reading buddies

Emma Totten: At Home with Real World Connections

Back when COVID- 19 wasn’t in our vocabulary, Emma Totten would leave her house in Port Credit by 6:30 in the morning and not get home until 8:00 in the evening.
Her young daughter, Chloe, got used to not seeing her mother on weekdays, while Emma adapted to missing family meals from Monday to Friday. Time with her husband, Jeff, was also sparse.
Enter the pandemic.
Both Emma and Jeff are working from home full-time. Chloe is enrolled in full-time online school. They’re together for all meals, and there’s not much privacy to be had. It’s a big shift from years past, but it’s a silver lining in what has been a difficult time for many.
“As much as I miss the staff by not being on campus, I’m enjoying the time with my family,” said Emma. “And I certainly don’t miss the commute. I could be in the car up to three hours a day sometimes.”
Emma, who is the Coordinator of Global Partnerships and Real World Connections, has also been working as a Learning Strategist in the Senior School this year, covering Tara Ardila’s maternity leave. And while she thoroughly enjoys her time with the students, she has still had the challenging task of finding volunteer opportunities for the boys and meeting the needs of the College’s community partners. That includes Lord Dufferin Public School, which had always been the recipient of many classroom visits with Right to Play and Reading Buddies, along with donations of school supplies from RSGC community drives.
While the in-person component this year hasn’t been able to happen, a loyal group of students still “visit” a Grade 2/3 classroom at Lord Dufferin twice a week through virtual Reading Buddies, sponsored by First Book Canada, and virtual Math Buddies, a new program this year. It’s a very popular program, both with the Georgians and with the kids at Lord Dufferin.
Teacher Elizabeth Baltazar is so appreciative that Emma has kept this program running.
“I’m so very grateful that Emma has ensured our partnership with RSGC continues even through a pandemic,” said Elizabeth. “Our time with RSGC may not be in person, but the ongoing connections through the Reading Buddies and Math Buddies programs have been heartwarming. It’s honestly such a relief knowing that the school community I work in is also valued and remembered by so many Georgians—all thanks to Emma and Lauren Alpern.”
Emma and Chloe are weekly participants in the virtual programs. In fact, Chloe often takes over Emma’s seat at her computer, captivated by the Georgians’ storytelling. It’s just another perk of mother and daughter being home together all the time.
“One of the other heartwarming effects of meeting with RSGC virtually is how my class and I get a chance to meet and get to know Emma and Chloe,” said Elizabeth. “During times like this, it’s even more important to surround yourself with your loved ones to get through it all, and for Emma to include her daughter during our fun sessions means a great deal. My class and I look forward to the day when we can all meet in person once again. Until then, we’ll continue to connect one story and one math game at a time.”
The College has also managed to run a few community drives this year with the help of Emma’s organizational skills, and Lord Dufferin was the recipient of numerous school supplies. But COVID makes it all a lot more complicated.
“Everything has to be set up differently, with drop-off locations for every cohort, at every entrance,” said Emma. “Things have to go into isolation at the other organization. The House Captains and Prefects collect at every entrance and then everything has to be delivered the day it’s collected. It all takes more planning and logistics.”
As for meeting the needs of community partners, Emma has been in constant contact with organizations like Our Place Community of Hope and Friday Food Ministries to see how the College can help. Whether it’s cooking at home and delivering food to Friday Food Ministries or dropping off groceries to Our Place Community of Hope, Georgian families have been jumping at any opportunity to help out, with spots getting filled almost instantly. When possible, parent volunteers have continued to drop off food from Ketchum Hall to the Scott Mission.
“It’s real for a lot of our families and I’m really happy that so many have taken to it,” said Emma. “With everyone at home, I think people are looking for something to do. They’re seeing everything that’s happening, they see people losing their jobs and more people depending on food banks. They want to help however they can."
In November, Emma worked closely with Georgian Parents’ Guild Community Service convenors Merle Armstrong and Laura Strain to organize a virtual Day of Service for the Senior School. It was a massive undertaking with many moving parts, but one that worked out to be a success. While it couldn’t possibly replace a normal Day of Service that often includes hands-on experiences—cooking, shovelling, cleaning, repairing, etc.—it was still a valuable day for the boys.
“We had 16 different placements, all with connections to charities, and an expert in the field for each of them,” said Emma. “Many of the boys missed the face-to-face experience, but also said it was really interesting to learn about something different. Toronto Humane Society, for example, gave a virtual tour and then they made toys for the animals. Some of the boys kept them for their own pets and some dropped them off for the animals. There was even a student-run clothing drive that came out of the day.”
As one of the Community Service convenors, Merle has worked closely with Emma for several years and has been impressed by how well Emma has shifted in her role—particularly with the Day of Service.
“That was a difficult one to pivot on. The boys used to physically do stuff and then all of a sudden, we had to make it interesting enough that it’s still a Day of Service and delivering what it’s supposed to, but I think Emma managed to do a great job,” said Merle, whose son Oliver is in the Class of 2022. “It was much harder to do an online one from an organizational perspective—it was a lot of work.”
Merle loves working with Emma and describes her as calm, kind-hearted, committed, enthusiastic and a non-judgmental listener. She is impressed by how well Emma has worked to come up with ways for students and their families to get involved with community service partners during the pandemic.
“Emma is also always looking for new opportunities for RSGC,” said Merle. “This has meant casting her net wider than the immediate community, so that the boys could get involved.”
In the meantime, while she’s looking for opportunities, she can have dinner with her family.