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qathet region school celebrates 60th anniversary

“The school was kind of started on a wing and a prayer. We had a big population in the late 1950s and there was a push in all Catholic communities to start Catholic elementary schools.” ~ Father Patrick Tepoorten

Assumption School is celebrating 60 years in the qathet region.

Acting principal Angela Bennett said the school had wanted to do something all year, but the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted planning. However, with the lifting of mandates and restrictions, a decision was made to put together an event highlighting the long and illustrious history of the school in Powell River's Westview neighbourhood early in June.

“We decided we would do everything we wanted to do and do it in one week,” said Bennett.

For the school’s students, there will be an assembly with alumni speakers, as well as some celebrations and treats at the event. A wine and cheese night will be held on June 3 at 7 pm at St. Joseph’s Hall beside Assumption Church. Tickets are $30 each and available at the school office, the church rectory and Massullo Motors.

On June 4 there will be three activities: from 10 to 11 am a magic show, with a magician named Kevin Luty from Vancouver Island attending; from 11 am to 2 pm, the school will be hosting a carnival; and at the same time, there will be an open house and school tours. The tours will be led by students and Bennett.

Throughout the 60 years, Assumption School has offered high quality education and religious studies to the community, said Bennett.

Father Patrick Tepoorten said the school is blessed with good teachers and a strong commitment to providing the best education.

“The school was kind of started on a wing and a prayer,” added Tepoorten. “We had a big population in the late 1950s and there was a push in all Catholic communities to start Catholic elementary schools.”

Tepoorten said that the priest at the time, Father John Collins, envisioned building the school, but wondered how it would be staffed. There were a number of Maltese parishioners in Assumption Church and one of the gentlemen knew of a religious order of nuns called the Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth from Malta.

“The priest wrote the sisters and they came here and served until 2011,” said Tepoorten. “They were not prepared for this mission of teaching in a Catholic school in British Columbia. They had strong accents because they were Maltese and they were disciplinarians, but they were deeply beloved by the whole community.”

Bennett said the sisters each took a grade from kindergarten to grade seven. She said grade five was taught by a layperson, not a nun, but all the other grades were taught by the sisters, who served in the school for decades.

Independent organization

Tepoorten said the school is now run by a volunteer board, called the parish education committee. Bennett said Assumption School is also part of Catholic Independent Schools of Vancouver Archdiocese, so it is also part of a greater school system of 47 schools.

“Although we are an independent school, we are not like a lone wolf school,” said Bennett. “We are part of a greater organization. We get a lot of support in terms of professional development. There is a superintendent, so when COVID-19 was happening, we had all the correct information funneled through properly.”

Tepoorten said increasingly, the school population is not Catholic. Bennett said about 65 per cent is non-Catholic. She said it’s likely because of a smaller Catholic population, but also because people in the community appreciate the small class sizes, and whether they are of faith or not, they appreciate the high moral standards the school instills in students.

“It’s an interesting thing because we’re kind of like a community school,” said Tepoorten. “We are maintained by the Catholic community and the parishioners here always step up to the plate for whatever it is that we need. The people just love to see this place supported.”

To attend Assumption, tuition must be paid. The funding formula for Catholic schools includes the provincial government providing 50 per cent of what it would pay for a student in public school.

“The reason why we ask for tuition is because we include religious instruction, and the government only gives us 50 per cent of the per student grant,” said Bennett. “We get half per child, so the tuition makes up the other half of that.”

Bennett said tuition can be a difficult factor for some parents, but there are two avenues for assistance. One is through the parish for the Catholic family of parishioners, and then there is another fund created in the memory of Bridget Bigold, and that is open to people of all walks of life.

Educational excellence

Bennett said she takes pride in the educational excellence exemplified at Assumption. She said everybody teaching at the school has at least 10 years of experience. Several teachers have been at the school for more than 30 years.

“All of us have our certification with the teacher regulation branch,” said Bennett. “I’ve worked in a lot of schools but I have never worked with a team of people who are as lovely as this group of people. They are so kind, so supportive and so caring. That’s a piece of what makes us unique.

“It’s reflected in the classroom. I think the kids know that all of the adults in the building are united as one and support one another.”

Tepoorten said the school is happy that over the years, the First Nations percentage of the student population has been increasing. He said the chair of the board is a First Nations parent, Jolene Sutcliffe, who works in the finance office of Tla’amin Nation. Bennett said there are currently 27 children from Tla’amin enrolled in the school.

“We’re very fortunate to have that presence,” said Tepoorten. “The nation also provides for us a cultural support worker.”

Bennett said that each week, Tla’amin language practice is held, so it has been good to see students use the language to be able to comfortably introduce themselves, know the seasons, colours and other linguistic features.

In terms of celebrating the school’s 60th anniversary, Bennett said the student population is excited.

“They couldn’t believe it has been 60 years; it sounds like such a long time,” she added. “We’re excited to show our school to other people of the community.”