Student has a special appreciation for school, after years away

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When Peter Peters joined Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale in fall 2012, he came with modest ambitions.

Having last attended school in Grade 6 in Ontario, the 17-year-old arrived eager to learn to read and write.

Learning support teacher Linda Andre saw a strength for math as well, so improving his math skills was added to a short list of goals.

Just over a year later, Peter is earning high school credits as a Grade 11 student and he’s kept open the possibility of earning a high school diploma. He was recently named KAHS Student of the Month, an award that acknowledges his work ethic and attitude. A few weeks earlier, he was named a Division B All-star running back by the Southern Alberta High School Football League. He helped the Kate Andrews Pride football team to the Tier 4 regional final.

Andre describes Peter as “the kind of student every teacher wants.”

“He is so motivated,” she says. “He just grabbed on to and appreciated any opportunity that was afforded him.”

Peter is the seventh of 10 children in a Low German-speaking Mennonite family that divided its time between Ontario and Mexico. Low German is spoken at home, and hard work is generally valued more highly than education.

Working as a roofer with an older brother in Calgary, Peter says he realized how desperately he wanted to read and write.

“My friends were sending me texts and I had a problem reading them,” he says. “I’d have to ask my sister to read them for me and I didn’t want to keep doing that. I was bored roofing.”

He says he was nervous returning to school in November 2012 after so many years away, but he quickly made friends and found all of his teachers supportive and helpful.

Strong verbal skills in English and supports from teachers and learning assistants have helped him make progress in reading and writing. He is able to read library books now, and enjoys them, along with math and trades programs. He’s even taken a drama class.

If he’s able to graduate next year, he’ll be the first in his family to finish high school.

His journey at Kate Andrews has literally made the highlight reel. When a friend suggested he try out for the football team, Peter discovered a love for the game. Fast on his feet, the rookie contributed to a strong season.

Coach and Vice-Principal Joe Buckler says it was a treat to coach such a hard-working player.

His parents, Jacob and Maria, had never been to a football game before. When they arrived, Maria says, other parents were welcoming. “Oh, you must be Peter’s parents,” Maria recalls people in the crowd saying. “We sure like Peter.”

Maria says she discovered she likes football and she only missed one of Peter’s games. Father Jacob was less convinced about the sport, worrying it’s too violent.

Nervous about her English skills, Maria describes having to learn the meaning of “proud.” She kept hearing how proud people were of Peter, and her two youngest girls, Maria and Trudy, who attend John Davidson School, an alternative program for LGM students. Maria is taking English lessons offered to parents at John Davidson, and she plans to begin volunteer work in order to surround herself with English speakers to further hone the language.

“You need to read and write,” Maria says. “When I go to the doctor, I need to understand what’s being said.”

Peter agrees and he sees opportunities opening up for him as he continues to learn. He recently tried out for and made the basketball team, and he’s looking for a part-time job on weekends.

“I want to stay here,” he says. “I want to be an NFL player or own my own company. I’m a hands-on person. I would like to be in business.”