Margaret Manson Awards Reaffirm that Every Person can Learn. Every Person has a Right to Learn.
by Dan Mullins
Every Person can Learn. Every Person has a Right to Learn. These were values deeply held by Margaret Manson.
The Pearson Educational Foundation offers an award named after Ms. Manson that is offered to one graduating student from each of the Lester B. Pearson School Board’s elementary schools, high schools, adult centres, and vocational centres. As recently as the 2021-2022 school year, funding for this award was very much in question.
This year, however, Ms. Manson’s children have graciously renewed the fund and increased the amount of the award, writing that they “…commit to support the award for the duration of our lives.”
An educator after whom an elementary school and an award are named, Ms. Manson started her career as a high school teacher and, after taking a leave to start a family that would grow to include five children, returned to teaching, this time in elementary schools.
Barbara Vuk Freeston, who served alongside Ms. Manson as members of the first Council of Commissioners of the Lester B. Pearson School Board, explained that Ms. Manson was the “first female secondary school principal in Quebec,” at Hudson High School (now called Westwood Senior,) then part of the Lakeshore School Board. After later working at that board’s head office, she retired. “24 hours later she ran for school commissioner,” said Ms. Vuk Freeston.
Ms. Manson was active in her capacity as a commissioner for LBPSB right up until her passing in 2000. When Ms. Vuk Freeston visited her in the hospital, she was always up to date on the goings-on at the board. “She would drill me on everything,” said Ms. Vuk Freeston.
Ms. Manson was an advocate for inclusion. “She believed it was teachers and principals and the school’s role to adapt the curriculum to the child, and not the other way around. To have somebody who said that in the early 60s in Quebec was very unusual,” said Freeston.
When she passed, people wanted to give donations. Ms. Vuk Freeston approached The Pearson Educational Foundation about organizing an award, and after securing matching funds from the Board itself, she contacted Ms. Manson’s children. They are a remarkably successful group, and provided a large sum for the purposes of establishing the award. The fund was started with $20,000. The mandate would be to do something that related to the work that Margaret had dedicated her life to.
The prize is not a scholarship, and it is different from other awards which use academic merit, a commitment to community service, or some other metric to select high-achieving recipients. The Margaret Manson Award empowers Schools and Centres “to choose a student who has had to overcome challenges to achieve graduation and would not otherwise have won an award,” according to Sue Grand, the long-serving secretary of the Pearson Educational Foundation, adding that the challenges “could be physical, financial, intellectual, relating to a family situation, being new to Canada, etc.”
When the Margaret Manson Award was inaugurated in the 2001-2002 school year, the award was not offered to elementary schools. Winners from high schools, and adult and vocational centres received a plaque and a cheque for $50, as well as being recognized in front of their peers at convocation. Later the amount offered was increased to $75, and this year will see a further increase, to $100.
It was not until the 2009-2010 school year that the award was also offered to elementary school students. The elementary school award is not a cash award. Instead, the school is invited to provide the name of the student, along with their reading level and interests, and a suitable book is carefully selected by Maya and Megan Byers of Babar Books in Pointe Claire, who also cover half the associated costs. The book, along with a framed award, is provided to each of the Lester B. Pearson School Board’s 32 elementary schools. The literacy group Community Born to Read graciously funds the other half of the books’ cost.
The award is supported by the families of all of Margaret Manson’s living children: Marnee Manson and Jack Hanna; Noni MacDonald, Mary Kai Manson, and Jack Manson, along with Alex Manson’s widow Judy Manson. The next generation, Kyle Hanna, Marguerite Hanna, Jake Manson, Jessie Manson, Alex Birnie, Katie Birnie, Kyla MacDonald, and Ewen MacDonald are also involved.