Alumnus goes the distance for literacy

August 26, 2011
Amy Dove

James McCreath is about to undertake the race of his life.

He is heading to Penticton, B.C. this weekend to compete in Ironman Canada. There he will test his endurance with a 3.8-kilometre swim, a 180-km bike ride and a 42.2-km run. When it is all over one very deserving school stands to benefit from his efforts. Leading up to the race, he has raised more than $13,000 for a unique software program to help children learn English.

"It's a great opportunity to do some fundraising and to raise awareness for an unbelievable cause," he says. "It's a school in inner Calgary that basically focuses on educating elementary aged students who are new Canadians who need help in grasping their comprehension of the English language."

Connaught Community School, which makes its 100th year in October, is located in the heart of downtown Calgary. With classes spanning from kindergarten to Grade 6, the students that attend represent a very diverse world. Many of them are just learning to speak English.

"On any given day (our students represent) 53 countries and speak 43 languages," said Allison Bobenic, assistant principal. "Some of them are not only brand new to Canada and English but brand new to school. They have either lived in refugee camps where they didn't attend school or they lived in rural areas that didn't have access to a school, or in some cases they are girls who weren't able to attend school in their home countries."

McCreath was inspired to compete in the Ironman race after watching friend and fellow Royal Roads alumnus John Howey compete. "When you watch it it's not what you expect. You have it in your mind that you are going ... to see a certain body type, age and demographic of people. You really see all walks of life and it's very very inspiring to see these people finish what was a very challenging journey."

The idea to use the experience as a fundraiser came later and makes perfect sense as it allows him to combine his three passions: family, education and sports, he says.

A graduate of the MBA program in 2007, McCreath is an investment adviser with BMO Nesbitt Burns. Sports have always been a part of his life, he says, and his family places a lot of importance on athletics. That's for the best as preparing for the race requires "a very understanding family and about 15 hours a week of training," he says with a laugh.

The money McCreath is raising will fund Imagine Learning English program licenses through the 2014 school year. Connaught has used the program for two years already, but needed additional funding to keep it going. The program allows students to learn English through their primary language, Bobenic says. All of the learning is done in English, but the concepts can be introduced in Russian, Arabic, Spanish or whatever the language the student understands may be. 

 "We have teachers who do a brilliant job of helping children (learn English) but some of the things that children can do with a computer and some of the things they can do one on one really helps accelerate them feeling like they belong here and feeling like they know what is going on," Bobenic says. "That's our job to provide children with as many different opportunities to gain that learning and to personalize their learning for what they need to be successful. This is one of the programs that we believe helps do that."

For McCreath, supporting the program through an extreme endurance race makes sense.

"You look at these young students and risk and challenges their families had to take on to come to Canada and that's far greater than the challenge I am going to do."