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

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Days of Play Doh and Diplomas (and all the days in between)

It was a day that began and finished in local schools. It started in a Grade Four classroom, and ended in the theatre of a high school. It was a long day, with the usual errands and work and things in between, but the start and the finish made me reflect on a few things.

The Intrepid Junior Blogger is now finishing her final year of junior high. As I write this she is in Jasper on a Grade Nine ski trip, a sort of final "hurrah" after three years, and then just a few more weeks of studies and exams...and another chapter closes in her life, one that began in kindergarten at Beacon Hill School.

We were living in Abasand back then, and while the area bussed to Greely Road I wanted to find the school that was the right fit for her, and so prior to kindergarten I wandered into Beacon Hill and met the principal, a meeting that convinced me that she needed to attend school there. And so that is where she went to school, from her very first days until Grade 5.

I drove her to school every single day, and I joined parent council. I became immersed in that little school of 200 students, a place where every teacher knew every student by name, and I fell in love with it. She flourished there, no doubt, but as she grew older I knew we needed to look ahead, and when I heard about the junior high opening in Timberlea I knew she needed to attend it. We moved to Timberlea, and for a year she attended Timberlea School, and then she headed into Ecole McTavish, and three more years of her educational life.

And what formative years they have been. She has excelled academically, and she has grown as a person, too. She has performed on stage, been part of science fairs and robotic competitions and gone on a ski trip. She has served as student council Prime Minister and she has volunteered with the school for the food bank. She has become a young woman, a scholar and a citizen. And, this fall, she will move on.

Last night I sat in the theatre at Westwood High School as the Advanced Placement teachers explained the AP program. As soon as I saw the AP students and heard the teachers I knew the IJB is going to love this environment, where teachers are passionate about their subjects and share that passion with their equally passionate students. I listened wistfully to the AP English and Social Studies teachers, wishing there had been AP when I was in high school (although as I wrote a few days ago I studied under the watchful eye of 'The Tank', which seems to have stood me in good stead over the years and my development as a writer). I listened with awe to the math and science teachers, as the IJB has expressed interest in becoming an engineer (and has started to express a desire to start doing my taxes and keeping the household finances, an arrangement I am considering). I was so enthralled by their total devotion to the subjects they teach and to the success of their students, and I know the IJB will feel the same. Any concerns I had about her heading to high school washed away in those short minutes, and excitement for her replaced any trepidation I may have felt as I know she is going into an environment where she will continue to bloom.

But I was in a good place for excitement, because as I wrote yesterday I had spent some time with a Grade Four class at Westview School, and their excitement and passion for blogging and writing had reminded me so much of the IJB when she was their age. These students, in Grade Four, are still at their beginning of their journey through the Fort McMurray Public School District while the IJB is heading towards the final destination of hers. That final destination? She doesn't know quite yet, a year at U of C, or maybe two...and then off to study overseas, London or Dublin or Cork, she thinks. She may come back to Canada to work, and then again maybe she won't (she is the sort of girl who might find her dream job in another country, I suspect). The reality, though, is that she will likely leave Fort McMurray after she finishes Grade Twelve, and I doubt she will ever return - but I know she will never  forget her life here, or the schools she attended.

I have had the honour and privilege of being her mother and her guide in this journey. We have three more years to go, and a few milestones, like Grade Nine graduation (I'll be the weepy one in the front row), high school courses and exams and, finally, Grade Twelve graduation (I'll be the one who is a complete basket case lying sobbing on the floor in the front row as I realize my baby has grown up). There will be adventures in between, of course, and so very many memories, too, many of them focused on her years in the schools of Fort McMurray.

As a parent you realize early in the game how much time your child spends in school. Parents are huge contributors to the development of a child, but so are the teachers they are in contact with every day. Those teachers are the ones who can open up new worlds for our children, ones that we ourselves may not even know exist. They are the ones who can discuss Shrodinger's cat with our child (look, people, she and I have discussed it and to me the cat is either dead or alive, this being both dead AND alive thing makes no sense to me but it does to her and her science teacher). They are the ones who help to steward our child's development, not just as students but as people and as citizens, and that is why it is so fundamentally crucial that the teachers be not only good at what they do, but excellent. They must be the kinds of stewards - and mentors - we want for our children, and I, and the IJB, are so fortunate to have had so many of these teachers in her life. I know, too, that she will have another three years of them before she finally ends this chapter of her life and moves on to new adventures.

Yesterday was a day that reminded me of these things, as I spoke with excited Grade Four students and their remarkable teacher, and then last night with the incredible teachers and students of the AP program at Westwood. I wished the IJB could have been with me for all of it, but she was instead on a bus to Jasper, another part of this adventure of her educational years. I know, though, that the next few years will see some tears, like when she leaves McTavish for the last time, and when one day, far too soon, she stands in a cap and gown with a diploma in those hands that were once so very tiny and filled instead with Play Doh. But in between those years, the days of Play Doh and the days of diplomas, will have been the best experience ever, for both of us - and today I want to thank the Fort McMurray Public School District for being there with great guidance, amazing schools and incredible teachers for every step of the way. The IJB - and her mom - will always be so very grateful.

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