Division News Article

Westlock Elementary – Where everyone is welcome

January 29th, 2020

This year we are publishing a series of stories about our schools. Read them all here.

École Westlock Elementary School (WES) provides students from the town of Westlock and surrounding areas with an incredibly caring and welcoming place to learn. The teachers and incredible support staff work in unison to create a culture of learning accessible to all students. With its tight connection to its namesake community, Westlock Elementary is truly at the heart of the community. We sat down with Principal Pierre Ouimet and Associate Principal Amber Monteath to hear more about how their team works together.

Principal Pierre Ouimet says, “We have an amazing staff of about 50 people who work tirelessly every day to support students. We believe that creating the best possible social-emotional experience for all students leads to a better learning environment for all.” To achieve this, the school focuses on building relationships and embracing diversity, as well as giving back to the community.

A foundation of positive relationships

The staff at WES believe that creating opportunities for students and staff to interact outside of the classroom helps to build and maintain relationships needed for learning inside the classroom. Some examples of this are the school-wide game days where all students and staff participate in a game such as ‘Capture the Flag’.

Another example is the WES version of the Heritage Classic, now in its 4th year, in which Grade 6 students play an outdoor hockey/ringette game against the staff. “It’s always a really fun event and the whole school gets into it by cheering them on,” said Monteath. Other examples include the air band competitions and singing Christmas carols. In March, WES celebrates reading and everyone works together towards reaching a school-wide reading goal.

Because student-teacher relationships are critical to students’ success, all staff members monitor the social emotional well-being of each student. They pay careful attention to the moods and energy levels of students on a daily basis. Specific data collected from the school’s annual satisfaction survey helps gauge how they’re doing. Ouimet and his team review student responses to this statement: There is at least one adult in this building that know me and cares about me.

While the majority of responses are positive, if even a few students disagree or strongly disagree, Ouimet brings it to the attention of the staff. While student responses are anonymous, he asks all staff to consider why a student might feel that way, and what they could do to change that. Their goal is that every student in WES feels appreciated and that they belong.

Welcoming diversity

One area where the school really shines is their welcoming atmosphere. School staff are so accepting of every student and their family and are ready to support them in every possible aspect, whether it’s speech, behaviour, etc.

Ouimet says, “I think we do a really good job of this—how we welcome and work with every student and family who comes through the door. We know they need our help and we just want to make them feel welcome.”

The school’s motto is “turning today’s challenges into tomorrow’s successes.” One of their greatest opportunities is the increasingly diverse mental health needs of students. Ouimet says, “This is our challenge every day as our student population is more diverse than at any other time in history.” In addition to inclusive models of teaching and the teamwork of teachers, support staff and school administration, the school collaborates with school division student services and local agencies such as Alberta Health Services and the Westlock Independence Network. Together, the caring people of the Westlock Elementary School learning community play a role in the growth and success of every student in WES.

Connected to the community

Westlock Elementary School has been known for their generosity. Ouimet says, “We take a great deal of pride in giving.” Students and staff participate in various charitable activities throughout the year. This year, with the help of former staff member Gail Abrams, students collected $350 for their annual Toonies for Toys campaign. Then Pidsadowski’s IDA Pharmacy matched the donation to Westlock & District Family and Community Support Services’ Christmas Spirit program. This year, the school also collected the equivalent of 1948 pounds of food during their FCC Drive Away Hunger campaign.

“While we are certainly proud of what we give, we are often on the receiving end. So much of what we do is possible because of the people who contribute to our school — the parents, community members, volunteers, local organizations and businesses,” said Ouimet. For example, the school’s breakfast program is viable because of support from places like the Westlock Community Thrift Shop.

“It’s really a two way street – sometimes we give, sometimes we receive; as a result, we’ve developed some really great community connections,” says Ouimet.

Westlock’s elementary school

The most recent census is evidence of the growing diversity of the population of the town of Westlock and the surrounding area. École Westlock Elementary School has embraced this demographic diversity as well as the social-emotional and academic complexity of students. “Turning today’s challenges into tomorrow’s successes” is a motto demonstrated by the heartfelt dedication of the staff and proven by the success of every student. The connections with the community really show that WES is more than a school in Westlock; WES is Westlock’s elementary school.