BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Don Cuggy, who has been teaching for 30 years, is now a librarian and literacy support teacher at Linden Lanes School.
A Reader’s Digest submission of a widely adored Brandon teacher has been making the rounds in faculty lounges across the city.
Winnipeg-based television journalist and former Brandon Sun editor Melissa Ridgen submitted a short ode to longtime Brandon School Division teacher Don Cuggy which recently appeared online.
"Mr. Cuggy introduced me to a new side of life: language (French), culture, creative writing and classical music. He picked the most amazing books for us to read and every afternoon we got to sit and get lost in a story while Vivaldi filled the classroom. It was an escape from the hopelessness that hung over my impoverished neighbourhood in Brandon, Manitoba," the submission reads.
Ridgen goes on to explain the teacher’s impact on her choice to become a storyteller herself, something Cuggy said is especially poetic for him as a literacy support teacher.
"When you know that your students are still readers and still writers, it’s one of the messages you try and get across to the kids and when you know they received that message, it’s nice to see that, it really is," he said. "It was a very nice surprise ... Melissa was in my first class of my first year teaching. I can look at that class photo and know every child immediately."
The piece was particularly special for Cuggy because of where it was published. His father, who died late last year, read Reader’s Digest religiously throughout his life.
"So the first thing I thought was ‘Gee, I hope Dad’s got a copy of this one up in heaven,’" he said.
Cuggy, who has been teaching for 30 years, is now a librarian and literacy support teacher at Linden Lanes School. Principal Kathy Brigden said it’s no surprise Cuggy would have such an impact on his students. She said he has deep-rooted reputation for reaching out to children and pairing the right story with the right student, fostering early readers and writers.
"He really encourages students to share their voice, to bring their voice out in writing so I think that’s really, really important for our young people," Brigden said.
"He’s very caring, very kind, very gentle teacher and he cares an awful lot about the students he works with," she said. "So in the whole school, he’s very popular and respected by the students and staff."
Ode to Don Cuggy
Here is Melissa Ridgen’s submission on teacher Don Cuggy that ran in Reader’s Digest online recently:
First day of class in 1984 I left my inner-city school in horror. Of the 23 students in my Grade 4 class, only three of us were girls — two of whom were best friends leaving me alone among a sea of boys, all of whom have cooties when you’re nine. But for the first time ever, my teacher was a man — a new guy to the school named Mr. Cuggy. He was young and had moved to our small city from Montreal and certainly dressed better than everyone else. He was mild-mannered with a calm, confident air and spoke better than most of the people I knew. Mr. Cuggy introduced me to a new side of life: language (French), culture, creative writing and classical music. He picked the most amazing books for us to read and every afternoon we got to sit and get lost in a story while Vivaldi filled the classroom. It was an escape from the hopelessness that hung over my impoverished neighbourhood in Brandon, Manitoba. Grade 4 turned out to be the best year of my public school life, entirely because of Mr. Cuggy. He inspired me to think big and when I did, it became clear to me that I wasn’t predestined to any lot in life I could chart my own course. At the end of Grade 4 I knew I wanted to write. By age 22, I graduated from journalism school and was quickly a daily news reporter. Seventeen years later, I’m still telling stories. I often wondered what became of Mr. Cuggy. How many other young lives would he have profoundly impacted over the decades? Then I heard this past summer while visiting back home: he’s still teaching in Brandon — at my nephew’s school no less! I asked him if he knew Mr. Cuggy and his response was a thrilled "Yes!! He’s our librarian! He picks THE BEST books for me to read. He’s so awesome." I got goosebumps and felt a little surge of grateful tears well up. He’s indeed, still making a difference. Even now when I hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, I’m transported back to Mr. Cuggy’s Grade 4 class at Betty Gibson school, and thankful for the new teacher’s impact on my life and thrilled he’s still at it!
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 4, 2013