It’s 7 a.m. on the first day back to school.
The two long halls of Ralph Maybank School on Donnelly Street in Fort Garry are pristine, squeaky clean.
Flash forward 90 minutes, and the once-quiet front lobby is filled with a cacophony of sound, the unmistakable din of children.
Roughly 175 students from Kindergarten to Grade six attend the cozy school. There are 28 kindergartners, but no other class has more than 22 kids.
Many of the school’s 35 staff members are gleefully greeting the kids by name on this Wednesday morning, complete with hugs and a lot of smiles.
“People used to worry about hugging kids. We don’t worry about that,” explained principal Andrea Leopp.
“The kids run and hug you and high-five you, they’re just so happy to be here. We will just see joy on the faces of little kids. We just relish every second with them.”
Leopp said a healthy percentage of her students come from families that are relatively new to Canada, but those kids have no trouble fitting in.
“You wouldn’t know the difference. Kids are colour-blind. You’ll see kids have discussions about being a Christian and being a Muslim, and they’re in Grade three. It’s a very interesting thing. They’re respectful of each other. Kudos to the parents who are raising their kids to be supportive to all belief systems.”
The normal bell isn’t working, so to send the crowd on their way, one teacher grabs an actual bell and rings it, dispersing the children down one of the two hallways.
While most head to class, kindergartners head down to the gym for a ‘welcome fair’ teacher Cathie Fleming has been organizing for the past dozen years.
“This is a milestone in their lives, and we want them to know that we’re just as excited as they are. We want them to have a sense of belonging,” Fleming said.
“The kids go around and select little tools for learning, and because I feel that parents are their childrens’ first teachers, I want them to pass the baton so I can take over from where they were at, but we’re still a team.”
There are close to 20 tables set up for parents and students to interact with: there’s a nutritionist, a public health table, a fine motor skills station, a spot where kids can have their hearing tested, the list goes on. It’s especially valuable for those newcomer families.
“Our philosophy as a staff is to grow community,” Leopp said. “We try and have as many opportunities for families to come in as we can. We really talk about growing safe schools, where kids feel supported and welcomed. All the good things we do for all our kids benefit our newcomers as well.”