Firefighters Fighting For Literacy Proves Happiness is Contagious

After 2 minutes of watching this happy little boy, I was happy all week. I can almost 100% guarantee you will feel the same. Moncton firefighters created a reading program called, “Firefighters Fighting For Literacy” and are about to surprise this year’s winner with the grand prize, a ride to school in a fire truck. The happiness escalates as he gets cheered into school by his teachers and classmates. Stands up to repeat viewing. I’m down for at least a dozen. Get a jolt of PURE JOY whenever you need it!

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Meet Jakob Arthur Ryan Vansnick

Jakob is a 6-year-old grade 1 student who was named the winner of the “Firefighters Fighting For Literacy” reading challenge at Bessborough School. On the morning of December 1, 2016 he won a trip to school on Moncton’s largest fire truck, Ladder 5. The Times & Transcript reported that he read mainly dinosaur and dog books and quoted him saying the front­seat ride to school, complete with a chance to honk horns and turn on the truck’s sirens, was “the best thing in my life.”


Meet Bessborough School

Bessborough School is a Kindergarten to Grade 8 school that serves the West End of Moncton (a city of 138,644 located in New Brunswick on the east coast of Canada).

The newspaper reported that students at Bessborough School completed a combined 4,600 minutes of reading and the firefighters spent about 70 hours at the school reading with students. Moncton firefighters volunteered to read to kids in 17 classrooms at Bessborough School 2 times a week for 1 month.

This story is near and dear to my heart since my 7-year-old son also attends Bessborough School and also ramped up his reading for this reading challenge. After chatting with Jakob’s Mom Katie on Facebook, it turns out that my son is actually in the same Grade 1 class with Jakob! Even though it’s only our first year there, I cannot say enough good things about this school. I’ve had lots of people tell me lots of positive things about it, from moving to the neighborhood to send their kids there, to attending the school themselves as a kid and now happily sending their kids there.

I was starting to think Bessborough could never live up to the hype. Well, it does. It’s got lots of substance and quietly does great things on a consistent basis. Also impressive is how they do all this in less than ideal facilities. The school needs upgrades that would be around 70% of what a new building would cost and there is a report recommending replacing the school. One thing is clear to me, Bessborough School has a lot of heart and history and they are doing everything they can to help our kids learn in a positive environment.


Meet Principal Nick Mattatall

I also cannot say enough positive things about Principal, Mr. Mattatall. I honestly don’t know how many hours are in his day! He is there saying good morning when I drop off my son, he puts in a full day at Bessborough School and this past weekend he was sending out emails to parents at 11:24pm on a Saturday evening. Here is one from November 23, 2016 that explains how the school’s reading challenge worked:

Over the past month, we have been very fortunate to have members of the Moncton Fire Department, Local 999 IAFF leading a literacy program for Grade K-5 students where firefighters volunteer to come to classrooms to read to students and help promote a love of literacy. This week is the final week of our program and on Tuesday, K-2 students had the benefit of doing Show and Tell with members of the fire department by exploring the clothing, apparatus and equipment that the firefighters use each day. The program will finish tomorrow with Show and Tell for Grades 3-5.

The grand finale for the program is December 1st when one lucky student will be picked up at home and driven to the school in Ladder 5 by members of the Moncton Fire Dept. Students have had the chance to earn ballots towards this draw by reading in 10 minute increments and recording it on their purple tracking sheet at home. We are asking that the tracking sheets be returned to school on Thursday, November 24th so that we can tabulate the ballots and inform our grand prize winner. Additional draws for prizes will take place on December 1st at our wrap-up assembly. - Firefighters Fighting For Literacy Photo Credit:


Meet Firefighters Fighting For Literacy

6 years ago Moncton firefighters created the reading program to battle the provincial issue of poor literacy among children. According to a GlobalNews article, provincial reading assessments conducted by the New Brunswick Department of Education show more than 30% of Grade 2 students in the Anglophone East School District are not reading at an appropriate grade level.

“We thought that we could have an effect using the fact that we are role models in the community and that children look up to us to show them that it’s cool to read.” – Moncton Firefighter, Christopher Jackson - Firefighters Fighting For LiteracyPhoto Credit:

He also told the local radio station The Bend that everyone gets involved in the program:

“The firefighters on the floor at the stations, come on their days off, and then the Chiefs join in as well, because they support the program and they come and read as well. We like to protect our community when we’re at work, and we like to support everything in our community when we’re outside of work too, when we are on our days off. It doesn’t end when we leave the station. We are a part of this community and we love it.”

In this 2014 post, Jackson says they receive letters from parents that says things like, “Thank you so much. My kids are coming home and they want to read. They’re excited about it, which is a change from before, when getting them to read was a chore.” - Firefighters Fighting For Literacy

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Research Supports The Firefighters Fighting For Literacy Approach

While talking about this story with my wife, she mentioned how having male role models is important since boys can be slower at language acquisition and reading skills. I found this detailed report (Boys’ Literacy Teacher Inquiry Project) that confirms the male role models approach is particularly helpful in getting boys interested in reading. By the way, if you are an educator, this 91-page report is full of great ideas:

Working with role models and heroes inside and outside the school was another way to help students. The team at Robert Moore School, Donald Young School, and Sturgeon Creek Alternative Program involved “positive role models throughout our communities (fireman, police officer, principal, hockey and football players, dads, grandpas, etc.)”. The successful use of deaf male role models in the Provincial Schools for the Deaf was another example of involving the community.

