Local ESL teacher Brent Larmour shows off some of his mother’s creations at Healthyway Natural Foods Market. The market is one of the retailers carrying the baggage tags

Bag tags for literacy

ESL teacher raising money for local education initiatives

Brent Larmour sure wishes he had one of those fancy tablets the kids are using these days.

Actually, he wishes he had a bunch of them.

Larmour teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) for School District 72. He’s based out of the Robron Centre, but he circulates around the district to various elementary schools to help anyone who needs it.

“I work with emerging readers,” Larmour says. “Those kids who need a little extra support. I generally work mainly with the First Nations/Aboriginal community, but also anyone else that needs ESL support, whether that’s the new Syrians who are coming, or Vietnamese or Chinese exchange students, for example.”

And in order to succeed at that work, he needs resources.

“The school district is great and they’re very supportive of our programs,” he says, but there’s only so much funding available for any program within any school district, and what he wants to do with his students is simply out of reach if he is to solely rely on the money available within the current programming budget.

So he’s selling handmade luggage tags.

Wait…what?

You see, Larmour’s mother is quite the sewing enthusiast, and she had been making little baggage-style tags as gifts for people since she first saw one in the Montreal airport about 20 years ago.

She had been giving them out as name tags on gifts for years when she was asked by some ladies in Mexico – where she now spends about five months a year – if she’d be willing to sell them.

While she was hesitant to sell things she’d been making for fun and giving away as gifts for decades, she realized she could use the sale of them to do some good. Having always believed education was the best way to improve one’s lot in life, she decided to begin selling them down there and giving the money she raised to a charity that paid tuition for underprivileged children.

And when she came back this past April, she mentioned to Larmour that she had raised enough money to send three kids to school, and he thought maybe he could sell them here to raise money for his program, as well.

“At first she said, ‘I don’t think you can sell that many,’ and I guess I kind of took that as a challenge and said, ‘I bet I can sell $500 worth,’” Larmour says.

Which his mother then also took as a challenge.

“My dad went away on a baseball trip down south with my uncle for eight days, and while he was gone, my mom made 263 of these things,” he says with a laugh, grabbing a fistful of the tags out of a bag. “She worked 11 hours a day and just pumped them out.”

Each tag, he says, takes about a half hour to make, so you could say his mother has been productive.

And so he started selling them. He had to live up to his assertion that he could, after all.

He was selling them through the schools for about a month at the end of the school year, he says, “and it was going pretty well, but now that school’s out, I was looking for a way to keep it going.”

So he’s been approaching local businesses to see if they are interested in having a rack of them by their checkouts.

His friend and fellow teacher, Paul Klein, who teaches wood shop at Timberline, has volunteered to make little wooden stand/display units for the tags should a business want to sell them to help the cause, and four retailers have already taken them on.

Central Mountain Air has agreed to have a stand and sell them, fittingly, out at the airport, and Healthyway Natural Foods Market has taken a rack for their downtown store, as has Home Brew Factory & Wine Boutique on Dogwood Street.

100 per cent of the sale of the tags goes towards a tablet fund for Lamour’s ESL program, as his mother is donating the materials and her time.

The original idea, Larmour says, was to get “levelled’ books,” which are books targeted at certain levels of readers and tailored to help them improve.

“But then I thought, these are digital learners – digital natives – why don’t we see if we can get some tablets, because there’s so much available online in terms of resources and books, and there are also so many wonderful apps out there now that I can make use of to help these kids if we had some way to get some tablets that will run them.

“I think that’s a better use of funds.”

Anyone who wants to know more about Larmour’s fundraising project, what he does within the school district, or is interested in helping out by having a rack of baggage tags in their business can contact him by email at brentterrylarmour@gmail.com or brent.larmour@sd72.bc.ca.