by John Copley
(ANNews) – Last month we offered our readers a look at Prince Charles Elementary School, Principal Judy Toews, music teachers Judy Gatto and Garry Lee and the dozens of children who, as budding musicians with a great deal of talent, participate in the school’s music program and perform at various community venues throughout the school year. All three educators spoke with pride about the children attending the school and emphasized the important role that music was playing in the lives of so many of the school’s young students.
They also mentioned that many of the children who leave Prince Charles to enter Grade 7 choose to attend Edmonton’s oldest junior high school, Westmount Jr. High, located at 11124 130 Street.
One of the reasons for this choice is that Westmount also has an outstanding music program. Garry Lee has been participating there for a couple of years now and really enjoys “seeing the kids move from elementary to Jr. High and watching them transition into even better musicians and young men and women is a wonderful thing.”
Westmount Principal Rick Stanley seconded that comment and spoke enthusiastically about the school.
“I love coming to work every day,” he explained. “Seeing and working with our team of excellent and caring teachers and interacting with students makes me tick. It’s heartfelt – this is a great place to be.”
Rick Stanley has been working in the school system since 1995 when he began teaching Social Studies at Britannia School. He then spent 12 years teaching at Jasper Place High before moving to Centre High Campus in downtown Edmonton where he established the very successful Aboriginal Students 30 Program. That was followed with a two-year term as Assistant Principal at Eastglen. He has been the principal at Westmount Jr. High School for the past four years.
“I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else but here with the EPSB in Edmonton,” noted Stanley. “This is where I want to be. The culture created by our superintendent (Darryl Robertson) and our leadership is outstanding; it’s a great environment.”
Assistant Principal Nouha El-Ali has been at Westmount for the past two years; she was previously at J. Percy Page High School where she served as both a counsellor and the assistant department head of two different offices.
“I love this school and the environment that it offers to both staff and students,” she said before hurrying off to complete other duties.
Westmount offers language instruction in both French and Cree; 107 students are enrolled in the Cree Program, including about 15 non-Indigenous students, a sure sign that reconciliation is part and parcel to learning throughout the EPSB school system.
“We aren’t the only school teaching Cree but we do have a very prominent Cree-speaking program,” noted Stanley, one of the first Edmonton-based principals to introduce the Cree language program at his school.
Lots of students are attracted to the school because of its music programs but the Fiddle Program is just one of more than 50 option classes offered at Westmount High and as such the Fiddle Program isn’t as large as the one at Prince Charles.
“Also,” noted Stanley, “when kids get into junior high many of them become interested in other areas of pursuit and they often explore more goal and career-oriented subjects and ideas. Those who choose to remain involved in the Fiddle Program do very well.”
In fact, like the students at Prince Charles, Westmount’s Fiddle Program participants take their music into the community; their latest venture took place in December when about 20 students gave a presentation at the Royal Glenora Club to a large group of delegates attending a Christmas Party and Insurance Seminar.
“Another in a list of successful outings,” noted Stanley, who praised the student musicians and noted that the feedback from the event “was positive, gracious and appreciated.”
Indigenous students make up 42 percent of the school’s approximate 300 population and number more than 115 in all. I met with three of these students during my visit to Westmount; each was a former student at Prince Charles and each continues to participate in the Fiddle Program and music classes.
“All three are very successful students,” noted Stanley, before our introduction. “They have good grades, excellent attendance and are prominent members of the Fiddle Program.”
With that entered Rickal LaFontaine and T’Keyah Desjarlais, two 13-year-old Grade 8 students and 14-year-old Grade 9 student, Reilly Manyshots.
Before our meeting had concluded I learned that all three live in proximity to the school, are enrolled at Westmount at least in part because of the music program, all are supported, encouraged and recognized for good attendance and achievement by their families and all are experiencing positive relationships with the teachers and staff who they say are “caring, considerate and concerned about student well-being.”
“I really enjoy this school and I like participating in the Fiddle Program; I also have other family members who play the fiddle,” noted Rickal LaFontaine, whose family comes from Saskatchewan’s Poundmaker First Nation. “I decided to come to this school because of the Fiddle Program but also because many of my friends come here.”
Rickal’s favourite subject is Science but he’s also taking options that include Norwegian and Computer Coding. His goal is “to pursue my music through school and beyond and perhaps one day make music of my own.”
Reilly Manyshots’ family comes from the Siksika First Nation in south-central Alberta. His favourite subject is Social. He intends on pursuing a career as a chef with a focus on bakery and pastry making.
“I enjoy cooking and baking,” he said, noting that he plays both fiddle and guitar, primarily for relaxation and enjoyment, but not as a career choice. “I’m taking Food, Fiddle and Guitar as option programs and the biggest reason I first chose this school was because many of my friends come here. I really enjoy this school. The teachers are great and they give you lots of support and the principal is quite involved and will often speak to you in the hallways – just to say hello. It’s comforting.”
T’Keyah Desjarlais likes the Fiddle Program a great deal, but her actual love is artistic expression.
“T’Keyah,” noted Principal Stanley, “is very interested in art. She’s one of two students selected this year to participate in a Linus Woods Workshop, a three-day program that offers an introduction to fine art. T’Keyah has what it takes to become a successful artist.”
“I love drawing and painting and plan to pursue a career in the field of art,” Desjarlais explained, noting that she is also taking option classes that include Watercolours, Drama and ASL (American Sign Language.)
“These three students,” assured Stanley, “are a very versatile group of young people; they are role models and achievers and by remaining focused they will grow to become successful leaders in the community.”
Westmount School, explained Stanley is “a learning community of students, parents, teachers and supporters dedicated to preparing young people for the academic and real-world challenges they will encounter on their journey to adulthood and beyond. Students at Westmount are served by superb teachers who work with students to foster their individual success in all subject areas. Students have multiple opportunities for learning beyond the classroom through sports teams, band-art-drama productions, clubs, field trips, presentations and experiences.
“As a fourth-year principal at Westmount, I am truly honoured to be working with staff, students and a school community that has shown such a wonderful commitment to education. Westmount is a school with a rich history that has been committed to high quality education for over 100 years. Westmount Junior High School promotes high standards and expectations for each student in regard to academic performance and responsible citizenship during the school day as well as after school hours. Good attendance has proven that results will follow. It is the contribution of our students to our school community that makes Westmount Junior High School remarkable. We encourage participation in academic programs, fine arts, athletics, and community service along with a willingness to act responsibly as an individual to promote a positive academic environment for all. I am extremely proud of our growth last year and our improvement in the area of attendance, discipline and achievement and continue to foster greater success in these areas.
“We believe that our parent community is an equally important part of the success of our students and school. We encourage parents to participate in the daily learning activities of their child by talking to their child about their learning and openly communicating with their child’s teachers. There are also many other opportunities for parents to connect with the school by being active members of the Parent Advisory Council, by attending sporting and musical events, cultural events, student-led conferences and parent-teacher interviews. We welcome their phone calls and inquiries.”
Westmount Jr. High offers a range of extra-curricular activities and one of the most popular is an evening of powwow dancing that can be enjoyed every Monday night, in partnership with the Canadian Native Friendship Centre.
“It’s a great community activity and one that usually attracts more than 100 people each week,” explained Principal Stanley.