Monday, March 8, 2021
Dear EOCF Board Members,
On a day back in 2001, two decades ago, the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation was legally “born”. You should look it up - your birthday. Like births in general your conception began some time before as a spark that grew and matured into an entity few could have foreseen even on the day it became official.
Where were you two decades ago?
I was the happy teacher of a grade one classroom who took care of a small elementary school library, preparing to enjoy the golden years of my career. No glimmer of the transformational event taking place somewhere in Edmonton and its impact on me.
I caution you, as you read on, because the following reflection is full of superlatives. I am a lifelong sceptic and suspicious of superlatives. That characteristic does not keep me from passionately championing things I believe in. The creation of the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation changed my life; changed my understanding of the nature of educational possibility; made me a true proponent in the power of engagement and inquiry to teach and all without ever imagining it could.
What was imagined for the EOCF was that it would be possible to harness the amazing power of interest in this city in a hockey team for the good of the community.
I connected recently with some of the EOCF birth attendants to reminisce.
Patrick LaForge knew the power of hockey and a city’s relationship to a team from his previous work and brought that to his role to imagine a new relationship between the Oilers and the City of Edmonton. He tapped a lawyer, Doug Goss, to help complete the paperwork and be the first chair. Then he hired Gillian Andries, a woman with significant community engagement experience, to begin the process of making the vision and mission of a Foundation real.
The following year, 2002, the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation entered my life.
You came looking for a teacher.
Gillian Andries brought with her a knowledge of an educational program concept: week-long, site-based, inquiry. Bring a class of students and their teacher to a learning rich environment every day for a week, support them all year in a quest to connect the curriculum with a “laboratory” and experts to see the science, math, history, civics, art and language of that place and their experience. Collect it all in the pages of a blank journal.
This approach was already beginning to work learning-magic in Edmonton spaces like the Zoo, the Royal Alberta Museum, Fort Edmonton and the Alberta Legislature but not an NHL hockey rink.
How could that work?
Gillian said the EOCF needed an experienced educator, “teacher eyes” to see the possibilities, make the connections, sell the interconnectedness of the real world and curriculum.
When the Edmonton Public School Board agreed to be a partner in the venture by allowing the secondment of a teacher, I think even they were unsure it could be done. When they advertised the position the hockey-playing, kindergarten teacher across the hall from me said, “This sounds like you”. I am confident few could anticipate the ripples of that chance spotting of a job posting miracle for me.
“They are not looking for me’” I said and my slightly contrary nature caused me to apply. A soon to be 50 year old woman. At the interview, the “assignment” was to create, in one hour, a set of curriculum related activities that might use the Coliseum.
“Can I connect anything about hockey and the rest of Northlands as well?'' I asked.
“Sure” was the reply.
The genie was out of the bottle and I did not know I had rubbed it.
The rest as they say is history.
I was hired to do my dream job. It had not existed before I began.
Since then, I estimate Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation has “engaged” over 400 different classroom teachers and well over 10,000 students in a learning practice that delivers curriculum deep into brains.
The diverse and varied skills of 3 seconded teachers, myself, then Diane Gurnham and now Cheryl McLeod have facilitated a much deeper understanding of hockey, team and the world of work necessary to make those concepts live in a way most adults do not possess. All this typically in minds not necessarily mad about hockey when they begin.
Over the years, ICE School coordinators have worked collaboratively with other site facilitators to grow the number of learning rich environments that welcome classes this way by participating in Inquiring Minds Edmonton.
The Foundation has had 3 directors: Gillian, Darryl Lindenbach and Natalie Minkler. ICE School has been supported by all 3.
The ICE School classroom moved from under the seats of the third level of the Coliseum to a beautiful, custom designed classroom on the sunny south-west corner of Rogers Place. In the face of Covid, the program made a successful transition to supporting inquiry and learning virtually.
As happens with the passing of two decades, there are now in ranks of teachers in Edmonton, ICE School student alumni.
While working since my retirement, to record the history of Inquiring Minds Edmonton, I interviewed a young teacher who was a Grade Six student in the second year of ICE School. To this point in her teaching journey she has applied for and brought classes to several different Inquiring Minds programs over her career: City Hall School, Zoo School and yes ICE School. She shares her personal ICE School journal with each new class and talks with reverence to them about the wonders they will experience and record in their own journals.
And yes, I cried when she showed me that treasure, told me her path. I am crying, even as I write to share this with you.
When you celebrate, I hope you do it in many different ways. What the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation has accomplished in two decades of community engagement will be easy to add up in the dollars you have channeled to the many excellent and deserving organizations you support. Those dollars testify to how you are “using your powers for good” which is something I love to Tweet about you.
I am so happy you were born. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, for what you did for me and the transformation of learning opportunities for children here in our community.
As a Foundation, continue to walk the talk of your vision and mission.
You are the very definition of Community Engagement.
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Desmond Tutu
With great affection,