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

Friday, September 7, 2012

Doing What's Best For Kids - For 100 Years (FMPSD Centennial)

I have met people who insist there is no history in this region, who think that our past extends back no more than a couple of decades. I get a bit irate with those people, as it drives me slightly mad when I realize how little they understand this region, and our rich history. We have a long history here, going much further back than many realize - and this last week the Fort McMurray Public School District celebrated their centennial.

Yes, that's right. 100 years of education in Fort McMurray. Astonishing, isn't it? 100 years ago a little school started right here in Fort Mac. 100 years ago people here recognized the need for a school to educate the children who lived here. And 100 years ago in that bold and innovative Fort Mac way that seems to be so indicative of our community personality a school began - and ever since then schools have educated the children of this region.

I too have a bond with the FMPSD. The Intrepid Junior Blogger started Kindergarten right here in Fort McMurray. She has, in fact, spent every day of her school life in a FMPSD school, first Beacon Hill Public School, then Timberlea Public School, and now Ecole McTavish. She has spent most of her young life in one of those classrooms. And while she has been in class I have long been a volunteer at her schools, serving on parent councils, running events at sports days, and even going on class trips to Edmonton (please don't ask about those - I did them and I was glad to do so but I can safely say that I could never last as a teacher as 1/2 hour with a classroom of Grade 5 kids pretty much makes me bonkers).

When the Intrepid Junior Blogger was asked to serve as a student advisor in planning the Centennial celebrations she was very pleased. She loves to serve and be involved, and she loved even more that she had secrets she couldn't share with me as I am a member of media and she didn't want to let the cat out of the bag until the events had been officially announced. She was even more delighted when as a student advisor she was invited to attend the Centennial Gala, as she had never been to a gala before but is often my companion as I prepare to go out to attend various galas and banquets that happen in our community.

On Saturday night we attended the Centennial Gala, and it was truly lovely. It was a celebration of a school district that has a rich history in this region, and one that has truly mirrored the growth of our community. It was a special night for her, her very first gala, but it was special for me, too. You see the FMPSD Centennial had taken on some personal meaning for me, too.

A few months ago I was approached by the editor of Big Spirit Magazine and asked if I would consider writing the cover story for the next issue - a story about the centennial of the FMPSD. I said yes, of course, and while I knew I would learn about the history of the FMPSD what I had not realized was what I would learn about the history of this region. As I did my interviews for the article I grew more and more excited. Every interview gave me more knowledge and a deeper understanding of this region, and of this community. The opportunity to speak to community pillars like Ken Hill, who started school here in 1938 and who was a part of the family that ran Hill's Drugs for years, was beyond amazing for me. Suddenly I saw this place with new eyes. The day after I spoke with Ken I got into my car and drove around Fort McMurray, trying to envision what it looked like when he was a little tyke in Grade One in 1938. I couldn't even begin to wrap my head around what it must have looked like in 1912. Learning about the history of the FMPSD was more than background for a story for me - it became a passion, as it tied into the history of this region so beautifully, and I believe that to understand the present and prepare for the future we must understand and acknowledge the past, too.

At the gala on Saturday night, and the wine and cheese reception on Sunday, I had a chance to pay homage to the work done over the years by the FMPSD. In my own home I have a product of this work, a young woman who has been entirely educated by this school system, and one of whom I am deeply proud. I have a link with the FMPSD in that respect, but in so many other respects, too, as my life seems tied to them in so many ways from my daughter to my love of this community to my writing career.

The gala was wonderfully fun, of course, with FMPSD alumni Aaron Lines performing, and we had a terrific time visiting with local dignitaries as well as many of the teachers and staff who have touched my daughter's, and my, life in this community. But I will admit the gala wasn't my favourite moment of the weekend. The wine and cheese reception wasn't my favourite moment either, although the Westwood Improv Team (WIT) performed that night and made me laugh until I cried with their rendition of "Cinderella In 15 Seconds". No, my favourite moment was Friday morning on a very dusty field in Eagle Ridge.

On Friday morning there was a sod turning, not an unusual event in this region as we are always breaking ground on something. This time, though, it was for something different - the sod turning for two new schools and a community centre. Two schools, one Catholic and one public, tied together with a community centre between them (a model of unity and community that I frankly adore). Two new schools to serve our children, and to continue to do for them what the schools here have done for my child - educate them, and give them a sense of community, as the school community is clearly a microcosm within the larger macrocosm of our regional community. The name of the new FMPSD school? Walter and Gladys Hill School, named after Ken Hill's parents, and Fort McMurray pioneers, pillars, and, I think, community heroes. It seems appropriate that I met Ken Hill for the first time in person at the site of the school that will bear his parent's name. It seems appropriate that my daughter now attends the school named after the family that established the region's first school - McTavish. I find my life in this community often ties so many strings together, binding personal to professional, and this past weekend was no different.

This past weekend I celebrated 100 years of rich history, and 100 years of a district with the motto "Doing what's best for kids". They have been doing it now for 100 years, and now they are at the beginning of 100 more. I like to imagine a writer one day doing a story on that, 200 years of the FMPSD, and driving around the city trying to imagine what it was like in 2012. I imagine them doing what I did, stopping at street corners and trying to picture it in their head. I imagine them smiling just as I did, and I imagine them feeling the rich sense of history. I imagine them thinking about how things change, but how some things always stay the same, like the importance of schools, education, and community - and how those things are intrinsically linked, whether it is 1912, 2012, or 2112.

My sincere thanks to
Fort McMurray Public School District
for including us in the
Centennial Celebrations
and for sharing their rich history with me.

You can read my articles from Big Spirit magazine on
and the 

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