Barb Hofmeister recalls that she came to be involved with the Peace School of Hope “very reluctantly.” The Superintendent of Schools was looking for a teacher to replace Marion Howarth, who was the first music teacher for the school. He called Barb to ask if she would be interested in the position.
Barb laughs when she remembers her initial reaction. “I hate to say this, but I don’t think I could teach those children.” The Superintendent finally convinced her to observe Marion Howarth working with the class. Within ten minutes of watching, Barb knew she could do the job and took over as the music teacher for the school.
The Principal at the time was Iris Pollock and Barb joined the staff, which included Annette Huber, her sister Phyliss Kirbyson and Lorne McLeod. Lorne eventually became the principal of the school and Phyliss Kirbyson moved on to be vice-principal for a time.
Barb remembers that her class worked mainly with nursery rhymes and that she relied mainly on her imagination in planning programs from day to day. With no guidelines and few resources, she worked at finding a way to deliver the information to the students.
The difference between children with handicaps and other children is that it is more a case of “filling them up” with information. They didn’t dig for information. They accepted everything that you gave to them and some retained it and some didn’t. I’ve always felt like I was a jug filling up a bunch of tumblers.”
Despite the fact that it is common to hear people talk about how much the handicapped love music, Barb thinks that they are just like everyone else in that respect.
I think everyone responds to music in one form or another and them not more nor less than anyone else. They certainly loved it. Some of them had rhythm and some didn’t.
One of the ways that Barb found to inspire her classes was to make sure that they were included in Grande Prairie’s annual music festivals. She describes the excitement with which the students practiced for the festival and noted that the experience was a great way to “lift them up.”
In 1968, Barb traveled around the province visiting the schools in her capacity as president of the Alberta Association of Teachers for Retarded Children. She decided that she wanted to know more about the organization. Barb met with the Minister of Education to negotiate on behalf of the teachers who were working with the disabled but were not certified to teach in the public system.
It was felt that the skills they had developed would be valuable in the public system. The Ministry’s decision was that the uncertified teachers could continue working with the handicapped in the public system as long as they upgraded with at least one university course per year toward their teaching certificate.
Barb found teaching in the Peace School Wing of Montrose Junior High School was ideal. She wishes the schools would return to that system instead of spreading the children in “normal” classes by themselves. However, she feels that the disabled need to learn from contact with “normal” children. If they are always kept to themselves, they have nothing to reach for. She would like to see a system in which the disabled occupy a room or rooms of their own, with opportunities for visits with children from the public system. She has seen benefits for both sides.
It benefited both sides. The child who came from the other school system learned that these children were so loveable and that they were not scary. They began to understand the whole thing. This benefits the children in the special classroom because they are being lifted up.
At times Barb would explain to the children what “retarded” meant. In the early years the term was not understood and “what you don’t know, you back off from.” “You only have to get involved for a very short time and your attitude can change in a hurry. You see how really normal the disabled are. The word normal is so misused.”
Christmas concerts were a highlight for Barb because that was when she really had to “get her imagination going.” The concerts involved all of the students and teachers and was a great celebration that everyone looked forward to.
Over the years, Barb came to know the children of the Peace School of Hope well and she remembers her time with them fondly.
It was a wonderful experience. I am so glad I decided to do it.