Lorne McLeod and Iris Pollock had more in common than their careers as Principal for the Peace School of Hope. Friends before they were colleagues, Lorne met Iris when he was quite young. Later, when he was working for the City of Grande Prairie Recreation Department, Iris persuaded him to join the staff at the school. Lorne taught Phys Ed, drove the school bus and was the only male on staff at the time.
Lorne regards Iris Pollock as a pioneer in the field of education for the handicapped and says that when she passed away it was a “shock to the whole system.” The board approached him to take over as Principal, a position he held for four years.
“Iris Pollock was my hero. The two focal people that I can think of were Iris Pollock in the school and Bert Tieman in Swan Industries. There were many other people involved, but those are the two dominant people that made sure this kept going. I am sure, over the years, there were times when it was in dire straights and they weren’t sure where to turn, but those two seemed to just keep it moving.” Lorne believes that pioneers Iris and Bert were on the right track, long before the rest of the public.
For what was available, the Peace School of Hope was light years ahead. The opportunities those kids were getting was so progressive and so far ahead and think they helped lead the rest. All of a sudden the light went on with public education that, hey, we should be educating those kids.
Lorne came to the school with a background in athletics and a trust that Iris was on the right track with her plan for the school. He was impressed with the calibre of teaching and the encouragement given to the students.
I think my first reaction was how good the teachers at the school actually were. And how important it was for them not to treat the kids as just kids that they would cuddle or they would love or help, but really make those kids try to stand on their own and fulfill their potential. When Iris passed away and I took over her position, the teachers basically led me, because I had no training in Administration.
In Lorne’s first year as Principal, teachers at the school were faced with the prospect of upgrading so that they could be certified to teach in the public school system. Lorne remembers that the teachers “bought into that wholeheartedly.”
As Principal of the school, Lorne was concerned with the coordination of staff upgrading and determination of the direction the school should take for the future. It was a period of some turmoil because the teachers knew they were going from “what they knew to what they didn’t know.”
Lorne was with the school during the transition into a wing of Montrose Junior High School and stayed on as Principal for one year after the move to the public system. There was a program in place at Montrose that turned out to be key to the success of the integration effort. The students from the Grade 7 classes would spend time with students in the Peace School Wing and friendships were formed between them. Lorne says the teachers and students were a close-knit bunch, a relationship that is ongoing to this day. As adults, the former students have amazing memories for the teachers at the school.
From Lorne’s perspective as the Principal, the move to the public school system was a natural progression. “It was the right direction to go.” He knew that there were going to be problems but looked at the situation in terms of the greater good.
The first year of integration was a new experience for the students as they were in the public eye for the first time. “We tried to expose the students to the community as much as possible.”
I think the whole Association had a tremendous amount of foresight in that they realized that kids were not to be sheltered and put away and that we had to get them out as much as we could. And that sense was through the whole organization as long as I ever remember it, that sense was that we had to normalize these kids as much as we can.
The annual Christmas concert was something Lorne looked forward to, along with the rest of the staff and students. He also remembers the Special Games as a highlight during his time at the school and because of his own background in athletics. The athletes competed in track and field and floor hockey as main events. “We always had a really strong contingent and there was a lot of pride in what the students accomplished at the Games.”
The teachers worked extremely hard to help the kids get ahead. Sometimes students would require five years to learn things that other kids would learn in the first two or three months of school. Lorne believed that anyone who didn’t burn out after three or four years was a “superhuman” because it must have been so hard to keep that focus. “The mountains climbed were so small at times.”
The Barrydale Dorm was right next door to the school. There was a contract with Northlands School Division to educate ten of their students per year. The native students came from reserves all across Alberta and Northwest Territories and those students always stayed in the dorm.
Staff at Barrydale Dorm faced many challenges. For the most part it was a happy place, but there were many discipline issues and some serious health issues to deal with in addition to the mental disabilities. Some of the students from the reservations did not want to be there, so that presented a different type of challenge. The people on staff were dealing with learning disabilities, medical problems, behavioural problems and they did an amazing job of making it work.
There was a significant impact on the Peace School of Hope when the Deer Home in Red Deer decided to move in a new direction and move a lot of their students back into their own communities. There were some challenges to the integration of the students who had been institutionalized. They had some discipline issues and some difficulty in coping with the move.
It was a harder transition for the kids to come from the Deer Home to the Peace School of Hope than it was for the Peace School of Hope kids to go to Montrose. It was a difficult thing for them. It was difficult for us accepting them as well.
In the community, staff was often regarded as “such wonderful people doing such a wonderful job. How do you do it?” Lorne’s reaction was that once you were working with the handicapped it was “as natural as can be. I just happened to be working with individuals who happened to have some struggles in their lives.”
Lorne values the friendships he was able to make with students from the Peace School of Hope and their families. He has become more open and accepting of differences in people. He realizes that everybody deserves to be able to reach his or her potential.”
One of the difficulties for the handicapped in the larger society is the fact that they take a much longer time to reach their own potential and society doesn’t slow down to appreciate that.