The Boys’ Literacy Project has become part of the daily life at Whitney Public School. The team wrote, “We have new understanding of the importance of [the] many people in the school community required to support children and their reading.” A student found role models particularly helpful: “I liked it when different male teachers came to read and came to the Boys’ Book Club.” And, a parent commented that it was “a one hundred percent change. My son didn’t enjoy reading before. Since the program he has been introduced to non-fiction as well as male-role models; his interest in reading as a hobby has blossomed.”


Meet the IAFF Local 999 Moncton Firefighters

After the story on Jakob came out, I liked the Facebook page for the IAFF Local 999 Moncton Firefighters Association. I wanted to follow the positive influence they continue to have in my community. Ever have visions of firefighters saving cats out of trees? Well, Local 999 takes things to a whole other level. When they are not putting out fires around town, Moncton Firefighters rescue cats from chimneys and air ducts! These guys and gals are the best.

IAFF Local 999 Moncton Firefighters Association - rescues cats - Firefighters Fighting For Literacy

Photo Credit: IAFF Local 999 Moncton Firefighters Association


Meet Katie Vansnick

I’ve had a few Facebook conversations with Jakob’s mom Katie and she mentioned a few things I think add to the story:

Mr. Mattatall at the assembly held on Thursday was saying some of the firefighters would go in to volunteer to read after just working a 24 hour shift which is amazing cause I’m sure at that point sleep would be nice, but they would still go to the school to read. Which to me is inspirational.

On Friday Mr.Mattatall was actually telling me that the fire fighters told him in all the years they have been doing this Jakob’s reaction was the best. As he was the first kid who was ever surprised.

I have never heard a bad thing about Bessborough so I decided it was the school I wanted Jakob to go to. So I made sure to buy a house in that neighbourhood and I’m so very glad we did. It’s amazing from the community to the kids and to the amazing staff!


Meet Erik Gingles

A huge thank you goes to Erik Gingles from for capturing the moment on video. The pure joy of this little boy is priceless. That’s where independent media and user-generated content shines and I believe will help form the future of news.

Up until this video shared by my neighbor, I had no idea the Facebook page existed. I’m glad that someone locally has taken the effort to capture moments like this. Great job on the video editing by the way. I edit video and it’s harder than it looks, this timing on the segments was perfect. For a site just getting off the ground, I like where things are going. When I mentioned this story was barely covered in the newspaper, Erik said:

That is why we started – in an effort to reinvent community news. We average four stories a day since we started in June. Now we have to start getting the word out there.


Meet Jakob’s Fans

The video was posted on December 1, 2016 and as of December 10, 2016 has 117,609 views. Here are some comments:

This made me tear up, couldn’t have picked a more grateful little boy. He’s adorable !!

Omg <tagged friend> remember how awesome this school was. Isn’t this sweet! <tagged friend> Such a great school.

Omg I cried like a baby watching this!!!! He is one well raised lil dude… incredible job on raising this well mannered, greatful, loving, happy & smart lil guy.

That was awesome thing to do for that little boy God Bless The Fire Department and Merry Christmas!!!!!

This is such a beautiful story and to see the joy in this boy makes me happy.

That was amazing! Way to go Jakob and you outdid yourself Bessborough School! So impressed…..

So adorable…can’t help but be happy and joyful for the little guy! nice share.

Awesome. He is adorably excited!! Priceless. What’s even better is his “red carpet” walk . Congrats little dude

December 11, 2016 update:  Since posting this on my website December 10, 2016 and sharing on social media, the story has now been seen in 10 regions of the US and 6 different countries.  It has also been mentioned in this post by a book-blogger in Iowa.

10 regions 6 countries


Can We Get this Story on Ellen?

To me, this is a feel-good story all the way around. The firemen are already heroes in our community and are helping extinguish a real literacy problem in the province. The school is supportive and committed to making a difference in the lives of their students. This little boy Jakob is pure joy and it’s contagious. The story is an inspiration to communities and schools everywhere. The commitment of these firefighters over 6 years proves that all those hours spent volunteering can make a real difference. Personally, I think the story should be shared as widely as possible and immediately thought of the Ellen show. On Decemeber 11, 2016 I sent them a note using this Be on the Show form and tagged @TheEllenShow on Twitter.


Please Share this Inspiring Example of Community Service

With so many negative stories in the news, isn’t it nice to just see something nice once and awhile? The world needs more stories like this. The efforts of these Firefighters and the School needs to be appreciated, shared and copied. They are making a difference in the lives of our kids. It’s hard work that’s not always recognized and celebrated. Jakob is certainly celebrating his win. This post started out as an inspiring story about educators and firefighters working together. Now it is simply an open thank you letter to all of you. Keep up the great work. The difference you are making in the community has not gone unnoticed.

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