By Caroline O’Neill –
There’s something in the air at Connaught Public School, at least, so say the faculty who are planning the elementary school’s centennial celebrations set for early May.
“There’s an aura, I don’t know something, when you come in, you don’t want to leave,” says Marilyn Harvey. Harvey is a kindergarten teacher and has taught at the school for 25 years. She and colleague, Christopher Makinde, who is retiring in June, have been at Connaught the longest.
“I just wanted [to work at] this school,” says Makinde. He’s taught at other schools but always seemed to find his way back to Connaught. “I’ve never been unhappy at this place.” Harvey agrees. “Why would we go anywhere else?”
Harvey, Makinde and other Connaught staff hope the school’s centennial will demonstrate the passion they have for their school to the broader community.
A series of special events – spearheaded by fellow teacher Brian Chiasson – will be taking place from May 4 and May 8. There will be an open house on Thursday, May 7 and all are invited to attend.
In the countdown to centennial week, students are reading pieces of trivia about the school on the PA system. (Fun fact: singer Paul Anka is one of the school’s most notable alumni.)
The May 7 open house, scheduled from 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m., will feature musical performances, historic school artefacts, cake and other activities. Visitors will have the chance to tour the school as they follow an interactive timeline.
Jackie Barratt, a long-time volunteer, says she is amazed that Connaught is celebrating such a large milestone.
“This school has survived 100 years. That’s huge! I don’t think many schools do,” says the 64-year-old. Barratt is at Connaught at 6:30 a.m. every morning to start the school’s breakfast program and has been volunteering here for a decade. “A lot has changed,” she adds.
And in 100 years, it definitely has. By the late 80s, the school’s original structure was falling apart. The paint was peeling and radiators exploded. After a petition by the parents, the school was rebuilt and the program was restructured into the current kindergarten to grade 6 system.
Most recently, Connaught’s biggest change was the reintroduction of French immersion. Teachers are excited, but hope it doesn’t change the student dynamic.
“We cannot forsake the English section of our school because it really built Connaught,” says Makinde.
“Moving forward it’s going to be important for that inclusivity to continue,” adds Harvey.
Inclusivity plays a major role in student life at Connaught. Both teachers praise principal Amy Hannah’s decision to place the students into eight different “houses,” groups of different aged children, to help the students bond with one another and give back to the community. Each house is collecting 100 items to donate to local charities and shelters.
The faculty is finding ways for students to participate in Connaught’s history. On May 8, the students will be filmed as they open a time capsule. Fifth grade teacher Louisa Battistelli and her students have also been collecting oral histories of past staff and students. These include a former Ottawa Rough Rider and one of Connaught’s oldest living students.
“You’re part of something that connects you with a lot of people from different times,” says Battistelli. “It’s your place in history too.”
As the faculty, volunteers and students continue to prepare for the centennial celebrations, it’s safe to say that they’re also looking forward to a bright future with Connaught. This includes Jackie Barratt, who plans to continue volunteering for as long as she can.
“I hope I’m here until I’m 100,” says Barratt.
Connaught will be holding its official celebration Thursday, May 7 from 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. For more information go to connaughtps.ocdsb.ca. To share your own memories of Connaught, go to connaught100.weebly.com.