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Embracing joy at school by flipping pancakes

Innisfail’s St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Catholic School has new leaders who are sensing a return to normal
MVT St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Catholic School leaders
Michelle Wright, the new principal at St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Catholic School and her first-year assistant principal Dave Martin, are both elated and proud to be educators in Innisfail. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – When March 1 came there was a double dose of joy at St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Catholic School.

It was the day most COVID restrictions were lifted across the province. It was also Shrove Tuesday, a special day for the Catholic faith as it’s the day before Ash Wednesday, and celebrated with a feast of pancakes.

March 1 was also the first time in the two years of the pandemic the school could have parent volunteers.

“We had parents come in to help us cook the pancakes,” said Michelle Wright, the new principal at St. Marguerite, who is joined by Dave Martin, the new assistant principal. “It was such an amazing day. Dave was out front in the grill with two other dads.

"We had Sharla Heistad our trustee cooking with us. You could just feel the positive energy in the building because we could have people in and we were doing this together.

“And the second day (March 2) was the first time in two and a half years we were able to go to church (Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church), and be assembled as a whole school in one event because we’ve been restricted in how many people could come together at one time."

Wright and Martin were both transferred from the City of Red Deer last year to lead St. Marguerite’s 32 staff members and 292 students from pre-kindergarten to grade 9.

The new principal took over the reins from Kelly Jacobson who is now the principal at Red Deer’s Maryview School. Martin succeeds David Griffin, who is now vice-principal at École Our Lady of the Rosary School in Sylvan Lake.

“This is my community. This is my parish,” said Wright, who has lived in Innisfail with her husband Jason, owner of CAP Solar in Olds, and four children since 2013. “The move has been absolutely fantastic and amazing. The school is a close-knit family, so it’s coming back and doing good work collaboratively. That is how we work in leading and how we work with the students.”

Martin, who was a vice principal of Red Deer’s St. Joseph High School, still lives in the Central Alberta city. Despite some initial “apprehension" about being transferred to Innisfail he was soon all in.

“As soon as I was told the school I was going to, and the community and principal, I didn’t even need to think and said, ‘absolutely,” said Martin. “It is a family here. It is such a great dynamic school.”

With the worst challenges of the pandemic hopefully behind them and everyone, Wright and Martin are now seeing signs of hope and joy in the classes and hallways of their school.

However, both have experienced the special resilience of children in the way they handle challenges, including the pandemic.

“They adjust more easily than the adults do,” said Wright. “We still have a significant amount of students who prefer to wear their masks. We even have staff. We’re continuing to support diversity in the sense of what people feel comfortable with for their own safety.”

Mostly, they are moved by the sense of a return to normal since March 1. Both Wright and Martin can feel and see it, especially when children look at the faces of teachers.

 “And now we can smile and they can see the non-verbal,” said Wright. “You’re able to greet the little kids at the door. The kids smile back. They mirror back the emotion, which is what we are made to do. You see that without masks.”

Martin said it’s also other things that's making the “big shift back” from the COVID trials, like not having to think twice about gathering with friends or colleagues.

“For our professional development day, we went out and had lunch together,” said Martin. “It was just so awesome to break bread together, and have those conversations about how your personal life is going. How are your kids?  We weren’t able to do that before. Those barriers are gone.

“The idea of making pancakes? That was such a delightful activity.”


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