Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - December 30, 1974, Lethbridge, Alberta
The Lethbttdge Herald Second Section Lethbridge, Alberta, Monday, December 30, 1974 Pages 11-20 School on inside track at Spring Point colony Story by Jim Grant First of two parts Photos ol Principal Klaus Opatrll and Spring Point Colony School students by Bill Groenen Silence prevails in an atmosphere that carries the mysterious scent of the unknown as the long walk begins. A tinkle of fear chills the spine as the wide eyed faces stare at what might be their next victim. To those entering the scene for the first time, all the faces behind the peasant type clothing and the simple soup bowl haircuts look the same. Teachers who take the initial walk down the aisle between the rows and rows of wooden desks in a Hutterite colony school may suffer such symptoms of culture shock. Their experience could be compared with that of a visitor to a foreign country. Unless they can overcome it quickly, an unpleasant situation can develop that thrives on suspicion each side has for the other and results in an unsurmountable communication barrier between the Hutterite elders and the colony English teachers. Principal Klaus Opatril doesn't intend to become a statistic adding to the already lengthy list of colony teachers who have left the Hutterite schools in a state of frustration. The young teacher principal has spent his whole teaching career, now half way through his fourth year of experience, in colony schools. After spending his first year of teaching in a Vulcan area colony school and the past two and a half years as teacher principal of the Spring Point Colony School, 22 miles northwest of Pincher Creek, Mr. Opatril believes he has found the formula for teaching success in a Hutterite school. STAY ORGANIZED "The secret to teaching on a Hutterite colony is to stay organized" and inform the colony elders about what is being planned for the education of their children, he advises. If the teachers are organized, it is much easier for them to inform the elders about what they intend to teach and the problem of upsetting the colony by teaching the children something they want them to learn or using instruction techniques they don't approve of is avoided. Mr. Opatril suggests some teachers make the mistake of "using the German teacher for classroom control" instead of maintaining dis- cipline themselves. The Hutterite German teacher is one of the elders from the colony whose duties include the combined instruction of German and religion to the Hutterite children each morning in a 45 minute session. He says the colony English teachers can't afford to rely on the firm disciplinary control the German teacher maintains over the students anymore than a classroom teacher in any other school can depend solely on the principal for discipline. CONTRACT SYSTEM Such dependence results in chaos whenever the German teacher or principal is not near the classroom, he explains. Even though the strap is the method of discipline considered to be the most effective in controlling the behavior of Hutterite children, the Spring Point Colony principal says he seldom uses it. "I only use the strap when someone has inflicted pain on he claims. A rock throwing incident was one such discipline case he was referring to. Mr. Opatril, who teaches the upper grades in the two classroom school, and Grade 1 to 3 teacher Bethly Cooper have established a contract system with the Hutterite students. The students are given a specified number of points for good behavior, assisting with work in the school and for academic achievement. Prizes have been established for the accumulation of points. The older students are given extended recess breaks and the younger students are rewarded with items such as chocolate bars. POSITIVE ATTITUDE While principal Opatril's communication channels may be the major reason he is able to use materials and methods forbidden in some other colony schools, he is the first to admit that his task would be much more difficult if it weren't for the positive attitude the Spring Point Colony elders hold toward education. They are more lenient in their restriction on age and the type of teaching aids that are used for instruction in the school, he says. The students of Spring Point Colony school don't have to quit school the day they turn 15 years old and they are permitted to begin school at the age of five if their sixth birth date occurs before February. The preschoolers are also allowed to attend the school as observers between March and June in the spring prior to their fall school starting date. Mr. Opatril uses audio visual aides, a method of instruction that is taboo in most colony schools. The colony elders "Don't relish the idea of films" but if they are being used to assist the children with the learning of a certain accepted subject, approval is not difficult to obtain, he says. HUTTERITE HISTORY It is also important for the teacher "to use a little discretion in the choice of audio visual he adds. He is in the process of attempting to convince the Pincher Creek School Division Board to supply the school with an overhead projector for the projection of written material. The board, he says, has co operated with him by not forcing the school to follow the provincial curriculum. The Hutterite children don't understand the history and cultural background of other -areas of the world and even some of the material about Canada in the social studies curriculum for elementary and junior high school grades Is just not appropriate for presentation to Hutterite students, he maintains. The school still teaches the full range of subjects but some of the material is substituted. In social studies, the students are taught the history of the Hutteritg, Brethren and study the problems facing Hutterites in society today. The Hutterite education portion of the social studies course is particularly important to the teacher because the children can contribute to the discussions and relate to what is being said. ACHIEVEMENT Unless "you are able to reach them, they just sit back and let you pour it in and you don't know how much you're getting across." The school hopes to obtain the equipment next year to establish an audio listening centre "to give the children a chance to use" the English language and listen to their usage. "You can't expect them to learn the language as quickly as other children (non Hutterites) because it is a second language to he says. The Hutterite children, he estimates, enter school about a year and a half behind other children in the language skills. However, by the time they reach Grade 8 or 9 many of them are a grade ahead of non Hutterite children in reading and spelling skills. FLEXIBLE APPROACH He recalls one girl last year completing her Grade 9 before she reached the maximum age limit and then studying Grade 10 by correspondence for the remainder of the year. She achieved an A in science and B in English, he said. The girl occasionally now returns to the classroom to assist with the instruction of the younger students even though she has her adult responsibilities to fulfill each day. Mr. Opatril has accepted the challenge teaching in a small multiple grade school offers despite having no formal training in handling the instruction of more than one grade in the same room. He did take some courses on Hutterite education that he credits with giving him some of the background he needed to be flexible in his approach to teaching in what no longer is considered to be a normal learning situation. The individualized approach to instruction in the Spring Point colony school is used by the two teachers. LITTLE HOMEWORK At the beginning of each day assignments are given the students in the higher grades and the younger students continue immediately with their previous day's work. Then, the upper grade students begin working on their own and the teachers instruct the'lower grades and the rotation continues throughout the day. "I plan dead periods during the day where I don't have to direct "any of the grades and the students just "put their hand up when they need help" and they are given individual assistance. Homework is seldom assigned. "Some of them ask to take work home with them" and are allowed to do so if there is "an exercise they need practice he says. Extra curricular activities are limited because of a lack of facilities. Physical education is taught in the fall and spring outdoors. It is replaced by such activities as art and drama in the winter months. Following the tradition established by schools throughout this province, the Spring Point Colony school held a Christmas concert prior to the Christmas school break. The concert was held in the colony church with the Hutterite adults in attendance. While Mr. Opatril enjoys instructing Hutterite children, the number of years he will continue teaching in a colony school are limited. "For the present I am happy to be doing what I am doing. But I am looking at administration in the he says. "If there would be an administrative future with Hutterite children, I would likely continue working with he adds. SWITCHED STUDIES Concluding the interview, he notes that the Hutterite students had switched from one course" of studies to another during his discussion with The Herald at the required time without any signal from him. Pleased with their performance, an ear to ear grin was enough to reiterate a statement he had made earlier. "I can't see children being bad. unless you give them nothing to do."