It was a birthday party to remember for T.M. Roberts Elementary students on November 30. There was cake, party games and face painting, but perhaps the best part of the entire event was pulling the lid open on one of the school’s time capsules.
Cranbrook’s largest elementary school celebrated its 50th anniversary last week. The school celebrated with the ultimate children’s birthday party, but it acted as a reunion for former staff, both retired and still teaching in Cranbrook.
The event came about thanks to Dave Humphrey, former principal of the school in the ’90s, and a local historian. He was of course in attendance along with other long-time staff members. Humphrey generously donated a staff jacket from the school’s 30th anniversary to put in the new time capsule being created by students this year for the 100th anniversary of the school.
Aldo attending were Superintendent of School District 5 Bendina Miller, trustees Trina Ayling, Gayle Brown, Olivia Bessanger and family members of the school’s first Principal, Jack Allen.
The students got a special message from recently departed principal Jason Ludwar, who provided a video message to wish the school a happy birthday.
Students pulled out a number of items from the time capsule including a paint set, an issue of the Cranbrook Daily Townsman dated December 10, 1973, a toothbrush and other school supplies. Each item had a note attached to it.
The students took particular interest in a penny that was removed from the capsule, as the Canadian Mint has announced this year that it will be phased out of circulation.
Jack Sandburg, who was the school’s first Grade 5 teacher when it opened in 1962, said the school has gone through many changes over the years. He remembers starting out at Amy Woodlands Elementary for the first 10 weeks of the 62/63 school year when the T.M. Roberts building wasn’t ready yet. The schools split their time in half, with Amy Woodland attending in the morning, and T.M. Roberts students in the afternoon. Sandburg said the switch over at lunch time was a bit hectic.
“Teachers were eager to get in because we had to get our chalkboards worked on,” he said.
When the students finally got into the T.M. Roberts building ahead of the official opening, Sandburg said painting was still underway, but the construction crews were careful to create a quiet workspace for the students.
“They did very little in the classrooms when we were teaching,” he said.
One big change that Sandburg remembers is that there were no class size limits. His first Grade 5 class had 42 students. But discipline and expectations were different, and Sandburg said it would be comparable to what teachers see today in their classes.
“The boys and girls were so well behaved,” he said, noting in that regard things haven’t changed, but demands on teachers have increased. “There’s just as many nice girls and boys as there are now.”
Karin Robinson, who taught at T.M. Roberts in the ’70s and still teaches Kindergarten, agrees.
“We have way more needs that we have to meet,” she said.
Every Christmas, T.M. Roberts would put on elaborate Christmas concerts and drama productions. Sandburg said he misses those theatre shows, and wishes they would have continued.
“I think we’ve lost something there,” he said. “It was an awful pile of work, but worth it.”
The school was originally only eight rooms, and over the years it expanded to the back. Robinson remembers two portables being placed outside the school before the expansion took place.
The gym doubled in size and the playground equipment changed as safety regulations did. Before the most important pieces of playground equipment were the baseball diamond, see saws and soccer pitch.
Robsinson said the computer lab is of course new, and class size has been reduced significantly over the years. she has also enjoyed the increased training for teachers and professional development days that have been added.
“The five professional development days that we have are so valuable,” she said. “You address the issues of the day, it’s like putting out fires.”
Principals taught every day, and there was a teacher on staff called the “relieving teacher” who stepped in when the principal had administrative duties.
Sandburg said students came from the west side of Cranbrook including Wattsville Road, Jim Smith Lake, Gyro Park and Slaterville. Now T.M. Roberts attracts students from all over town because of the French Immersion program.
For both Robinson and Sandburg, the best part of their careers in educations has been the students they teach.
Sandburg remembers being busy helping students towards the end of class one day, and two older students offering to help de-escalate a bullying situation. They successfully did, taking the bullying victim under their wing.
“I felt really good,” Sandburg said, reflecting on the leadership shown by the students. “It stuck with me for 50 years.”
Robinson said no two days are the same, and no two classes are the same each year.
“Teaching is an adventure every day. You laugh all the time, that’s the beautiful part of teaching. The children are so open and honest,” she said. “The children change, the curriculum changes: I don’t have to move. Every class has its own dynamics.
“It’s a career that I’ve been lucky to have.”