By Greg Nikkel
Taking care of junior high-aged students is much like caring for a Porsche: “there is lots of energy, they’re keen on appearance, expensive to keep up, damages are difficult to repair, and it’s a labour of love and of frustration.”
This was the characterization of what it’s been like to teach students at the Weyburn Junior High as shared by former principal and vice-principal Gordon Liddle at the closing ceremonies held for the school on Friday morning.
Liddle was one of several current and past staff who spoke as part of the farewell ceremonies during a program that included performances by the Grade 8-9 band and choir to open and close the ceremonies, and remarks from Mayor Debra Button.
The junior high, which opened its doors in 1966, will close forever once school is done at the end of June, with the junior high grades to move over to the Weyburn Comp starting in September.
The plan is to have the school building demolished, with a new elementary school built to accommodate students from Haig and Queen Elizabeth Schools, after which those two schools will then close.
These steps are dependent on the government providing funding for the demolition of the school, and it isn’t expected that will come this year given the downturn in Saskatchewan’s economy currently, said principal Ryan Fowler.
The principal opened the program with his address, noting that life at the WJH is based on five cornerstones, including energy, creativity, excellence in academics, extracurricular activities, and above all, hormones.
The creativity can be seen in the murals covering every hallway and classroom wall in the school, and on nearly every ceiling tile, along with drama, bands and choir.
“Academics have been our priority since the day it was built. We’ve been preparing the students for the rigours of high school, and we want all of our students to be successful,” said Fowler, adding that there are extracurricular activities to cover nearly every interest possible, from art to music to drama and sports teams.
On the subject of hormones, he said, “We know that junior high can be the best part of school or it can be a very tough place,” he said, bringing many challenges to the staff.
As they transition to move over to the Comp in the fall, he said, “We will miss seeing the ceiling tiles and the art work on the walls. We look forward to seeing a new look, but the focus on excellence will be carried on in our new school.”
Mayor Button admitted she is a St. Michael girl, but said she has fond memories of the Weyburn Junior High “where friendships are made and dreams are shared. I know that all the students and teachers will be reflecting just on the positive experiences,” she said, pointing out that the times shared in these grades “are also a part of gaining life experiences to help us become the people we are.”
She urged the students to “please make the most of their junior and senior high school years, because life is meant to be lived every single day. Expand your vision of the future. … The choices you make today can affect your future, so make good choices, reach for the stars and live. Remember a strong friendship is one of the greatest gifts you can give or use.”
Southeast Cornerstone board members Janet Foord and Dana Pretzer both spoke, with Pretzer passing on greetings from Weyburn trustee Warren Betker, who is a past principal of the junior high.
He noted his four children all attended the junior high, and spent many years there as a parent, trustee and police officer.
“We’re going to miss the building, but the people are the important thing. You’re going to a wonderful facility,” said Pretzer.
Liddle, who now lives in Melfort, noted he was the vice-principal when the school opened, and served for six years as the principal. The last time he was in the building was 28 years ago, after spending a total of 22 years as a teacher and administrator there.
He paid tribute to the school’s first principal, Herb Weinmaster, who served for 16 years, and Liddle noted the stability of the school was shown by the fact that in the first 25 years of the school’s history there were only three principals: Weinmaster, himself, and Murray Sproule, who was also on hand for the ceremonies.
Liddle brought a clipping from the school newspaper, produced in 1988, where a fellow teacher, John Mahnic, wrote about life at the junior high. The newspaper didn’t last long, he added, but he remembers how Mahnic was “full of vim and vigour and spice, and you would’ve loved him.”
“What really makes the junior high go is the staff and the students. It’s not only a critical time academically, but it’s also a critical time in the students emotional development and social development,” said Liddle.
His favourite piece of writing by Mahnic was a piece where he compared the junior high with the Porsche car.
“It’s a labour of love and sometimes of frustration for the mechanic,” he said. “We’re concerned when the wheels need balancing or it needs a tune-up.”
Liddle finished with another metaphor from Mahnic, as he said, “The students are nuts, the staff is nuts, but from those nuts will grow a mighty oak.”
From the MALT squad, the school’s student council, Landon Field and Taylor Cameron spoke. Field said that it’s important to recognize the many teachers who have dedicated a lot of time towards helping them as students, “and they have the courage to deal with us every day.”
Cameron added that MALT helps them to be citizens not only of the community the school but of the community of Weyburn as well.
By Greg Nikkel