Cornerstone Christian School’s Heather Thiessen is a 2022 Heroes in Education recipient. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)

Cornerstone Christian School’s Heather Thiessen is a 2022 Heroes in Education recipient. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)

HERO IN EDUCATION: Heather Thiessen’s teachings always come with a dash of humour

Cornerstone Christian School educator isn’t above dressing up as a unicorn

The Abbotsford News is honoured to profile 2022 “Heroes in Education” from a long and amazing list of nominees sent to us by our readers. “Heroes in Education” is graciously sponsored by Sevenoaks Shopping Centre, University of the Fraser Valley, BE Power Equipment, Valley Laser Eye Centre and the City of Abbotsford.

Teaching, at the best of times, is a difficult gig. Throw in a wildly unpredictable pandemic and you better have a good sense of humour to survive.

Meet Cornerstone Christian School vice-principal and special education co-ordinator Heather Thiessen.

Quick with a quip, and as self-effacing as they come, Thiessen’s special brand of teaching, and, well, state of being, is contagious. After all, this is a woman who occasionally dresses up in a unicorn costume to amuse and delight her students.

“It helps distract them (students) from what’s happening,” she said about these difficult pandemic times.

It’s this affinity for humour and for the comfort and well being of her students that led Shelly Fontaine to nominate Thiessen as a Hero in Education.

“She is so kind and has a very humorous side to her,” Fontaine said. “She is simply amazing.”

HEROES IN EDUCATION SPECIAL SECTION: click here

Fontaine has two adopted Aboriginal sons attending Cornerstone, one of whom has special needs. She credits Thiessen, as well as teachers Ms. Fung and Mrs. Gus, with turning around the fate of her children. Tyrell, who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, struggled while he was a student in the public school system. After six years at Cornerstone, Fontaine says everything has changed.

“He tries things he never would before,” she said. “He’s just so different now. They engulfed him in love.”

Thiessen credits Cornerstone’s small student population, around 200, with making that possible.

“We saw a need in the community where kids could come and be who they are,” she said. “Most schools can’t do that. I can phone a parent. We can mother them (students) because there’s so much anxiety, and they need stability.”

And stability has never been so crucial as it is in these pandemic times, Thiessen said.

“It’s made me grey,” she jokes, “but we fought to keep the school open because they need routine. They need a level of stability. It’s about how we can teach resiliency and build stability. Kids live day to day and they are looking to adults to feel safe.”

This level of dedication has Fontaine singing Thiessen’s praises, but Thiessen said it’s Fontaine, a single mother, who deserves to be praised for adopting five foster children and giving specialized care respite to hundreds of other children over the years.

“I run my hands down her back every day looking for wings,” Thiessen said with a laugh. “She’s ridiculous!”

Thiessen said she “decided in kindergarten” to become a teacher and is, by her account, a “straight line girl.” When asked how she became the special education co-ordinator at Cornerstone, she said, “I made eye contact.”

And lucky for Cornerstone Christian School she did.

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