There is no educator more deserving of this recognition.
That’s the sentiment shared by colleagues and friends of educator Darleen Kifiak at Walnut Grove Secondary School (WGSS), who was selected as a honouree for the Langley Advance Times special edition, Heroes in Education: Above & Beyond.
“It feels overwhelming, and I don’t feel worthy of the recognition,” Kifiak said when she first learned about the honour.
Kifiak was told the news by school principal Frank Roberto and vice-principals Logan Kitteringham, Elise Rehnby and Sean Juteau, who caught her reaction on video.
“I’m a part of an amazing community… so, I do feel any recognition I receive is very much because of the wonderful place I work and team I am a part of,” Kifiak noted.
She is a counsellor serving the largest school in the district and was nominated by a parent of the school community.
“As a parent I don’t know what I would have done without her, but my kids, thank God that they had her to go to,” said Jane, a pseudonym given to the parent to respect the privacy of her three children.
Jane first met Kifiak about six years ago when her eldest son began school at WGSS.
Since then Kifiak has provided support to all three of Jane’s children and even Jane, herself, after a cancer scare.
“She was dropping off food for me in the summer… [She is] just a really, really amazing person,” Jane said.
The level of support Jane and her family gained from Kifiak is of no surprise to the counsellor’s colleague, Sue Docherty.
“She’s very good at coming alongside people and being there,” Docherty said, who has been a colleague of Kifiak’s for about six years, but has known her for nearly 20.
“What she does is very selfless,” Docherty said.
Despite wearing many hats, Kifiak is always available – a quality both Jane and Docherty highlighted, noting how they’ve received more than a few of her email replies at four or five o’clock in the morning.
She is responsible for about 500 of the 2,000 students as part of the WGSS counselling team, but besides that, she has served as department head since 2013, she oversees the grad portfolio, including scholarships and post secondary planning – an additional 400 students – and she also publishes a bi-monthly grad letter.
“She’s very, very well informed,” said Docherty.
But it’s not just Kifiak’s advice and guidance that gets eaten up.
“She’s notorious for baking and leaving cookies,” Docherty laughed.
Kifiak started her secondary education at Pacific Academy in Surrey and later completed two master degrees in counselling, one at Seattle Pacific University and a second at the University of British Columbia.
“When I started high school I thought I was going to go into law,” she recalled. “But once I got inside a classroom, that’s where I saw that I could make a difference in the lives of youth.”
Kifiak has been a counsellor now for 25 years. She first started at Walnut Grove Secondary in 2006.
“It’s just such a blessing to be a counselor and to be in such a great school and to have an opportunity to, every once in a while, put your fingerprints on somebody’s life and see the difference that it makes, and see that they are able to move forward because we’ve had a little bit of time together,” the Murrayville resident reflected.
It was an unforeseen circumstance that brought her to work in Langley.
“I had a brain aneurysm the year before I came to Walnut Grove, and because of that I needed to be close to home,” she explained. “And I think anytime you have something significant happen in your life, it causes you to stop and to value every moment of every day, and I do feel every day is a gift, and every moment is a gift.”
After working with Kifiak for seven years, former WGSS school principal George Kozlovic said he’s never met an educator more deserving.
“In my 15-plus years as a high school administrator, I can unequivocally say without a doubt, that Darleen is the most caring, compassionate, dedicated, hard-working and selfless educator that I have ever worked alongside,” Kozlovic said.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of students and parents who owe a huge debt of gratitude for the assistance that Darleen provided these students in helping them navigate and complete the journey of secondary school.”
MORE EDUCATION HEROES