“I was surprised to read that the school has been here for 100 years. That’s a lot of history for Alberta and that’s pretty impressive,” Taft added. “I toured around the school – it’s in great shape, the classrooms are busy and the kids are excited. It feels like a happening place. I have to mention the emphasis on technology here with bringing computers in and other stuff I can’t even name – kids take to it like glue, but it’s impressive. Clearly, things are happening at the Bluffton School in a good way.”
In pointing to the success of the school, Taft said it is an indication of the overall health of the community – something else that he sees as a big success.
“I’m delighted to see a good school here because schools are the heart of the community,” he said. “When you see school closures in some small towns, it really takes the life out of the place, so having a strong school here means there’s a bright future for Bluffton.”
As for reading material, Taft brought along a book he kept from his youth entitled, Gerald McBoing McBoing, which he said kids love because of all the sound effects that the reader has to attempt.
In the end however, he read, Show and Tell, by Robert Munch to the Grade 1 to 3 kids followed by another reading of a different book to the Grade 4 to 6 students. As part of the visit, he also fielded several questions from junior high school students.
As for the program itself, Menear said it would most likely feature its next celebrity reader in mid-June or some time in the new academic year starting in September.