Two Palliser schools celebrate first graduates

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The Class of 2019 at John Davidson School, Pancho Wieler, at left, and Peter Neustaeter.

Sometimes there’s sacrifice required in being a frontrunner. Set to become the lone member of Huntsville School’s Class of 2019, Nathan Reimer will gladly accept that.

This week two Palliser Regional Schools will see the fruits of their labour after this their first year offering high school programming. Both Huntsville School in Iron Springs and John Davidson School in Coaldale serve a growing enrolment of Low German-speaking Mennonite students.

While Reimer has no regrets about the hard work it took to get him to this point, he might have written a different ending into the script if he had the choice.

“If there would have been more people in class, the graduation ceremony itself probably would have been more fun,” says Reimer, with a chuckle. “But all-in-all, I am all right how it turned out.”

While the 18-year-old finished his Grade 12 education after two years of home schooling, a pair of 20-year-old students at John Davidson School had a lot of catching up to do after being out of school for a period. That meant a lot of commitment, especially fitting in homework around a work schedule, both said it was well worth it.

“I’m definitely glad I came back and was able to get my high school diploma. I had pretty much given up on getting that done,” says Peter Neustaeter.

What all three of the graduates have in common is a sense of pride in their accomplishment and an appreciation for the trails they’ve blazed within their respective schools and also their families.

“To be one of the people in the first grad class, it means a lot to me,” says Pancho Wieler, who had five siblings attending school with him this year. “It shows me I can be an example and I hope that many will follow – especially my family members – that they will also graduate.”

He attended grades 4 through 9 at John Davidson, but with no high school program offered at the time Wieler tried his hand at distance learning. He found that option didn’t provide him with enough motivation, so he concentrated on his work at a local fast-food restaurant. When word came Palliser Regional Schools was extending offerings at the school, there was little hesitation on Wieler’s part.

“I was excited to learn that because this could possibly be my only opportunity to earn a high school diploma,” he says. “I knew all the people, so it wasn’t like I was walking into a brand new school. Of course there were some new faces, but everyone was friendly.”

Neustaeter says he was “thrilled” to hear the news as well, since he had done all of his previous schooling at John Davidson School, and immediately rushed over to the school to ask the principal if he was too old to return.

Looking for workplace options beyond his current job in the service industry, he knew graduation could open doors for him.  All three students says they’d encourage other students to graduate if someone was seeking advice.

“If you don’t get your diploma, you are kind of tied down to that manual labour spot and it’s a lot harder to build your way up,” says Reimer.

After graduation he plans on taking a year off to get a job and save money for college. While he doesn’t have any definite career paths in mind, Reimer has been looking at a couple of programs in agriculture and nursing.

As for Neustaeter, he’d love to come back to John Davidson School as an assistant teacher. Not only is it a place he feels comfortable, he thinks he would enjoy working with students.

Wieler’s future may see him apply for a scholarship so he can take heavy duty mechanics. He knows he couldn’t have reached this point in his education without a lot of help.

“I would like to thank my classmates and all the teachers for helping along in this journey,” he says. “I could not have done this without you.”

Reimer too appreciates the work staff did in keeping him on track.

“You know, without Huntsville I probably wouldn’t have graduated,” he says. “I’ll be honest.”

Principal Crystal McGregor hopes the Class of 2019 will be the first of many to come at John Davidson School.

“It’s uncharted waters for our families,” she says, adding she hopes to see graduating classes of up to a dozen students in the next six years. “It is our responsibility to share with parents the value a high school diploma affords their children and that they can do so in a culturally safe environment.”

Principal Chris Spanos can see Huntsville School increasing its number of graduates tenfold within a short time.

“In the next few years, our hope is that graduation class sizes will increase when completing Grade 12 becomes an established norm at Huntsville, and all our students will ultimately earn a high school diploma,” he says.