Templeton Secondary's beloved Film and Theatre department head Jim Crescenzo has always been a superstar, but this year that was really evident as he was honoured with a Prime Minister's Award for Excellence. The national PM Awards recognize ten exceptional elementary or secondary school teachers for their remarkable achievements in education and for their commitment to preparing their students for a digital and innovation-based economy.
Winning the award got Crescenzo thinking back to his own youth at Templeton high school. "I went through a lot of tough times as a kid and there were a couple of people I met at school who really changed my life," he says. "One particular teacher and my principal really showed me the power of a mentor and the power of words to change and encourage. When I started teaching in 1981, I wanted to change lives like mine was changed and it's all happened at Templeton."
Multi-media programs like the ones Crescenzo developed at Templeton require tens of thousands of dollars each year to run - a major fundraising challenge. Crescenzo's charisma, positive drive and unflagging energy have helped him build important relationships with key parents and supporters, some of whom are among the most prominent philanthropists in Vancouver. Together they have raised millions to expand the scope of these innovative Templeton programs.
Crescenzo, also a working actor, uses his industry connections to bring professionals into his classroom. He's brought in writers to work with the kids to develop a play or film script on an issue that resonates with them. Then the students will work with a stage director, set designer, makeup artist etc. to pull the production together. The kids are highly involved in every stage, getting a tremendous opportunity they wouldn't have in any other program. "I want them to achieve excellence," says Crescenzo.
Crescenzo is also co-founder of the Boys Club Network, a charitable organization that works with the Vancouver school district and others to identify and lift up misguided young men without mentors who have fallen through society's cracks. The group works to help restore these boys' sense of personal accountability, and their confidence in themselves, in adults, and in society's collective future. "We want them to know anything is possible and here's what we need to do to make it a reality," he notes.
After three decades as an educator, Crescenzo will be retiring from teaching at the end of the 2018 school year, but his work is not over, "There are great teachers here ready to take the reins," he says. "I'd like to start a foundation to continue raising money. I just won't be at Templeton during the day."