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When tragedy strikes a school

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I shouldn’t really have been so surprised as I was when retired teacher Bill Jurens told me that St. James-Assiniboia School Division held afternoon classes at (as it was then called) Sturgeon Creek Regional Secondary School in 1978, after a boy was shot to death in his classroom that morning.

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I had to think back about the times we had tragic news when I was in school, at least I had to dig back for memories of two of the three times.

We had a girl in Grade 6 hit by a car, a classmate who recovered most of her physical faculties but was left mentally disabled. No one at school ever said a word to us.

A boy drowned between Grade 7 and Grade 8, and not a word was said when we returned to school.

It was Grade 12 or Grade 13 in the mid-60s that we first experienced sudden death. At least a couple of players on Georgetown’s Junior C hockey team were in our home room, and there was a huge playoff game in New Hamburg that night, an hour or so straight across Highway 7 through Guelph and Kitchener.

Marjorie, the girl who had the locker next to mine, told me several people had a parents’ car for the evening and were going, and invited me along. For some reason, I couldn’t go that night.

A driver went through a stop sign and hit their car, killing Marjorie and someone from another home room, injuring everyone else in the car badly, including another girl in my class.

The next morning, their desks sat empty in our home room. The teacher told us, OK, everyone knows that Marjorie was killed last night and Marion was hurt, now let’s get on with the class.

And that was it. That’s how they did it in those days. No taking any time to talk about it, to grieve our friends, to think about mortality. Just take out your books and let’s get going.

No one back then had ever heard of grief counselling. There was no one to whom we could talk. I don’t remember thinking then or any time since that I could have been killed that night. But I did think then, and I think now whenever once in a long while that I remember those young people, that if they’d taken the time to come by my house and pick me up, or even if they’d had to take a few extra seconds at someone else’s house as I got into the car, they wouldn’t have been at that crossroads when the other driver went through the stop sign.

I like it a lot better the way that schools handle it now.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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