I have had the wonderful privilege to come to Wainwright High School in 2019 - 2020. I'd heard a lot of great things about the school and looked forward to the opportunity to be able to work alongside an amazing group of teachers and staff members. My wife and I moved here from Brooks, Alberta. We looked forward to the opportunity to live in the country on an acreage and experience some of that rural Alberta living provided in the Wainwright area, such as growing a garden and having a place for the dogs to run freely. We have not been disappointed. It has been a great move for us and we enjoy meeting new people and working in the area.
If there was one surprise that the area brought it was the number of trains that pass through Wainwright usually holding up traffic at the most inopportune time as you're trying to get home. However, if you know me at all, you know I love trains. I remember taking the train from Newcastle, NB to Moncton, NB as a teenager. Whenever I hit the city, whether Calgary or Edmonton, I jump on the LRT or the C-Train. I’m fascinated by trains, because each one has a story. Whether it’s the graffiti painted on the side of the rail car by some upstart artist, or the Sea-Can carrying goods as far away as China making it’s journey into some department store in downtown Toronto, each has its story. It doesn’t hurt that my father-in-law spent 39 years as a railway engineer for CN Rail, and he comes with his own set of stories.
As I relate my love for trains to school, it comes down to the students and their own stories. Each student comes with a story, a story in the early stages of the development, but nonetheless their personal story of the journey they are on. It was imperative if I was going to learn individual students' stories, I needed to know their names. Mr. White and I, both being new to the school, set out to get to know the students, not just their names, but who they each are. Donald Graves, the father of the Writer’s Workshop said, “If you don’t know 10 things about a child, you can’t teach them. If they don’t know 10 things about you, they won’t learn from you.” I have taken those words to heart in my career as a teacher. It’s about building a culture of trust and developing a relationship lasting a lifetime for many of my former students. As we clicky-clacked down the track this year getting to know students, understanding ways we could support them, learning individual histories, COVID-19 happened. We came to a screeching halt being able to have those personal conversations on a daily basis other than the ones we had online in our classes, or in the assemblies we hosted monthly. This was abrupt and extremely challenging for everyone. So many things we planned for this year couldn’t happen.
One of those events was graduation. For some students, they have planned their entire school journey for the culmination of this event to walk the stage and receive their Diploma. Some families had planned a year in advance and set aside the time to attend this special occasion. Dresses were ordered in the Fall, tried on for visiting friends and family multiple times, and now hanging in the closet. Students weren’t able to finish out the school year in an actual classroom and say their proper goodbyes, never knowing if they will ever see them again after June 29th. We were grateful to the parents who organized a Pre-Grad celebration for the students and their family which followed the school organized motorcade parade on June 20th. At least there was something for them in the Spring. But even more sad for Mr. White and I was the fact we didn’t get to know these students better and learn about their stories. Yes, I know most of their names, and I know what they look like, and I've had conversations with some more than others, but the experience has left me sad. I didn’t get to know ten things about each of these Grade 12 students, and they didn’t get to know me either.
This said, the experience will be part of their story they will tell later in life. In fact, all of us will add it to our storylines. Thankfully, this experience will not be our whole story. It’s only a part of the whole. We must keep finding ways to use these experiences life gives to us and reshape and retell our story.
So what does the year 2020-2021 have in store for us? We hope we have a few less surprises and we can get this train back on track, but one thing is for sure we will continue to build on our story together.