With just 22 students between kindergarten and Grade 6, the Wandering River School is one of the smallest facilities in Alberta’s Northern Lights School District. Students from the 400-member community midway between Edmonton and Fort McMurray are spilt between two classrooms and taught by one of the school’s two full-time staff members, which includes principal Dan Coonan.
Coonan, who was raised in Wandering River and taught at the school for 12 years before taking over as principal, says the small class sizes and the mixing of students of different ages significantly augments the educational experience. “I love this school. You create a real family atmosphere between students of different ages and you will see the older children looking out for and mentoring the younger students, which is very refreshing,” he says. “Because our community is so small, we are able to really have our students play a part in it with field trips and learning opportunities. Today, we had one of the classes visit the local seniors complex to meet the residents and learn how to sew and crochet. That’s a learning opportunity you don’t get in a big city.”
The school recently received a morning boost when TransCanada began work on a construction camp near Wandering River to build the Grand Rapids Pipeline, a 460-kilometre (287 mile) oil and diluent pipeline system connecting the producing area northwest of Fort McMurray, Alta., to terminals in the Edmonton/Heartland region.
“Giving back to the communities where we operate is part of our everyday culture and has been for over 60 years. Whether it’s partnering with community groups, supporting local initiatives or encouraging our employees to be involved in their neighbourhoods, our involvement contributes to the development of strong and vibrant communities where we operate,” said Greg Bridgewater, director of the Grand Rapids Pipeline Project at TransCanada. “So when we began establishing our camp near Wandering River, as part of our work with local county officials we reached out to the community to see how we could provide assistance.”
Coonan says that when the school consulted parents from the community on what they needed, one item universally topped the list. “I teach the same children year after year and I know them very well, and you can see that, by the middle of the morning, some children who were all ready to learn are fading a little bit. Some kids, it seems that no matter how much their parents pack for lunch, they need more,” he says. “There’s a strong correlation between children being fed and their ability and openness to learn. We needed a breakfast program here.”
On January 9, TransCanada staff helped kick off the program, which enables the children to have milk, yogurt, fruit, granola bars and oatmeal as a mid-morning snack. Kandy Leach, chairperson of the Wandering River School’s council, has two sons attending the school and is already seeing good results. “A breakfast program is a great idea. In the morning my boys hit the ground running and race through breakfast and they’re gone to school and it’s a long time before they eat the lunches I packed for them,” Leach says. “An entire morning is a long time to sit at a desk for a child and a breakfast at school is definitely helping them learn better.”
TransCanada is funding the program on a go-forward basis. TransCanada also supports recycling programs at Wandering River School, Grassland School and École Plamondon School in the area, as well as partnering with Breakfast Club of Canada to provide healthy breakfasts to students in northeast B.C.
“Student learning is impacted by so many things that happen outside the classroom, including whether or not students start the day with a healthy breakfast,” says Northern Lights Board Chair Arlene Hrynyk. “Thank you TransCanada for helping us ensure our students have the best possible opportunities to learn and grow while they are in school.”