Starting a “calmversation”: how one Douglas alum is changing the face of education
On Sept. 10, 2001, Jena Sharma – known to her students as Miss Jena – started a job as an Urgent Interventionist at the Vancouver School Board, a role in which she supports schools in addressing disruptive student situations. The next day, two planes crashed into the World Trade Centre towers in New York City. It changed the way she viewed the world.
“Overnight, everything shifted,” says Jena, a graduate of the Douglas College Child and Youth Care program. “In that moment it really landed that I was responsible for the delivery of education. I couldn’t help but think about how these terrorists were once children and that there must have been something missing in schools to cause something like that to happen. But at the same time, the kids in my own school had questions, and how do you explain something you yourself don’t understand?”
A changed perspective
Jena’s changed perspective on education eventually led her to create calmversation, a compassion- and communication-driven education program for students in K-12. She felt so strongly about the program that she cashed out her pension to create it.
“calmversation was designed to help children learn how to communicate their questions, understand how they create and think, and inform their teachers of what supports and what interferes with their learning,” she says. “The lower case ‘c’ is intentional. Each letter in calmversation stands for something, and I didn’t want to give the impression that any letter or meaning is greater than another.”
Taking a leap for education
The seeds for calmversation sprouted from Jena’s own childhood. Although she was a “smart kid,” there were many things about school that didn’t make sense to her.
“A child that experiences school without understanding why they have to do certain things will not be as engaged – and I wasn’t,” she says.
Despite being unsure about what to do after high school, Jena knew she wanted to work with kids.
“I wanted to help them learn how to express themselves and make a difference for them. Stepping into the Child and Youth Care program at Douglas became the access point for everything that has happened in my life since then,” she says. “One of the assignments we had consisted of circles that outlined how one child is connected to all these different things. It was exercises like these that really made me want to understand what we can do to support children in those formative years so they can make decisions that help them become proactive members of society, global citizens and difference makers.”
Taking the world by storm
Since the inception of calmversation, Jena’s been taking the education world by storm. She spoke at TEDxSFU, won several Toastmasters awards and most recently, became a published author. She contributed to Voices of the 21st Century: Bold, brave and brilliant women who make a difference*[WCE3] , whichlaunched exactly 18 years after her first day at the Vancouver School Board andbecame a triple bestseller overnight.
While her list of accomplishments is impressive, she isn’t even close to being done.
“In 2015, when I put it all on the line to create this program, I told myself I was going to focus my sights on one really big goal, and that was to make a difference in one billion children’s lives. No matter how many times I get knocked down, I will get up. I’ve got my eyes set on the Nobel Peace Prize.”
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* Jena’s book will be available soon at both Coquitlam and New Westminster campus bookstores