Education professor Stephen Berg is changing the way Canadian kids think about their health
June 20, 2017
Bachelor of Education (BEd)
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
PhD, University of Alberta (2009)
Master of Arts in Education, University of Alberta (2002)
Bachelor of Education, University of Alberta (1998)
“There is an important need to develop healthy habits at a young age when children are sensitive to their learning and understanding.”
STEPHEN BERG remembers the exact moment his life changed.
“I was driving home one day after being accepted into the Fisheries and Wildlife Management program at BCIT. I couldn’t stop thinking about teaching. I decided to drop out and pursue education.”
Berg developed an interest in teaching after going back to his old high school, Centennial Sr. Secondary in Coquitlam, BC to coach the women’s rugby team.
“I found coaching extremely rewarding,” he says. “Women’s rugby wasn’t as popular as it is today and our team ended up ranking fourth in the province.”
Spurred on by the gratifying school experience, Berg set his sights on teaching physical education and social studies while attending the teacher education program at the University of Alberta.
“I was originally planning on teaching at the secondary level, but I really liked teaching physical education at the elementary level.
“I recognized right away that there is an important need to develop healthy habits at a young age when children are sensitive to their learning and understanding.”
Flash forward a couple years, Berg graduated from the program and taught in BC before moving back to Alberta to complete his Masters, and later his PhD. He now has three children and is teaching physical and health education in the Faculty of Education at UBC’s Okanagan campus.
The decision to teach at UBC Okanagan wasn’t difficult for the scholar who prides himself on maintaining a healthy balance of work and physical activity.
“I knew I wanted to teach at a world-renowned university, and the Okanagan Valley offers so much in terms of outdoor activities—it seemed like UBC Okanagan was the best of both worlds.”
Teaching at UBC Okanagan opened the door to many research opportunities for the health enthusiast, including one that shows students at their best.
AT MY BEST 4-5-6
At My Best 4-5-6 is a program offered through Physical and Health Education Canada in support of students in Grades 4, 5 and 6. The program helps students develop emotional awareness and learn about the connections between physical activity, healthy eating and emotional well-being.
The focus of the program is to support the delivery of quality health and physical education programs in Canadian schools.
Stephen became involved in the pilot program, and introduced it to classrooms in BC and Quebec where he interviewed participating students.
“Kids are fun to interview,” he says. “For a lot of them, it was their first time being recorded. They got to listen back to what they had said and they just loved it.”
As much fun as Berg had with the students, the data he collected became extremely useful in getting a clearer picture of students’ thoughts on nutrition, and their thoughts on mental well-being and physical health-education programs in schools.
More than 10 schools were invited to participate and up to 100 students from various provinces were interviewed. Each of the participating schools were allowed to individualize the program based on the needs of the teacher and the class.
“Since this is only the second year of the program, we’ve taken into account what the teachers have told us, and we’ve revised the program to help suit the needs of the students, the schools and the regions.”
Although Berg and his fellow researchers are beginning to get a sense of the data they’ve collected, Berg hopes to continue learning from students and teachers about how improvements can be made to physical health and nutrition programs in Canadian schools.
“I’ve interviewed students from 11 schools across Canada,” he says. “It would be fantastic if we could broaden the study and include more schools.”
LIFE BEYOND ACADEMIA
Berg says the work he does with At My Best 4-5-6 is particularly rewarding because it’s relevant to his own children, Ashley (14), Brooke (12) and Scott (10), all of whom participate in sports and other activities at school and beyond.
“My daughters have met their closest friends through their dance classes and Scott is involved in soccer, flag football, hockey—you name it.”
A tradition at the Berg household is to perform in the annual Kelowna Ballet performance of The Nutcracker—dad included.
“Last year I was cast as Madame Gigone,” he says with a smirk. “I wore a lot of makeup and heels that made me the tallest guy on the stage.”
“It’s fun, but more than that, it’s important to show students that they shouldn’t be afraid to try something new, particularly if they might be hesitant to do it.”
Berg has introduced the teacher candidates in his classes to the many benefits of dance. Each year, he has his daughters teach a dance class.
“Dance has many benefits,” he says. “Students love to dance and it gets them to come out of their shells.”
Along with ballet, Berg is a volunteer firefighter with the South East Kelowna fire crew. He says he encourages all his students to have a life beyond academia because it’s important for your teaching.
“Students in my class, and my own kids, can see that you don’t just have to be one thing—you can be and do so many different things. It helps with your teaching.”
It’s the one piece of advice he would give his students: Don’t lose your passion.
“Enjoy everything,” he says. “Don’t lose your passion for your teaching or for your students because it will show.”
–by Jill Dickau