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School finds supporters throughout the community

April 21, 2015 Laura Harris, ATA News Staff

Kindergarten students from Mee-Yah-Noh School surprise EPCOR president and CEO David Stevens with a presentation of student-made art to show appreciation for the company’s contributions to their school.

Finding help a never-ending job at Mee-Yah-Noh School

When you score face time with the head of a major corporation, what you have to say had better be important.

The words “thank you” seemed to fit the bill for EPCOR president and chief executive officer David Stevens, who was surprised by a group of kindergarten students from Mee-Yah-No School late last month.

Accompanied by their principal, Linda Speelman, and executive director of Edmonton Public Schools Foundation Tracy Poulin, the students paid Stevens a visit to express their appreciation for the support that they and their school receive from the city-owned utility corporation. The students also presented Stevens with brightly coloured pieces of framed, student-made artwork.

“The surprise visit from Mee-Yah-Noh kindergarten students made my day. Their excitement and enthusiasm is contagious,” Stevens said. “There’s no limit to what young people can achieve when you harness that kind of positive energy and ignite it with the power of education.”

Make that education and community support.

Principal Linda Speelman could talk for hours about the community support received by her school. She wouldn’t be doing it to boast. It would simply take that long to list and describe the contributions that organizations and individuals have made to Mee-Yah-Noh School.

Supporters have made their connections with Mee-Yah-Noh through different avenues. Many do so through the Edmonton Public Schools Foundation, a non-profit formed in 2010 that funds full-day kindergarten at five schools. Other supporters have connections with Mee-Yah-Noh staff or parents. Some find out about the school on their own.

EPCOR funds Mee-Yan-Noh’s full-day kindergarten program through a specially earmarked contribution to the Edmonton Public Schools Foundation. The financial contribution is substantial, but aligns perfectly with one of the utility company’s three community investment pillars — education.

“Big things can happen when you inspire someone small,” Stevens said. “EPCOR is proud to contribute to the Edmonton Public School Foundation’s full-day kindergarten program, and to provide support and opportunity to those children in need. As a company, we believe education is as essential to life as power and water.”

Complex needs

Mee-Yah-Noh is a K–6 school with a complex student population, with complex needs. Among the school’s 222 students, there is a significant population of English language learners who speak 21 different languages, at Speelman’s last count. First Nations, Métis and Inuit students are well represented, as are students with special needs.

In fact, the school is site designated to offer the district’s Community Learning Skills program and its Interactions program. These programs serve the needs of students with cognitive delays and students identified with autism spectrum disorder.

It takes a lot to provide a student population as complex as Mee-Yah-Noh’s with the best possible learning environment, Speelman said. All donations help, but they don’t always have to be financial.

“You can’t get by without money, but there are ways to support schools without money,” Speelman said, citing the contributions of the Kingsway Mall management team as an example.

Just before Christmas, when Mee-Yah-Noh was preparing to trial a program called Wee Read, it was in need of volunteers, so Speelman contacted Susan Denney, the general manager of Kingsway Mall, which is a major supporter of the Edmonton Public Schools Foundation. Denney and her team of executives didn’t hesitate to jump on board. The commitment was for eight weeks, during which each volunteer read to two kindergarten students for 30 minutes once a week.

“After the second [week], one of the executives came to me and said, ‘the kids were surprised we came back,’” said Speelman, explaining the rationale for her students’ reaction. “For some of our kids, people make promises and they don’t come back and they always have these broken promises. So they were stunned, our kids, when they came back.”

The experience affected not only the students, but also the mall executives.

“Every one of the volunteers — they’re pretty much done their eight weeks now — say they want to come back in September and do it again,” said Speelman.

Constant challenge

Speelman and her staff, with the strong support they receive from their community, are doing everything they can to provide their students with the best education possible. One of the challenges they continually face is making sure students are prepared to learn. At Mee-Yah-Noh, this means meeting students’ basic needs, including food.

Mee-Yah-Noh’s snack program costs $8,000 to $9,000 per year and provides many students with their only food of the day.

For years, the program was largely funded by an annual $5,000 donation from an elderly couple who wished to keep private any knowledge of their contributions. Last school year, the wife contacted Speelman asking if she could still make the donation even though her husband had passed away. However, for unknown reasons, the wife hasn’t been in contact with the school this year.

Though informing parents of the unfortunate situation and potential demise of the snack program wasn’t a pleasant task, it served to generate the names of more individuals and groups to add to Mee-Yah-Noh’s long list of community supporters. Some of the parents baked banana bread for three days using bananas donated by the Salvation Army to provide snacks for the program.

One parent asked Speelman to develop a letter about the snack program, which she then used to secure donations from local businesses. Mee-Yah-Noh also was successful in its recent application to become a client of the Edmonton Food Bank, allowing the school one visit per week.

Thanks to community support, the snack program remains in place and other initiatives are taking place. While Speelman can effortlessly share accounts of the contributions that individuals and organizations have made to her school and the lives of her students, she isn’t complacent.

“We have to work at it,” she said of the much appreciated community support Mee-Yah-Noh receives.

“It doesn’t come knocking at our door.” ❚

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