Emerging from the warmth of a classroom, Heather Skaien watched her students prepare for the chilly day outside. As she coaxed them into boots and snowsuits, the owner and manager of Fernie Creative Minds Preschool, reflected on the best part of her job.
“Being with the children,” she said. “I miss them if I’m not in school. I have to come in everyday and just be with them. They’re full of hugs and love. Today’s a good day, but another day I’d be crying because that’s how much I care for these children. They’re excited when I come in, I don’t know why, and it’s so rewarding. The love that they give to you is just wonderful.”
“I’m retired, so this is my fun.”
On any given day the halls of Max Turyk Community Centre are full of children but it was a sombre July day in 2007 when Max Turyk Elementary shut its doors for the last time.
The Board of School District #5 decided to close the institution, because declining enrollment numbers in Fernie did not warrant two elementary schools. Its students and staff were transferred to Isabella Dicken Elementary School.
But the building has found a new life and a new purpose as a community centre. It is home to a number of groups, including the preschool where Skaien encourages kids to reach their potential through play and a love of the outdoors.
“The children can use their imaginations to put things together outdoors,” said Skaien. “They make these big bonfires – which of course are not lit – but they get to be outside, which is very important nowadays, and it really affects their imagination.”
Lloyd Smith, director of Leisure Services, explained that the City of Fernie purchased the building from the school board and began leasing space to user groups. These user groups have approximately 775 people enrolled in their programs.
Since purchasing the building, the city has reseeded the school’s old sports field and repaired the roof.
Today it provides a space for Elk Valley Behaviour Intervention, Fernie School Aged Care (FSAC) and École Sophie Morigeau. It is also home to the Fernie Child Care Society, Creative Minds Preschool and the Fernie Forest School.
Other user groups include the Elk Valley Gymnastics Club, the Fernie Alpine Ski Team and Special Olympics Elk Valley.
FSAC opened in Max Turyk and is one of the only after school care programs in Fernie.
Led by director Mandy Potter, FSAC employs a team of early childhood educators who do activities with kids after school and on pedagogical days.
In the school’s old gymnasium, Megan Verhaeghe, an early childhood educator with the Fernie Childcare Society was overseeing a raucous group of toddlers; pedaling around on tricycles, playing floor hockey and climbing over gym mats.
“The day goes by fast,” she said. “There’s always something that you’re running to do or running after to stop. It’s busy.”
In a wing all its own is École Sophie-Morigeau, a school for the Elk Valley’s budding Francophone community.
The school has 24 students split into two classes. Kindergarten to Grade 2 is taught in one class and grades 3 to 5 are taught in the other.
Sophie-Morigeau was founded in 2013 and first served about fifteen Francophone children from the Fernie area.
School director Pierre Bibeau arrived in Fernie about two months ago from the city of Sherbrooke, This is his first position as an administrator.
“It was a good opportunity for me to take my career in this direction,” he said. “It let me get my foot in the door. It’s different from teaching but because we’re such a small school, I still get to be close to the students.”
To the right of the main entrance is Elk Valley Behaviour Intervention where behavioural interventionists Brenna Traverse and Alanna Parcher work with children who have autism and other developmental disabilities. Almost all of their 25 students are enrolled in regular schools but they come to the intervention centre a few times a week for individualized applied behavioural analysis programming.
“It’s nice to be a part of it all,” said Traverse. “There are so many different programs running in here so our kids are around other kids all the time.”
“It’s nice to have a base,” she continued. “Lots of places don’t have that, lots of places have to be in-home.”
Before moving into Max Turyk, Elk Valley Behaviour Intervention had nowhere to conduct programming. The staff was doing a lot of driving and visits to outlying communities.
“It’s just good to have a place for the kids,” said Parcher. “We need somewhere outside the home for treatment and to be with other kids and be social and that’s what the centre does.”
For more information on Max Turyk, contact Sharon Switzer, Leisure Services at 250-423-2245.