An educator and academic in the field of primary learning hopes her appointment to the Order of British Columbia will help students from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds.
Dr. Janet N. Mort of Brentwood Bay, one of 13 new members of the Order, was named for her contributions to education and literacy, including the development of her Joyful Literacy Interventions program.
Aimed at struggling primary students, the program combines play with foundational literacy skills, explicit instructions and “practice, practice and practice.” Mort drew on the most recent scientific research about the brain, literacy acquisition and intervention.
Her research could not be more timely. Experts around the world have expressed fears that school closures due to the pandemic will further widen the achievement gap between students in families of means and those without – the very students Mort aims to help.
“They are the ones who are going to fall the furthest behind,” she said. “But the thing that hardens me, based on the work that we have been doing, [is] we know how to catch them up. It’s almost like we have been practicing for this event.”
Mort hopes this recognition of her work will draw the government’s attention.
“Clearly the government is recognizing the work,” she said. “It’s not just me, but 300 of us have been doing this. I am hoping that we as a province can learn from the work we have done in the past seven years and implement this provincewide.”
Mort’s career is in many ways a story of personal perseverance and public service. She started to pursue a Ph.D. in early learning at the age of 60 following her retirement in 2007 from the post of superintendent with Saanich School District.
“I wanted to figure out why so many of our kids do not succeed in school,” she said. “On average, over 30 per cent do not reach grade level. I really wanted to look at the research and figure out what we were missing.”
Mort began to develop her theory studying at UBC under the mentorship of the late Clyde Hertzman, one of Canada’s foremost researchers on early learning, especially among children from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds.
For the last seven years, Mort has been working with teachers across B.C. to implement it.
Despite vulnerabilities or significant cultural differences, 80 to 90 per cent of Kindergarten to Grade 3 students participating in her program are reading at grade level. Mort has been working directly with the Lau,welnew Tribal School in Brentwood Bay as part of an ongoing pilot project.
Over the years, Mort has shared her expertise at international education summits, as a facilitator and keynote speaker at education summits, and by authoring academic journals and two popular books: Joyful Literacy Interventions and Putting on the Blitz. She is currently working on a third title aimed at parents.
Mort was notified of the Order of BC honour with a mid-July phone call ahead of the official announcement on Aug. 3.
While the actual induction ceremony won’t happen until 2021 because of COVID-19, it doesn’t diminish the award. “It’ll give me a longer time to anticipate it,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m quite okay with that.”
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