Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 2, 2000
The new look St. Joe's
City's oldest Catholic high school gets a facelift stressing its Catholic identity
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
The new St. Joseph's High School is more than just a pretty building with lots of windows. If you miss the words "Catholic high school" on the sign out front, you won't be able to miss the Catholic reality walking through the school.
Morning prayer starts the school day off on a spiritual note and Mass celebrated by Father Michael Troy, the school's longtime chaplain, is held in the new oratory every Thursday.
"You really do feel like it's a Catholic school," said Barbara Paul, 17. "I was brought up in a Catholic family. It's nice to have that here when I'm in school."
Maintaining a Catholic identity in the school is more than putting up crucifixes on the classroom walls and gathering students for Easter and Christmas Masses.
The new oratory, with stained-glass windows donated by the Knights of Columbus, is a focal point of the north end of the second floor and can be seen from the main level in the courtyard.
It's not open all day long, but principal Ron Woytiuk expects that to change after a dedication and liturgical celebration by Archbishop Thomas Collins at the school's grand opening and homecoming, Sept 29-30.
"The oratory is a statement that we're a Catholic school," Woytiuk said. "It's presence is so important to our school."
Not having one in the school was "a statement that maybe we missed the boat."
When Woytiuk visited Bishop Carroll High School in Calgary, where he examined the Individualized Self-Paced Learning program, he noticed the school and even some of the junior high schools had a chapel and a chaplaincy program. It was something St. Joseph's and other high schools in Edmonton were missing.
"It was almost an embarrassment," Woytiuk said of the school's lack of such a program.
But with a full-time chaplain, Bernie MacGregor, Troy, who is at the school part-time and a new oratory, Woytiuk hopes the school's Catholic identity will hit people the moment they enter the school. It won't be something they'll have to search through the hallways for.
"We're still working on it," Woytiuk said of the changes in the school. "You'll always be working on it. . . . You never reach nirvana."
The weekend celebration not only commemorates the dedication of the new oratory, but of the school's new look. You can't help but see all the new windows that have gone up at St. Joseph's.
From the outside, the rounded glass entrance invites visitors in. The entrance is so vast in its natural light that even on a cold dark day in December, you might not mind the looming grey clouds. The adjacent courtyard is equally welcoming. Once an outdoor space that separated two wings of the school, it now has a roof overhead and serves as a popular meeting place for students.
"It's my favourite place," Paul said.
For Paul, St. Joseph's High School is a place of opportunity. There are classes beyond English and biology. There are options that exceed the standard home economics and music. There is cosmetology, fashion design and photography. There are programs for students with learning disabilities and English as a second language students.
"This school gives you so much opportunity," said the Grade 12 student. "There are so many options here. I don't think there are as many programs in other schools.
"I've learned so much here."
Paul transferred to St. Joseph's last year when she heard about the ISPL program. The program takes away the traditional bells and classrooms. In its place, there are individual learning and study areas.
"It's for students who can study on their own," Paul said. "You don't have to have a 95 average to be here."
Paul transferred to St. Joseph's from St. Albert High School because she thought it would be a better environment to boost her math and chemistry marks.
The individualized learning program actually offers more one-on-one interaction with a teacher than a traditional classroom setting, said Paul, who has pushed her chemistry mark up and is slowly getting the math up there as well.
"In the other classrooms, there are 30 students and one teacher," Paul said. "The teacher can't give that much attention to everyone. Here, if you have a problem, you can go to one of the teachers for help.
Built in 1931, St. Joseph's was originally an all-boys school. Since that time, the building has been renovated or rebuilt five times. The most recent $20-million renovation turned the school into a four-storey, 320,000-square-foot building.
The renovations and ISPL program began about three years ago. Walls were knocked down and classrooms became a thing of the past.
The school is now also home to a teachers' resource centre which was housed at St. Anthony Resource Centre.
Part of the renovations included completely wiring the school with fibre optic cable to network all the school's computers. With almost 300 computers already on its network and the capability to hook up 500 more, Woytiuk expects the school has "the largest or, if not, one of the largest networks" in the school division.
The curriculum has been reorganized and rewritten into learning guides. It is with these learning guides that students go through their courses. And students determine at what pace they will go through the course and when they are ready to take exams. It was only the beginning of the second week of school and one of the test rooms already had a student hovering over an exam.
"Students here are on their own in terms of how fast they want to learn the course," Woytiuk said. "This isn't something only for students who are really smart."
The expectation of the program is summed up on a sign posted in the drama department - Self-paced learning means learning at your own speed, not learning at no speed at all.
Woytiuk admits there have been concerns about the ISPL program, but says it is unfair for people to judge it at such an early stage.
He has also heard the many concerns that if left alone, students won't do any school work and that they can't be expected to complete a course without a traditional classroom setting.
"This isn't for everyone," he said. "There are students who do very well in this environment and some who don't."
But with St. Joseph's being the only high school in the school district to offer the program, Woytiuk said it gives students an option.
St. Joseph's renovations are warm and welcoming, said Woytiuk. It's a student friendly space, with ample natural light flooding through almost every corner of the school. "It's a pleasant space for students to spend time in," he said. "Even the adults like to spend time here."
The grand opening begins at 11 a.m. Sept. 29 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by a liturgical celebration and reception. On Sept. 30, there will be guided tours, a liturgy celebrated by Father Troy, a presentation of the school's history and a reception. For more information call 426-2010.