Borrowing career advice: Human library concept finds its way to Hilson PS

By Adam Feibel –

Sometimes it can be a challenge to convince a kid to borrow a book from the library — but what if you swap out the book with a person?

Students at Hilson Avenue Public School put down their textbooks and learned directly from workers in a variety of fields as the elementary school hosted a career-focused Human Library event on May 7.

The first Human Library took place in Denmark in 2000 with the hopes of encouraging a dialogue between members of the community. “Readers” are able to borrow a human “book” for a 20-minute, one-on-one conversation. The idea was brought to Ottawa in 2012 by a collaborative effort between the Ottawa Public Library and the CBC.

 Grade 5 students at Hilson Avenue Public School helped organize the event and learned about a variety of jobs along the way. Back row: Rowan Bell Petrusic, Reilly Newman, Ella Hopkins-Bryan, Emily Jones, Sophie Jones, Grace O'Malley.<br />Middle row: Eric Karpovits, Maelyn Kaya, Heidy Thaw, Marie Babineau.
Grade 5 students at Hilson Avenue Public School helped organize the event and learned about a variety of jobs along the way. Back row: Rowan Bell Petrusic, Reilly Newman, Ella Hopkins-Bryan, Emily Jones, Sophie Jones, Grace O’Malley.
Middle row: Eric Karpovits, Maelyn Kaya, Heidy Thaw, Marie Babineau.

Hilson parents Sareena Hopkins and Donnalee Bell liked the idea, except that it was just for adults. As co-workers at the Canadian Career Development Foundation, they wanted to bring it to their kids’ school so grade 4–6 students could have their own conversations, with a career twist.

WEBDuncan-Stewart-(2)
Duncan Stewart gets into the science of things with a group of primary school kids. Stewart is a physicist with the National Research Council and lives in Westboro.

“It’s going to be a blink before they have to start choosing courses, and then another blink before they have to start choosing either post-secondary or work,” says Hopkins, who lives on Westview Avenue.

“Some kids get almost no support with that,” she says. “This is an event that plants some seeds. Get them to realize that no matter what, there’s work they can do that taps into those interests.”

Bell adds that based on their work in career development research, one of the best times to start talking about work is with that age group.

“When they’re still open to thinking about this in a really creative and wide way,” she says.

More than a dozen presenters, mostly parents of Hilson students, set up at stations and told students all about what they do at work.

David W. Jones shared his experience as a visual artist that started 52 years ago when he was just seven years old. Now working on his oil paintings out of his home on Hamilton Avenue South and teaching night classes on the side, Jones was one of many parents each with a unique career and story.

“I’m a chapter,” he says of his role as a human book. “Better than a footnote.”

Other chapters included a physicist, chef, camp director, software developer, photographer, radio engineer and more.

Hopkins says it took “very little coaxing” to get the school on board with the idea.

Mike Patriquin and his Grade 5 class helped carry out the event. Hopkins’ daughter Ella Hopkins-Bryan says it’s great for students her age to learn about careers they have never heard of before.

“We’re really young and we don’t really know anything,” she says. “The only job we really know about is teachers. That’s why a lot of kids say they want to be a teacher when they grow up. That’s the only thing you ever see when you’re young.”

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