But at the end of this school year, she’s saying farewell - at least professionally.
“Sport is definitely an important part of my life, I took part in a lot of sports when I was growing up,” Vandertoorn said inside the Hantsport School, where she got her start.
“For me, it meant building friendships and getting an opportunity to work with a group and play a variety of sports.”
Vandertoorn graduated with a physical education degree from Acadia University in 1982, coaching while taking her degree.
She eventually landed a job teaching at the Hantsport School and coaching the high school soccer and basketball, along with her husband Casey Vandertoorn.
“Teaching has really become my focal point for working with kids,” she said. “Coaching is an aspect of my phys-ed program, but the teaching is really the most important, to have a variety of things to teach.”
One of Vandertoorn’s philosophies is instilling a life-long love of physical activity in her students, so they continue being active well after the bell has rang.
Students in the last number of years have been developing their own personal fitness goals and programs outside of school, which Vandertoorn says makes the whole process more fulfilling and meaningful.
“Maybe you want to build up your leg strength because you’re a hockey player, or maybe a soccer player, so it’s about trying to make those real-world connections,” she said.
Vandertoorn also said it’s important to ensure her students understand the fundamentals of physical activity – things as simple as walking, hopping, catching and throwing balls.
“You need to be physically literate, just like you have to be (linguistically) literate in order to read,” she said. “Being aware of your surroundings, your balance, your directionality, momentum. Even something like reacting to somebody throwing something at you, reacting to that. If you start teaching that to children when they’re four years old all the way through, those basic elements are essential.”
This is Vandertoorn’s final year in the school system, as she plans to retire at the end of the school year.
“I’ve had wonderful memories, worked with thousands of students and staff members and its all been positive,” she said.
Vandertoorn has split her time between the Hantsport School, L.E. Shaw Elementary in Avonport and Gaspereau Elementary.
“I expend a lot of energy every day, every class and every group of kids,” she said. “When you expend that every day all week, it does get tiring. But at the same time, I’m able to keep up, but I think it’s time to move on and take some time for myself, my husband and my family.”
Hantsport School has won multiple awards from Soccer Nova Scotia and Basketball Nova Scotia for their programs.
“In a small community like ours, we’ve been very lucky that people who have been through our system come back and coach,” she said. “We don’t have the same numbers to chose from, but everybody plays, and that’s a really key thing for me.”
Vandertoorn said she developed a ‘no-cut’ policy at the school, where if someone wanted to play, they’d find a team.
“Sometimes I was running three basketballs teams for girls, three for boys, six teams out of a small school, and we were going on to win the district titles at every level,” she said.
She said that student parents have also helped make the programs so successful, stepping up to volunteer, running canteens, driving around the province for games and more.
Vandertoorn said she’ll look back at her career and be proud that she was able to offer students an opportunity to do a variety of activities in a safe and comfortable environment.
“Physical education is a lot more than just learning the skills, it’s about working together as a team,” she said. “I hope that they walk away saying they had a good program, with lots of opportunities and encouraged to do my best.”
Nick Zamora, a Hantsport resident and president of the Hantsport Memorial Community Centre, said Vandertoorn, who he also calls Ms. V, has had a major influence on his life.
“She just exudes a passion about athletics and that sort of permeated through the whole school,” Zamora said. “For me, she inspired me to work hard at athletics and I think she has an ability to motivate those who excel athletically to work even harder and to inspire those who might not be as involved to try new things.”
Zamora was part of the school’s track and field team, which Vantertoorn coached.
“She was just very positive and encouraging, someone you wanted to make proud,” he said.
Zamora now coaches the Hantsport School basketball team, which he’s been doing for five years.
“She’s been a mentor for me, both as a coach and as a program developer,” he said. “I followed her lead in creating a culture for the program.”
When asked what impact Vandertoorn has had on the school community as a whole, Zamora said it’s been “bigger than anyone I can think of.”
“School spirit wise she goes above and beyond her job as a teacher every day,” he said. “It really reflects in the students and the people like myself who come back and give back to the school.”
Did you know?
Vandertoorn accepted the Dorothy Walker Distinguished Service Award from the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation in November 2016.