By Charlie Senack
After 16 years of serving on three Barrhaven school parent councils, one well known Barrhaven mom is ready to put her energy elsewhere.
If your children have attended public school in Barrhaven, chances are you know Helen Crawford. She began her decade and a half of supporting education when she walked into her first parent council meeting at Mary Honeywell Elementary School in the fall of 2005.
“I joined my first parent council meeting when my oldest son Owen was in junior kindergarten,” said Crawford. “I went to the meeting just to check it out, and walked out as secretary that night.”
That one meeting turned into hundreds. Crawford, who has two sons, Owen, 20, and Dylan, 18, wanted an opportunity to be involved in what her kids do at school. Soon after getting on the parent council, Crawford made her way up to the chair position.
“I always thought you don’t have the right to complain if you don’t get involved,” she said. “Especially when my kids were in elementary school and there was just so much to do. We had a lot of fun organizing all the different kinds of activities we had.”
Crawford says some of her best memories were from Mary Honeywell, where they raised a lot of money to build new play structures.
“We put in three play structures during my time there; it was almost entirely funded by the council with a bit of help from the board through their grants,” Crawford recounted. “We started family skate nights which were a lot of fun and the kids loved those. We started popcorn days which was great to walk into a classroom as the ‘popcorn lady’ and all the kids were happy to see you.”
After Mary Honeywell, Crawford moved to the parent council at Cedarview Middle School, and then to John McCrae. She says high school brought its own unique set of challenges, including a recent fight to save the sports field.
At the end of the 2018-2019 school year, it was announced that four portable classrooms would be placed on a section of the schools track and sports field, moving the end zone six metres, and shortening the track from a regulation 400 metres to only 350 metres. In the end the fight was lost; a blow for a school which relied heavily on its high performance athletes program. The Ottawa Carleton District School Board said at the time, a large increase in students and overcrowding was the reason for more portables.
“I think one of the hardest things was at John McCrae when we tried to fight to keep the portables off the sports field. We launched a big campaign and we were unfortunately unsuccessful,” said Crawford. “But we shed light on the need for kids to have open space. John McCrae especially is a unique school given that they don’t have a lot of room to move.”
Among her other roles, Crawford also sat on three accommodation reviews which related to changes with boundaries and school times. She says it was a difficult task when you couldn’t please everybody, but always tried to remain neutral.
“Dealing with a lot of different personalities is always a challenge — especially around the council table where parents are really passionate about their kids’ education,” she said
Crawford’s skills led her to winning the Ottawa Carleton District School Boards Chairs Award in 2019. Her best friend Jodi Parker — someone she met around the parent council table — said she is quick to jump in to causes she believes in, and will help anyone in need.
“One of the key strengths of Helen over the years was her ability to manage and juggle the needs of the school with the needs and concerns of the parents,” said Parker. “She may not always be able to give people the answer they want but in the end, they felt heard and respected. Valuing the input of others and putting forward the best programming she can. Helen is a calming influence on those around her.”
But now as Crawfords youngest son graduates high school as an Ontario scholar and honour society member, her time supporting education has come to an end. This September Crawford’s son Owen goes into his last semester of computer engineering at Algonquin College and Dylan will start fitness and health promotion.
Not looking for time to rest, Crawford plans to stay involved with the Nepean Minor Hockey Association — an organization she’s been a part of for many years. She also plans to get heavily involved in the Colorectal Cancer Resource and Action Network — a cause close to her heart. In December 2018, Helen’s sister Julie passed away at the young age of 48 from colon cancer. Now she wants to keep her spirit and passion alive, while saving others through early screening.
“It’s going to be a big change, it’s bitter sweet, but I am ready to get away from the school board politics,” Crawford concluded. “But I made a lot of friends around the table. I will miss the people but I will not miss the politics.”