J.W. Walker celebrates new beginning

It was an historic night for the students and families of J.W. Walker School last Wednesday night when the Rainy River District School Board celebrated the grand opening of the newly-renovated school.
About 700-800 people packed into the school for the official opening ceremonies. Parents and children who could not fit into the new gym stood in the hallway outside, or sat in classrooms.
The school was closed during the 2003-04 school year to undergo a $4.8-million, 28,644 sq. ft. renovation.
The west-end school now holds 13 classrooms for children from kindergarten to Grade 8. Each classroom has a digital projector hooked up to a computer, as well as audio/visual equipment so teachers can incorporate computer presentations into lessons.
In addition to a new computer lab, the school boasts a large number of wireless laptop computers that can be used anywhere in the building.
There is a new gym and library, and the school is handicapped accessible, with an elevator inside and ramps outside.
The two kindergarten classrooms have their own exits and fenced-in playgrounds, and tiny bathroom facilities for the younger children.
At the opening ceremony, principal Donna Kowalchuk introduced the honoured guests, including Kenora-Rainy River MPP Howard Hampton, Education Director Warren Hoshizaki, board chair Dan Belluz, school council chair Dr. Lorena Jenks, and Brian Kahler, representing Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Ken Boshcoff.
The guests were piped in by two of the Fort Frances Highlanders, and the ceremony began with the singing of “O Canada” and an Anishinaabe blessing by Harry Windigo from Stanjikoming First Nation.
Each of the guests said a few words for the occasion.
“I am delighted to share with you in this exciting occasion,” said Hoshizaki. “In the opening of a school, we are like artists with a blank canvas. We don’t know what the final picture will be. But we have the possibility of creating a masterpiece.”
“This project started three years ago with a consultation process to determine the best needs for the students,” Belluz noted. “The project was completed on time and on budget, which is unusual.”
Hampton said he had spoken to a few young students before the ceremony who told him they were excited about the new school because it has a large gym and air conditioning—to the amusement of the crowd.
“There’s an incredible amount to celebrate here,” Hampton said, adding that having a new school with more equipment “means we can do a lot more.”
He also acknowledged the expansion of J.W. Walker was part of a larger plan that included the closing of three other schools: Alexander MacKenzie, Sixth Street, and Alberton Central.
“I know that was a tough decision for the trustees,” he said. “I think you made the right decision.
“It’s a challenge. I know you’ll succeed,” he added.
Kowalchuk thanked the board, the staff and students, and the members of the community who helped make the new school a reality.
“The teachers and staff have worked extra hard to pack, move, unpack, and organize in sometimes less than ideal conditions,” she noted. “They have worked tirelessly all summer to make sure the school was ready for the students this fall.”
Following the short speeches, Grade 8 students Scott Smith and Jamie Holliday cut the ribbon to mark the official opening.
The Grades 7/8 choir, conducted by Mary-Lynn Bondett and Diane Maxey, then sang a song they wrote to the tune of “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship.
“Lookin’ at this new school, we see something so cool. The school we attend is too good to be true,” the kids sang.
Vice-principal Bill Daley also unveiled the dedication plaque, which will be hung in the front entrance to the school, as well as four commemorative paintings of the schools that were closed to amalgamate with Walker.
Donna Cannon painted Alberton Central School, Vi Plumridge did Sixth Street School and Alexander MacKenzie, while Cher Pruys did a painting of J.W. Walker before the renovation.
The ceremony was followed by an open house.