Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Back To School, Again

Well, people, as you likely all know there are two new schools opening for the 2011/2012 school year. I've written about one of them already in this blog (Ecole McTavish Junior High), but I hadn't written about the other as I didn't know much about it. That changed this week when Holy Trinity High School principal Lucy Moore graciously gave me a few moments of her time to sit down and discuss her vision and plans for the school. Once again I found someone in Fort Mac who has my two favourite qualities, vision and passion. Ms. Moore has some wonderful ideas and plans for the school, and I'd like to share some of her thoughts with you.

Ms. Moore envisions a community for Holy Trinity, and a community that consists of students, staff, and parents. As she points out Father Mercredi High School has a long history in this city of pursuing social justice with things like the Santas Anonymous program, but she sees the role of Holy Trinity a little differently. She sees Holy Trinity as becoming the "heart of the community" in Timberlea, and particularly for those immigrant families who choose to send their children to the Catholic system for education. I didn't realize this but 30% of students in the Catholic district are, in fact, not Catholic but rather come because the district offers faith-based education. Many of these families have come into Fort Mac from other countries, and have thus left their entire community behind. Ms. Moore's vision is of a community school that encompasses them as well as every other family with children in attendance at the school, a place that provides the community core we all need so desperately.

Holy Trinity will have a strong performing arts program, and one that not only incorporates the traditional sense of performing arts like dance and drama but also things like media arts and film production. While there will be the performing arts program the main focus and emphasis remains on strong academic performance in all areas, with the performing arts being a "value added" aspect to the school. There will be a strong science department, as well as the visual arts and physical education, too. The goal is to produce well-rounded students and citizens (that Ms. Moore and Mr. Barr from Ecole McTavish did some of their post-secondary education together comes as no surprise as their ideas and visions are strikingly similar, and so incredibly refreshing).

The thinking is that when Holy Trinity hosts events they will pull in students from all the different disciplines and areas in the school to pull it off. If they are doing a play then perhaps the media arts group will produce ads for the play, or the foods classes will prepare food to be provided at intermission. This seems like a brilliant way to achieve a cohesive feel in the school, and a way to ensure every student feels a part of every event.

I've heard concerns expressed about having Grades 7-12 in the same building, and was quite pleasantly surprised that Ms. Moore had a very well-reasoned counter to these concerns. As she pointed out when the kids from junior high in Holy Trinity move into high school they will have a very easy transition - they will simply go upstairs. There will not be a new school to navigate, or new administration. No new teachers or crowds of different kids. The familiarity will enable them to blend smoothly into their new roles as high school students. There is some evidence that every time a student transitions to a new school that academic performance drops, and there is firm evidence that dropout rates increase when students transition into a new school setting. The concept, then, is that Holy Trinity will provide stability for the students throughout their junior and senior years.

Part of this stability will also come from the administrative team. Ms. Moore has opted for a rather ingenious plan in which there are two vice-principals, each being responsible for a certain set of grades. The first VP will oversee Grades 7, 9, and 11, while the other oversees Grades 8, 10, and 12. As the grades move up the VPs will trade the groups they oversee on a yearly basis, meaning they will monitor the same students throughout their entire educational career. This will provide a consistency and allow the VPs to get to know the students well and follow them as they progress through the grades. I think that's actually very clever and will create a bond between the administrative team, the students, and the parents.

One of the final questions I put to Ms. Moore was about how religious education will be incorporated in the school. Ms. Moore shared her philosophy that religion should be something that isn't taught in an hour but lived in your life, and I think that's quite profound. The goal is to incorporate religious ideas and thoughts throughout various classes, and not just in classes devoted to religious studies. What I also found delightful is that Ms. Moore believes it's not about telling students what to believe but giving them the information and allowing them to draw their own conclusions. People, I spent twelve years in a Catholic school system and I truly wish this is how it worked when I attended school. Ms. Moore and the staff at Holy Trinity will not only allow students to question but encourage them to do so, and help them to find their own answers. I genuinely believe this is the best way to turn children into not only good students but also into good citizens who think for themselves and who are not afraid to look at the hard questions life throws at us.

I've asked Ms. Moore if I could speak to her again in the fall, and perhaps tour the new school. I have two reasons for this. One is that I am very interested to see how this new school community develops, and I'd love to watch it as it comes together. The second is that I truly enjoyed speaking to Ms. Moore as I believe she is yet another one of those people with vision and passion of whom I am so fond. I find that people like this inspire me, too, and make me evaluate my own ideas and thoughts. I feel quite certain that with Ms. Moore at the head of Holy Trinity the school will develop into a lovely and supportive little community within the larger framework of our Fort Mac community - and people, that's what it's all about to me.

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