Expert Seniors offer expertise to young students

Engineer, manufacturer, designer, computer technician, businessman, airplane pilot. Name a job, and chances are good Roger Gaulin’s done it.

Guelph retiree Roger Gaulin and Claudia Golebiowski

Guelph retiree Roger Gaulin and Claudia Golebiowski

GUELPH, Ont. — Engineer, manufacturer, designer, computer technician, businessman, airplane pilot. Name a job, and chances are good Roger Gaulin’s done it.

Now retired with a pension and time on his hands, the Guelph resident is adding another line to his resume — elementary school teacher.

“It can be hectic. I just finished 45 minutes non-stop,” he said on a recent Friday after presenting a slide show about nuclear reactors to a Grade 5 class at St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic School.

Wise, experienced and sound in body and mind, Gaulin is putting off the late-life indulgences usually associated with retirement.

He has signed up with Expert Seniors, a new local volunteer organization matching retirees with local classrooms where they can be of service.

“I show him what I’m teaching, he grabs on part of it, and says, ‘Oh, I can do that,”’ explained teacher Katherine Kenny.

“He can take that part of the curriculum, and he can bring it to life,” she said.

The presence of a community member with life experience “softens” the classroom, especially since he is “a father figure, or a grandfather figure,” Kenny said, adding the kids went nuts over a picture of Gaulin in the cockpit of a spindly, one-man helicopter.

So far, Gaulin has given interactive and computer-aided lessons about building bridges, mapping and nuclear plants.

“I had a lot of fun with it,” said one of the students, 11-year-old Claudia Golebiowski, demonstrating the cable-stayed bridge she designed on software Gaulin brought to the classroom. “I love designing things.”

After starting last fall with a one-hour visit three days a week, Gaulin has upped his commitment to three half-days.

“And there’s still not enough time to do all the projects,” he said.

Launched last summer and now counting five senior volunteers, Expert Seniors comes at a time when many Canadian are choosing, or in some cases being forced, to redefine retirement.

With the average senior enjoying better health and a longer lifespan, and public and private pensions in crisis, many are working longer, taking minimum-wage service jobs.

Ursula Menzel, the originator of Expert Seniors, said a well-seasoned professional like Mel Briant, a veteran of advertising, marketing and hospital management, deserves an opportunity to share his experience with young people.

“Having Mel stock shoes, it doesn’t give him respect. It doesn’t give honour,” she said.

Two days a week, Briant travels 20 minutes from the city’s northwest corner to tutor a Grade 4 student who has difficulty concentrating.

“I’m his surrogate father,” the 83-year-old pensioner said, adding he bought the boy a book for his 10th birthday. “When he gets a question right, he says, ‘Are you proud of me?”’

After devoting his retirement to parasailing in Jamaica and hiking in Ecuador, among other adventures, he returned to Canada with a desire to get involved in the community.

“It’s good for me as a retirement project, keeps my mind active,” Briant said, adding he wishes he got the same special attention when he was in school. “In my day, the teacher wrote on the board,” he said. “The 47 kids in the class, they either got it or they didn’t.”

Menzel is currently seeking seniors to help build a website and start a greening project at Kortright Hills Public School.

Of course, some will find it hard to understand why a retiree would want to go back to work.

“I asked him, ‘Do you get paid?’ He said no,” Hyung-Ja Myung, a teacher visiting from Korea, said of Gaulin.

“I was very surprised.”

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