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The last day of school

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Sometime towards noon Monday, when child the younger walks across the stage at the concert hall to get her diploma, our 17 years as parents in the Winnipeg School Division will end.
 
It doesn’t seem that long ago that we took child the elder off to his first day of nursery at Ecole Robert H. Smith School.
 
Everything seemed so straightforward — the kids would go to school a couple of blocks away, and go to the wonderful licenced non-profit day care kittycorner to Robert H.
 
Then in a few years they’d walk a couple of blocks to Ecole River Heights Junior High, and after that, walk 10 minutes or so to Kelvin High School.
 
This was years before I became education reporter, and before I started writing stories about Kelvin’s having the province’s longest schools-of-choice waiting list. We live in the catchment area and the kids were entitled to go to Kelvin, and we just assumed they would.
 
Come the winter of Grade 6, and that’s when I first became aware of the recruiting that goes on to attract kids to schools offering Grade 7. Our son either visited, and/or was visited by, staff from River Heights, Gordon Bell, Earl Grey, Churchill, and Grant Park.
 
About the same time, he started talking about how he’d feel more comfortable being able to take math and science in English. In the neighbourhood, there’s a stigma attached to being in English when there’s French immersion available in the school, and a stigma in switching from French immersion to English — unfair, certainly not institutionalized, maybe more from some parents projecting it onto their kids in French immersion than from the kids themselves.
 
But it’s there.
 
And when he wrote the entrance tests for the Advanced program for Grant Park High School about three kilometers from our house, we started realizing that maybe plans could change, and friends who’d gone through Grant Park themselves and who had kids going there were telling us what a great school it was.
 
Come June of that year, reality was occurring to a lot of kids in Grade 6, some just turned 12, many still 11, that going to Grant Park meant being with grades 7 to 12 and some students who were already adult.
 
Cold feet abounded.
 
Come on in and chat, said the Grant Park junior high vice-principal, who was lining up appointments for a lot of Grade 6 students and their parents.
 
She took us on a tour, showing how the junior high was in its own wing and had its own gym. She brought in the head of the junior high language arts program, who hauled out all these amazing Grade 7 projects and talked about books and writing and imagination and absolutely awesome stuff. Our son’s eyes lit up. Our eyes lit up.
 
Back then, child the elder was kind of shy. His sports were soccer and hockey and running, volleyball still ahead of him. So in comes the athletic director, asks about his level of physical activity, manages to elicit that he’s just taken part in the division’s fit run in Assiniboine Park. How’d you do?, says the AD; first, sort-of-mumbles our child. In your class?, asks the AD. No, just first. Oh. Let me show you our all-weather track and the other athletic facilities, says the AD, and off they go.
 
Forward three years to child the younger being in Grade 6, and by then she’d spent a lot of time at Grant Park. She felt comfortable there, had even had her first glimpses of the senior gym, knew her way around. And she was interested in the flex program, the multigrade program which her cousin had so thoroughly enjoyed at Gordon Bell.
 
So off she and I go to the interviews that the flex teachers conduct, and when they start, my jaw hits the floor at the adult conversation going on between the teacher and the 11-year-old, and I ask the one sitting beside me, who are you and what have you done with my daughter?
 
Child the elder was 12 when he started at Grant Park, but child the younger was 11 through the first four months of Grade 7. But she was always completely safe in that school, and not just because she had a whole pile of friends in higher grades, and a big brother and buddies who were six feet tall and bigger by the time she got to Grade 8. It’s as safe as any school can be.
 
The kids have excelled at Grant Park, excelled academically, athletically, socially. We have never regretted for a second the decision to send them there.
 
If you think your kid’s school is better than Grant Park High School, you’re a very, very lucky family.
 
I remember doing an issues story with a group of high-calibre senior students at a large high school, and they told me that each door at the school was unwritten-agreement designated, one entrance for academic kids, one for athletes, one for goths.
 
The kids have always had an eclectic mix of friends and have always moved comfortably among different social groups. I’ve written before about how many of the students attend both the academic and the athletic awards nights as major recipients.
 
When each started Grade 7, they knew some kids from soccer or other community activities — many of the Grant Park students came from Brock Corydon, J.B. Mitchell, Montrose, very few from Robert H. — but made friends quickly. Child the elder still has buddies from Grant Park who come to the house when he’s home from university, and whom I see around town or at the local campuses. I expect it will be the same with child the younger when she comes back from university to visit.
 
And there are a lot of kids at GPHS who live outside the catchment area, some from outside the division. We weren’t schools of choice — it was catchment for Advanced and flex, but not for regular — but many of the kids we know are schools of choice and scattered over a wide area.
 
I know that every school has troubled kids and drug dealers and some violence, and I have no illusions. But we’ve had nine great years at Grant Park, and tremendous opportunities for our kids.
 
They talk about their courses in world issues, law, psychology, having all the maths and sciences available, challenging social studies and language arts programs, the great options available. Yes, I know all about our taxes in Winnipeg School Division, and the impact of enjoying an enormous commercial assessment base.
 
The years of honour rolls, the projects and trips and conferences and intellectual engagement, the varsity teams and provincials and MVPs and varsity athlete of the year awards for both of them, it’s been nine wonderful years.
 
They’ve had many teachers who are nothing short of superb.
 
It’s perilous to say thanks to teachers and teacher/coaches, because I’ll inevitably forget to mention some of them, and there are others who remained formal and I don’t know or remember their first names......so I’d best not say such a heartfelt thanks to Kathy, Jamie, Dennis, Karl, Marijus, Donna, Shelley, Glenn, Dave, Mike, Bobby, Chuck, Brian, Doug, Chris, and so many others, because I don’t want to forget anyone.
 
I can’t believe it’s over.
 
 
 

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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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