Brent Garraway is a teacher defined by the groups he leads.
“I have two amazing parents that were very involved in the community,” he says of parents Pam and Gary Garraway. “My dad is one of those people that has a tough time saying no to anything that might help others. He’s the major reason I went into teaching in the first place. He also coached me throughout my youth and both parents try to volunteer locally when possible.”
Active in both sport and philanthropy as well as a respected teacher, Garraway helps students fulfill the four pillars of excellence at Oak Bay High: academics, athletics, fine arts and community leadership and philanthropy.
“Mr. Garraway not only teaches lessons in the classroom but life lessons outside of school,” says parent Stephanie White. “He goes above and beyond his regular duties by coaching multiple teams and leading the Live Different trip; he continually teaches his students responsibility, commitment and gratitude.”
Alongside teaching social studies and physical education, he’s the longtime co-coach of the senior boys soccer team and head coach for the senior girls team. He also heads the Live Different program that saw its fourth group of students head to Mexico this spring break.
“I’m really lucky to be at a school like this one that’s bought into the four pillars and pushes all of them,” Garraway says, noting each school year kicks off with an energetic Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock fundraiser. “It’s a pretty driven school … we definitely want to see kids achieve their best.”
He started Live Different at Oak Bay High six years ago. “I realized that I was probably preaching about humanitarian stuff more than I was doing humanitarian stuff,” Garraway said.
“It was time to get off my butt and do something.”
That first year he took the lead role and Gary came as chaperone, adding some quality time with his dad, who taught at Willows for nearly two decades.
“We put it out there and we had 35 to 40 kids who signed up for it,” the younger Garraway says. “The experience went really well. The interactions are the most important thing so it’s really teaching the kids about respect for each other and respect for the groups we work with.”
Through Oak Bay High’s Live Different campaign, students pay for their own flight and fundraise for building supplies and food for families living in poverty in Mexico. They spend a spring break building homes alongside those families.
“(Students) do house builds during the day and spend time with families, followed by two to three hour debriefing. That’s when you can get into some pretty awesome discussions with these kids … get into what’s really important in life,” Garraway says. “As much as we focus on life lessons, 80 per cent of the time you’re laughing. You’re having a ton of fun with a group of people you’re with that’s what makes it a family.”
This year 130 kids attended the initial meeting and 98 kids applied, about 10 per cent of the students who are eligible.
“It’s become a much bigger thing,” Garraway says. Those on the trip range from Grade 10 to 12 and aren’t selected by grades, athleticism or volunteerism, drawing a diverse selection highlighting “every walk of life in the school.”
Live Different extends beyond the Mexico trip as students bond for more than a year leading up to the trip south. The most recent group volunteered at Woodwynn Farm in Central Saanich, made Christmas hampers and Soap for Hope and picked up trash on the shoreline with the Surfrider Foundation, along with bonding barbecues and movie nights.
“It’s cool to see that bond form,” Garraway says. “It brings groups together and when they get back, groups hang out that would have never hung out.”
The toughest part for the selection team is choosing who will travel.
“It’s similar to creating a sports team, you’re trying to pick what’s going to be best for the team as a whole and the individuals while you’re doing,” Garraway said. “It’s creating that respect for each other and every person is as important as the next. There’s a big crossover in the two – (Live Different and soccer).”
Garraway started co-coaching the boys team with Richard Fast when he started teaching at Oak Bay High 14 years ago. He took the helm of the girls team the next year. Both Breakers teams consistently feature competitive kids who work hard, he says.
“Our 20th player is just as important as our first player,” Garraway says. “(It’s about) full passion. if you’re going to do something and put your name to it, do it well. There’s no reason to do it half-way.”
He hopes to pass on what soccer offered for him, an opportunity to meet people, create bonds, university scholarships and travel and opportunity.
“I’ve been playing since just before I turned four. So it’s been a big part of my life,” he says. “Having that feeling of success when you work with a group and know you’re working hard; the pride you achieve when you reach those goals, it’s tough to get from something outside of sport.”
Coaching and travelling with students adds another element to the classroom connection.
“It just makes teaching that much more fun,” Garraway says.
This year’s girls Breakers was “one of the hardest working girls teams I’ve ever seen,” Garraway says. They suffered only one loss – a shootout to the team that won provincials. “It’s cool to see them really invest and get rewarded for it.”
Two years ago the senior girls soccer team blended athletics and philanthropy, raising nearly $10,000 for cancer research.
“We had players on the team that had a specific connection. They’re the ones who really pushed for it. They’re such amazing kids that there was no way I was going to turn it down. I want them to experience that stuff,” he says. “Whenever there’s an opportunity to teach a lesson of life … then try and take it when you can. I wish we could do that stuff every year but financially it’s just impossible. We’re going to see if the timing is right for next year.
“I’ve been very lucky to be where I am and working with the kids I work with,” Garraway says.
If Sophie de Goede’s experience, both an active soccer player and a team member of Live Different, is an indication, Garraway’s commitment pays off in the way he hopes.
“Mr. Garraway is an exceptional teacher. He puts his heart and soul into everything he does and that passion and commitment is an excellent example for us as students to follow,” says de Goede. “Through competing on our senior girls soccer team and travelling to Mexico with our OB Live Different crew, I’ve had some of my most memorable and impacting experiences as a result of the incredible time and effort Mr. Garraway puts in and I couldn’t be more thankful.”