WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Students and staff provide a welcoming atmosphere at Mother Margaret Mary High School.
Upon entry into Mother Margaret Mary Catholic High School, visitors will find that the new school, situated in southwest Edmonton, is modern, impeccably clean, and has windows all around its perimeter to brighten the hallways.
Both the staff and students are cheerful and friendly, giving the new high school a welcoming atmosphere.
The school, just down the street from Archbishop Joseph MacNeil School, has 264 students in Grades 9 and 10. The aim is to add Grade 11 for the next school year, and Grade 12 the year after.
"This is a very vibrant area, with lots of growth, especially south of the (Anthony) Henday. It's an area that will have a great demand for families. Our maximum capacity is 850 students, and we'll likely be there in a couple of years," said principal Kim Brophy.
A few classrooms currently sit empty. But the gymnasium, fitness centre, dance room, band room, foods class, library and science labs are all being well used.
Principal Kim Brophy
"The building is beautiful, but my job is to make sure the inside works. Having the right people is important," said Brophy. The school has been fortunate to hire staff who are passionate about what they do, whether teaching fine arts, or career and technology studies.
Newer schools no longer incorporate cafeterias into their plans, but the students find comfortable places to eat their lunch. A recreation centre is also handy, directly across the street from the school.
Mother Margaret Mary is one of only three schools in Alberta to receive approval as a flexibility school for the 2012-13 school year. This results in a unique timetable for students, allowing one block in the daily schedule for instruction relevant to students' individual needs. This new system allows them a chance to make responsible choices.
"When we went to school, we had to take 25 hours of instruction per credit. So a Math 10 course, for example, would take 125 hours. I would have to prove as an administrator that we taught you for 125 hours in order to get our money," explained Brophy.
"The government is giving us permission to deviate from that because it doesn't work for everybody."
A clever student might be able to attain 90 per cent in a course after only 80 hours of instruction, whereas another student who's struggling might require more than 125 hours.
Instead, 15 minutes of time have been removed from each of four blocks, which creates a flex block for an hour each day. Every student can then go online to the school's website, and register for other classes being offered, such as online courses, extra science help, boat safety or meetings with their teacher advisors.
In regards to the flex blocks, Brophy said, "I think the Alberta government has opened the door. The old model doesn't work, and we needed to try something else. In 32 years, this is the most excited I've been doing something new."
While academics are the focus, students can also choose from a variety of clubs and extracurricular activities, including yearbook, fitness club, intramurals, Christian leadership, photography club, literary society, peer tutoring, and performance and touring band, among others.
The school pushes the envelope in different ways, especially with technology. It is now piloting a project with Apple TVs in the classroom. The school has two computer labs, providing students with learning opportunities on both Mac and PC platforms.
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
A fully equipped weight room at Mother Margaret Mary High School gives the students abundant opportunities to be in good physical shape.
The school also has an active Facebook page. The students were pleased to contribute in many ways, such as choosing the school's colours and logo.
"I've been part of a three-year consultation process with the community, and so we wanted to get the student input. We did, and we listened," said Brophy.
"We did some things that we know are pedagogically sound, and some things that they thought were good."
Every student and teacher in the school wears around their neck a name tag with an ID card. The cards are scanned for attendance purposes, and also if a student signs out a book or laptop.
Seating in the hallways has access to plug-ins for laptops, iPads and other electronic devices.
The library bookshelves are bare. No full-time librarian has been hired yet. But the school is developing a digital library, which allows students to sign out books digitally.
"In terms of design, most gyms are in the corners of schools, which takes away the windows with the length of it. Ours is in the middle of the school, so there are windows all around and you don't lose any light," said Brophy.
The school's patron, Mother Margaret Mary, was the first female high school administrator in Edmonton Catholic Schools.
Born Laura Hickey in 1890, she joined the Faithful Companions of Jesus in 1910. These sisters were the first community of religious women to teach in Edmonton Catholic Schools, beginning in 1888.
Members of the Faithful Companions of Jesus were among those who attended the school's official opening and blessing on Oct. 17.
Mother Margaret Mary was the first female religious to attend the University of Alberta and the first to graduate with a master's degree in 1916.
She taught in Edmonton Catholic Schools for 50 years, from 1911 to 1961. Best known for her ability as a mathematics teacher, her strong academic background and personal qualities of versatility and flexibility allowed her to teach almost any subject.
She serves as an inspiration for young people to take on long-term leadership and service roles. She died in 1989, 11 days before her 100th birthday.