Opening Day offers challenge and inspiration

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Wall of Fame inductees, from left, Terry Vogt, Dr. Marla Middleton Freitag and Dr. Henry Janzen

About 900 teachers and support staff from Palliser Regional Schools were challenged and inspired during an Opening Day Celebration in Vulcan, Thursday, Aug. 29.

The challenge was issued by Superintendent Kevin Gietz, as he announced this year’s theme: “Literacy: Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader.” He called on all staff to support the ongoing development of student literacy skills, at all grades and in all subjects.

“Why literacy? Because it’s the key to everything else,” he said.

He said literacy can no longer be considered the work of elementary teachers alone.

“How can you say our work is done, that we’ve lived up to our responsibilities, if a student struggles through Grade 12 but we know he or she still can’t read at a level needed in our world? If that struggling student was your child, what would you want your school and your teacher to do?”

The impact of school staff on student success was driven home by all three of this year’s Palliser Wall of Fame inductees. Henry Janzen, a soil biochemist at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research Centre in Lethbridge; Marla Middleton Freitag, a program co-ordinator and instructor at Medicine Hat College; and Terry Vogt, a veteran broadcast journalist from CTV Lethbridge all spoke of specific teachers whose work influenced their lives.

Janzen, whose work studying the flows of carbon and nitrogen between the soil and atmosphere is recognized internationally, described being a timid and awkward student at Readymade, R.I. Baker and Kate Andrews schools in Coaldale. He hated school yet became “a grateful scholar” thanks to the work of many people in his school and community, including a teacher, Mrs. Beatrice Garrow.

He credited her for instilling in him a love of writing.

“I have written myriad forgettable reports, labored on many manuscripts, perspired at lectures and talks in far-flung places, but always to this day, when I hunker down to write, I hear the whispered wisdom of Mrs. Garrow,” he said.

Middleton Freitag, who received an Excellence Award from the Texas-based National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development among other awards for her work at Medicine Hat College, said she had no idea what career to pursue as a Grade 12 student at County Central High School in Vulcan. A teacher, Mr. Lien, predicted a shortage of business education teachers, and he was right. As she emerged from university at age 22, jobs were in abundance and her career took flight.

“Most of the students were older than I was,” she said.

Vogt, born and raised in Picture Butte, spoke of the influence of many teachers, including Mary Oikawa, whose son Scott is now principal of Noble Central School, and George Hanna, whose son Terry teaches at Kate Andrews High in Coaldale. He was joined at the ceremony by the most influential teachers of all: his parents, Eleanor, also a school teacher, and Bill, who introduced him to the value of storytelling on Picture Butte’s coffee row.

Vogt, who stayed in southern Alberta despite being wooed even by legendary newsman Lloyd Robertson to larger markets, led his newsroom to a national award this year. He has served as teacher and mentor to many others pursuing their own dreams in broadcast journalism and after decades of storytelling, he’s “constantly amazed” by “the strength and the grace people bring” to challenging times.

Janzen described Palliser staff as being in the business of hope.

“If hope is the thrill of doing something meaningful, something that persists and grows behind and beyond you, then you, surely, are uncommonly hopeful people. . .,” he said. “You, in Thoreau’s words, are ‘on the trail of mind.’ Enjoy your work, relish it, knowing that your legacy, the mindprints left behind, will linger and last. I have sought to leave a footprint in the soil; you leave your imprint in much more fertile ground: the developing, endlessly inventive human mind.”