Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 4, 2004
Wainwright school rises from ashes
It took 3 years, but Blessed Sacrament School has re-opened its doors
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Valerie Burgardt could do little but watch the school burn to the ground. The sick feeling in her stomach worsened as the pall of smoke rose higher.
No one was injured when Blessed Sacrament School in Wainwright was razed by a fire three years ago that left some 500 students and staff without a location for learning and prayer. The school had served the community for 75 years.
"It was my baptism by fire. I had just become deputy superintendent," said Burgardt, who recently took over as superintendent of East Central Alberta Catholic Schools, replacing David Keohane.
"David was in Red Deer and the night before the fire, the principal at that time broke his leg. I called David and he turned right around. He said he could see the plumes of smoke from Viking, 80 km away."
The community rallied around the theme "We will rise again," and indeed it has. From temporary accommodations at the Western Area Training Centre (Camp Wainwright), the town library and later in 27 portables, Blessed Sacrament School his risen from the ashes in the form of an $8.6 million K-12 facility designed with open space and steeped in Catholic traditions.
"The school is built in a Catholic way, where the chapel is central in the main floor foyer," Burgardt said. "Everything revolves around the chapel. It exudes Catholicity. It is a circle of learning, of love and of spirituality."
The school is designed to promote community. The kids are together frequently during lunch-hour bake sales or for a friendly competition of rock-paper-scissors. The older students like to plop down onto couches in a central lounge area, complete with a red brick fireplace and stained glass mural. The bricks and glass were brought over from the former school.
The open concept is intentional. Even the washrooms do not have doors. Individual cubicles have doors, but the washrooms themselves are open. The hallways are wide and visually open to all the classrooms. Blindspots are few in order to negate hot spots for bullies, Burgardt said.
"We have a mandate from Alberta Learning to address bullying. By not closing off a washroom, it cuts down on activities involving sinks, where the kids might turn on a tap and leave, or they spray each other. Mischief behaviour is virtually eliminated," she said.
Principal Tom Koskie looks out his office window to the foyer like the director of a camp filled with happy children. He says the openness of the school plan has brought the students closer together.
Sense of awe
"I am really pleased with the open foyer area. As soon as the kids walk in, they get a peaceful calmness. When the parents first saw the new school, there was an overwhelming sense of awe," he said.
"When we came over from the portables, everything was so departmentalized. Everything was separate. Now, there is a tremendous sense of community. Everyone comes together."
At the start of the school year, the Grade 12s paired up with the kindergarten students to help introduce the younger kids to the school environment. There is a lot of buddying up partnerships between older and younger students that not only promotes learning and instills confidence, but is also the beginning of stewardship for the students.
"I have seen instances where students in Grade 8 or Grade 10, who might be struggling with their grades, are helping elementary students," Burgardt said. "The result is an immeasurable change in their self-esteem and their pride in learning. And the little ones are so impressed that they would have someone helping them who is big.
"I think the parents are not as worried about bringing their little children to a large school when they know the older students are looking out for them. I think it actually draws them to the school."
Noting there was only a slight dip in enrollment related directly to the fire, assistant principal Brian Boos thinks the numbers will grow once the community learns what is available. He estimates there is currently a 60/40 split of Catholic and non-Catholic students in the school.
"It is an amazing facility. It has everything a person could want," he said. "The staircase brings the students down to the foyer and to the chapel. The chapel is used for celebrations with Father Jozef (Wroblewski) or if there is an assembly, the chapel is used as its base."
Boos says the older students develop a sense of ownership where they accept the responsibility of helping the younger children.
"They make sure the kids get to the bus, or that they have their jackets and schoolbooks," he said. "You can tell they really enjoy helping them."
Letter to the Editor - 10/18/04