WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Grade 1 students listen as their teacher reads them a story.
Every school day begins with a class leading morning prayer in the gymnasium. Father Maurice Okolie, from St. Stephen's Parish, visits the school about once a week. Crosses are prevalent throughout the whole school, above every door and in every window.
Such features make Catholic education a rewarding experience for students in Olds, population 7,500.
Many parents from St. Stephen's Parish have opted to send their children to Holy Trinity Catholic School, which opened its doors Sept. 1, 2010. A temporary downtown location served 50 students last year.
As with the tri-parish, the new school attracts students from Olds, Sundre and Didsbury. The school has just over 100 students enrolled, with a maximum capacity of 150.
It serves pre-kindergarten to Grade 7. Next school year will expand to serve Grade 8 and then Grade 9 the following year. Modular classrooms will be set up to accommodate the additional students, up to 350 total.
The new school is 30,000 square feet (2,800 square metres), and is situated in the southwest corner of the town. Three main colours throughout the school are blue, green and brown.
Deacon Jim Scott used to live in nearby Innisfail, and was active in starting the first Catholic school there, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys School. He chaired the organizing committee.
"We didn't send our children to Catholic school because there wasn't one. But if I had my preference, we certainly would have sent our three children to a Catholic school," said Scott.
"I believe in a Christ-centred atmosphere. Catholic schools in Alberta, if not nationwide, have a better record than public schools as far as academic achievement."
Since moving to Olds, he does not visit Holy Trinity as often as he would like. But now that he is semi-retired, he hopes to get more involved in the school.
He witnessed moderate opposition to opening a Catholic school in Olds, mostly from Protestant families in the community. Scott said public school teachers attending St. Stephen's Parish believe strongly in the public school system.
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Principal Blake Krause says Holy Trinity's motto is Respect, Offering, Action and Responsibility.
In fact, he has found that many Protestant families have chosen the Catholic school system so their children can receive Christ-centred learning.
"I remember my children, with some of the stuff they were learning in public school. There's a particular course called CALM (Career and Life Management), and one of the messages of the course is that the weak die and the strong survive. I don't care for that type of message being taught to children," said Scott.
Alana Robertson is the school counsellor and also teaches the Grades 4-5 class. She said the school is a place where students can talk about Jesus and teachers may express Catholic values openly.
The school has a beautiful chapel, just off of the atrium area. Every classroom has a prayer table, which includes a cross and other religious artifacts.
"It's very important for students and teachers to have that opportunity to be in a place where you can express your religion freely," said Robertson.
Every month students learn about a different Christian virtue. January's virtue is self-control. Teachers nominate those students who demonstrate that particular virtue for the Christian Leadership Award.
"You can talk about how Jesus would have done something or how God would have done something. Instead of just telling a student, 'You shouldn't do that,' you could ask, 'How do you think Jesus would react in this situation?'" said Robertson.
Students take what they learned in religion class and convey that message outside of the classroom in their words and actions.
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Educational assistant Stacey Adair leads Grade 2-3 students in a science experiment at Holy Trinity School in Olds, which also draws students from Sundre and Didsbury.
"Today I had a student come up to me and say, 'Did you know that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist?' The students connect things together. The question was outside of religion class. It was asked in social studies," said Robertson.
Despite the school being open for less than five months, already camaraderie and strong friendships have developed among the students and staff. Everyone feels a sense of belonging, as if they are one big happy family, said Robertson.
"What do I like best about the school? Definitely I would say our sense of community, knowing there is always somebody there to help you if you need help, and everybody is here to support you," said Robertson.
A different saint represents every classroom, with a small plaque above the door signifying which saint. The school campaigned for businesses, parishioners, parents and community groups to sponsor the plaques.
"The Church community was given the opportunity to purchase those. The one above my classroom, I purchased. Mine is St. Elizabeth, and it's dedicated to my grandma," said Robertson.
School administrators understand the importance of climate change, reducing emissions and being environmentally responsible. The school is on the leading edge of the green movement in Alberta.
"All of our countertops like this," said principal Blake Krause, gesturing to the library counter, "are made out of 100 per cent recyclable milk jugs. Our school is a LEED Silver school, meaning it is environmentally friendly in a bunch of different ways."
Holy Trinity was named a LEED Silver school based on its sustainable site development, water efficiency, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.
Another special environmental feature is the blue solar wall that cuts down on natural gas for heat. During the day the sun heats the air within the wall, and the air intake brings the heat into the school.
"We are the Holy Trinity Tigers. The students chose the mascot and they chose the name Roar, which is an acronym for our school motto: Respect, Offering, Action and Responsibility. It was all done last year through our students in our temporary school," said Krause.
Krause said important career skills and life skills develop in the home economics classroom. Used by students as young as Grade 4, it features four functional food stations, dishwasher, fridges, washing machine and dryer.
The school also has cutting edge technology. Aside from the SmartBoards in every classroom and videoconferencing capabilities, the technology lab contains items unique to elementary school students. It has a CNC router, a numerical control tool that creates objects from wood. Parts of a project can be designed on a computer, and then cut automatically using the router.
In a secured room is a wind tunnel. Students create a CO2 dragster out of balsa wood. The miniature racing cars are rocket-powered by a carbon dioxide cartridge, pierced to start the release of the gas, which race on a track. The dragsters are used to demonstrate mechanical principles such as mass, force, acceleration and aerodynamics.