Schurter School turns 50 with social distancing fun

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

With COVID-19, the 50th anniversary of C.J. Schurter Elementary School will be done via physical distancing.

Vicki LaFrance attended C.J. Schurter Elementary School as a child and now teaches there. When she first started, her Grade 2 teacher was still teaching at the school.

Just before COVID-19 happened, she and others were all set to start planning the school’s 50th anniversary celebration. However, not being able to meet in large groups made traditional celebration impossible.

Instead during the week of June 1 to 5, there are various 50s themed ways for students and adults to get involved.

Community members and parents can pick up a fun questionnaire with 50 questions about 50 years of Schurter at the school. The first fifty people will get a free cookbook from the school’s 25th anniversary.

Each returned questionnaire is entered to win some $50 gift certificates to local businesses.

Students get to fill out a bingo card which also has the theme of 50. Ten winners will win a pint of ice cream from Alimo’s Pizzaria.

On Facebook, the school is sharing 10 historic photos a day for five days for people to relive the last 50 years.

C.J. Schurter is a Kindergarten to Grade 3 school with 450 to 460 students. It also has a preschool called ‘On My Way’, which has 20 students.

It opened in the fall of 1969, with Grades 1 to 2, says first principal Lorelli Barbutza. Unfortunately the school building wasn’t ready until January 1970. Until Christmas, the 200 students met in extra spaces at E.G.
Wahlstrom Elementary School. Some of the classes were in the gym and others on the gym stage.

Until the official opening in May 1971, the school was called Slave Lake Elementary School.

The new building was open concept, without walls between the classroom and with carpet on the floors.

When the children say it, says Barbutza. They loved it and wanted to have a sleep over.

In 1969, the staff consisted of Barbutza, eight teachers, and a secretary. By 1982, there were 26 full-time teachers, and 53 staff including teacher’s aids, speech pathologists, and special education. There were 400 to 500 students.
Presently, Schurter has 28 teachers.

Barbutza has many fond memories of Schurter School.

As the building is made of brick, some of the children thought of it as a castle, says Barbutza. One new student called her princess, instead of principal, “because I live in a castle.”

The original school had eight classrooms and a resource room, but only one set of bathrooms.

In 1980, the population of Slave Lake increased. Schurter ended up with a couple of the Grade 3 classes from Wahlstrom, because Wahlstrom didn’t have enough space.

“It was very crowded that year,” says Barbutza.

The next year, the Grade 3 went back the Wahlstrom. The Kindergarten moved into new portable classrooms. Up until then, they had been in a four room school house on the Wahlstrom grounds. This building burnt down.

In the 1980s, the school also added Cree and French classes, and French Immersion in Kindergarten. These classes include cultural components.

Each year, the French class would invite the Cree class to make toffee. The Cree class invited the French class to make bannock.

After the 1988 Slave Lake flood, the hospital moved into Schurter School for the summer, and into the fall.

The medical equipment looked like army surplus from WWII, says Barbutza. When the helicopter arrived to pick up patients, a stop sign was put at the top of the ramp, so the kids knew they weren’t allowed down there. At the time, two babies were born in the school.

Over the years, various famous people have visited the school, says Barbutza. These include scientist David Suzuki, and at the time future Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, when he was Minister of Justice.

C.J. Schurter School in the few months before it was officially commissioned in 1971. Photo courtesy of Aaron Lehman.
C.J. Schurter students at the 2019 Christmas concert.
Schurter School kids on what appears to be a fieldtrip in downtown Slave Lake in the 1990s. Photo from Leader archive.

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