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Displaced Fort McMurray teachers eager to return home

May 31, 2016 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor
Mmm for YMM: The Alberta Teachers’ Association hosted a barbecue for displaced Fort McMurray teachers and their families on Thursday, May 12. The event attracted about 200 people. (Photo: Greg Halinda)

The hardest part will be driving through the city and seeing the devastation first-hand.

That’s what Nancy Ball is steeling herself for as she prepares to return home to Fort McMurray on June 3. The staggered re-entry announced May 18 has been long-awaited by displaced teachers, said Ball, president of Fort McMurray Local No. 48, which represents 700 teachers in both the Catholic and the public systems.

“It’s been three weeks now and we just want to be home,” she said. 

It’s estimated that about 20 of the local’s members have lost their homes and the list is growing, Ball said. Members are scattered all over the country as they hunker down with friends or family while awaiting further developments.

While the province has announced that Fort McMurray schools will remain closed to students for the duration of the school year, it’s not known whether the districts will call teachers back to work before the year ends. If that occurs, teachers will have five days’ notice to return, Ball said.

“There are still a lot more questions than there are answers,” she said.

Ball knows that returning home won’t be easy, but she’s also eager for it. She and her husband are staying with their daughter, who has a one-bedroom apartment in Edmonton.

“It is cramped but we’re together and that’s what’s important,” she said.

The couple recently took a few days to visit the mountains, an effort to get away from the unrelenting Fort McMurray presence on their minds.

“We needed to go and do that for our own mental health and that was great,” she said.

Ball said it’s important for teachers to seek out resources to help them cope, something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to them.

“Teachers are such giving people ... sometimes it’s difficult for us to turn around and be on the receiving end,” she said. 

Ball said her work with the Association “has been a godsend” in recent weeks. This work took her and seven other Fort McMurray teachers to the Association’s Annual Representative Assembly over the May long weekend. Ball said the event provided a welcome semblance of normalcy, and also put the teachers in touch with supportive colleagues from around the province and even beyond.

“It’s reassuring that we’re not in this alone,” she said.

Another supportive event occurred at Barnett House on May 12, when the Association hosted a barbecue for displaced teachers and their families. Through it all, Ball has witnessed the strength of community.

“Whatever comes our way, we’re going to be able to deal with it.” ❚

(Photo: Greg Halinda)

(Photo: Jonathan Teghtmeyer)

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