In the early 1960s in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, a decision was made to place gifted children for Grades 5 to 8 in segregated classes at Brunskill Public School. Children from all over the city were selected for these classes. In each grade, there were generally two of these “special” classes, as they were called, representing roughly 80 gifted children from around the city in a particular grade.
There were no special buses to get the children to these classes. Children used public transit, walked or rode bicycles, or were transported by parents.
The “special” class approach was coupled with a general policy whereby no children were accelerated through grades. This meant that intellectually strong children did not find themselves with social problems in later years, being one or two years younger than grade peers.
The program was regarded as highly innovative for its time, and commenced in 1963 or thereabouts. People from this program who have gone on to distinguished careers include Calgary lawyer Harley Winger, Calgary psychiatrist Michael Trew, Saskatchewan social work leader Jim Walls, International Business professor Neil Remington Abramson, English professor Doug Thorpe, law graduate and internationally renowned artist Rebecca Perehudoff, and senior provincial and federal Liberal David Miller–later Vice-President, Government Relations, for CN Rail.
The program was quite challenging and not everyone was able to complete it. There was one child in grade six who had to leave due to developing ulcers. I left the program in the fall of 1965, in the middle of grade seven, and returned to my former school, Grosvenor Park Public School, as it then was (and, as of 1993, becoming the Islamic Centre of Saskatoon).
I had crashed and burned over a science test. I was twelve years old.
Postscript, October 1, 2011: Another distinguished graduate of the program is Don Wright, currently the President of the British Columbia Institute of Technology. He has a Harvard doctorate and has spend periods of time at Deputy Minister levels in the governments of Saskatchewan and British Columbia. David Miller informed me of Don’s career path. News like this reinforces to me what I vaguely appreciated at the time: what a unique privilege it was to have been learning with these people. Very much a part of who we all are now.
Postscript, October 2, 2011: Another one I now remember is Joey Chertkow. Later known as Joe Chertkow, he was the first of my 11-year old or so contemporaries to share my preference for The Rolling Stones over The Beatles. He became what I thought I might have become, at one point: an expert on banking, financial institutions and related regulatory issues. He became a practising lawyer, also obtaining an LL.M. degree. Here he is, in 2009, advising the Government of Cambodia in relation to its banking sector.
Postscript, November 14, 2011: I was out to lunch with David Miller recently, in Ottawa. He reminded me of two others from our school and our cohort who were part of the “special” program: Nancy Lovell and Naomi Rose. I remembered both, but didn’t associate either with our former school, Grosvenor Park. David also reminded me that there were two classes of “special” students in Grade 5 (Neil Abramson had skipped a grade, and so was in Grade 6) and that I wasn’t in the class that included David, Nancy and Naomi, which perhaps explains why I didn’t make the immediate connection. Nancy Lovell is now a Full Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alberta. Naomi Rose is now the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Ontario Branch of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
Postscript, November 17, 2011: My impression as to a “no acceleration” policy is not entirely accurate. As it turns out, the reason that I didn’t recognize Don Wright, Nancy Lovell and Naomi Rose as being from Grosvenor Park is because all three had done the first four grades in three years, in a program specifically designed for that purpose, rather than explicitly skipping one grade after completing three. They were then a year behind me until we all ended up at Brunskill in Grade 5. Acceleration appears to have been relatively uncommon, nonetheless.
Postscript, November 17, 2011: Another person from that time, and one of the few with whom I reconnected in later years, was Marjorie Clelland. I last saw her in the early 2000s in Ottawa, when she was visiting relatives during the Christmas period. My last memory of her was skating on the Rideau Canal, with my older daughter. Reflective moments cause one to wish to continue the reconnection. Earlier this week, I searched for her on Facebook; nothing. Then I did a general internet search, and found out, to my shock, that she had been dead for over four years. According to the death notice, her sudden death occurred at her residence in July of 2007. A scholarship is now in her name at the University of Saskatchewan, established by the Dean of the Library. The scholarship, reflecting Marjorie’s life and concerns, is “for a CUPE employee in the University Library to attend a conference related to their field of work, such as the annual National Conference of the Canadian Library Association (CLA).” Marjorie was noted as having been born in 1954. To my surprise, she was one year younger than most of us, and therefore, like Don, Nancy and Naomi, one of the very few “accelerations” in the Brunskill cohort. She took a different path from many, becoming associated with the University of Saskatchewan Library following university graduation, and staying with the library for her entire working career. She became very much involved with union activities, being the Treasurer of her union local for a number of years. I spent some time with her in Saskatoon when I was visiting there in the 1980s. She was an obsessive reader, as was her roommate. If they had read all the books in their apartment, they would start reading catalogues. For a time, she was working at the Law Library. Watching the law students go by, of whom she could have been one. Mentioned how she wasn’t impressed with their pride. Didn’t mention (but I will mention) that, intellectually, she could have run rings around most of them.
Postscript, January 5, 2012:: I have tried to find out a bit about the history of the program, as noted here.
Postscript, January 5, 2012: One of the members of the cohort, with a greater appreciation of the program’s history, has recently written to me, pointing out that the program was also conducted at certain points at the Victoria School in Saskatoon; Brunskill was not the exclusive location.
Postscript, October 8, 2012: I thought I was going to be in Saskatoon with Neil Remington Abramson last week, hoping to see Nancy Dill for the first time in nearly fifty years. Didn’t happen; maybe will happen at the time of the Junos in Regina in 2013. Nancy was also in the class. She is now the Program Head of the Early Childhood Education and Educational Assistant Program at the Kelsey Campus of the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology. Perhaps more than most, she has been able to apply the lessons learned from the “special class” to future generations. She is also active in Grosvenor Park United Church, which I knew as the church of my mother, brother and sister, in the context of the mixed marriage of my parents. Also the Boy Scout location for the neigbourhood; no concept of “Catholic Boy Scouts” at the time, or any such concept that my parents would tolerate. My father was one of the parent Boy Scout leaders at Grosvenor Park; we were there together, weekly.
Postscript, October 9, 2012: Seeing Nancy Dill again would have bridged a forty year divide, rather than fifty years. The same period of separation prior to reconnecting with Neil Remington Abramson. I was in Saskatoon in 1972 for the wedding of Steve Carter, now and as of 1995, Judge Carter, and visited Nancy at that time. I remember a particular kinship in that Steve and I, as well as Nancy, all owned copies of Edgar Winter’s White Trash.
Postscript, October 9, 2012: Nancy reminded me of two other distinguished graduates from the program. Mary Ellen Wright became a Judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Saskatchewan. Glenda MacDonald became the Director of the Continuing Pharmacy Professional Development Program at the University of British Columbia.
Postscript, April 3, 2015: I just noticed that in early 2013, Don Wright resigned as President of BCIT, in anticipation of a significant position in government, if the NDP formed the next B.C. government. Since the NDP did not form government, Don Wright went on to become the President and Chief Executive Officer of Central 1 Credit Union, “the central financial facility and trade association for the B.C. and Ontario credit union systems”.