New ABE instructor at Selkirk

Christy Luke has retired from the program she helped develop. Her successor is Spencer Tracy.

Spencer Tracy and Christy Luke.

After 23 years with Selkirk College in Grand Forks, Christy Luke has retired from the program she helped develop. Luke’s shoes will be hard to fill, but it looks like successor Spencer Tracy will be up to the task.

“We work with students who either complete high school or have been out of school for a number of years and want to upgrade and in many cases continue on to college,” said Tracy, the new Adult Basic Education (ABE) instructor and intake coordinator at Selkirk. “They come to us for some guidance on what the prerequisites will be for additional study at another college or university.”

Tracy said the college also caters to those people who want to complete their Grade 12 diploma after dropping out.

“And then there are people who want to come because they have a desire to learn,” added Luke. “Some people want to finish their math. It’s been an ongoing issue and now they want to finish it.”

Spencer said students at the school are all ages from 18 up to their 60s and have all kinds of academic backgrounds. Most of their classes are in person at the college four days a week, Monday to Thursday.

Tracy came to Grand Forks from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories where he had a similar position.

“My wife and I were thinking of relocating and exploring other options,” he said. “We didn’t want to move to a city. I wanted to work at a college. So right away the list was getting smaller.”

Tracy and his wife are very active in the outdoors with hiking and skiing. Friends told him that Grand Forks and the area was great for that.

“To be honest, I had never heard of Grand Forks before,” he said. “I saw a posting and spoke to my friends who had heard of it. They all said ‘you will love it.’ Everyone who spoke said we should give it a try. We’ve only been here two months but we love it.”

Tracy said there are plenty of services available in the region for his wife and their two children.

He says the transition to Grand Forks and the college has been made easy by the help of Luke. “Christy has been phenomenal not only in promoting us but introducing us to people in the community and some of the activities here. My co-workers have been amazing. When we came here we did not know anyone…so that’s been an absolute joy.”

Although Luke has retired, she is still plenty busy. She said she has thoroughly enjoyed her time at Selkirk College in Grand Forks, which came in two parts.

Luke was at the college from 1978-81 and then went off to work for several different television stations. She returned in 1984 and has worked steadily until retiring late last year.

For her retirement party, the college rented the art gallery and 100 people attended. “It was great,” she said. “It was a dancing, crazy night.”

Luke was hired by Selkirk College in 1978 to see if Grand Forks needed ABE. She was then hired on four months later to be the instructor after the program was approved.

“I was hired to do the feasibility study to see if this community needed ABE,” said Luke. “I was actually the first ABE person hired here to do the feasibility study and that morphed right into the ABE program.”

Luke said teaching with the ABE program was a dream job for her. “You can’t get very many jobs that are better than teaching,” she said. “The best students are the ones that want to be here. No one forces anyone to come here, unlike at the high school. Any student that’s here is here on their own steam and that makes all the difference in the world.”

Luke said it was very satisfying to help adults find education paths that get them on their way towards a rewarding career.

There have been many changes over the years at the college, she added. She says there used to be more older Doukhobor students, who really jumped on being able to upgrade.

“We used to go for coffee at the Yale and they’d bring apples and jams and pies and it was wonderful,” said Luke. “Somewhere in the middle (of my time at Selkirk) it became more focused about getting funding for people so they could get training for jobs.”

Luke said they are dealing with more young people although they still have the older crowd that come.

“They’re mostly in their 20s or late teens,” she said. “They’re going for their prerequisites; into trades; into health care aid; into community support worker. Those are our really big goals that we are helping people get into.”

They also help students upgrade their transcripts so they can move on to universities.

Luke said upgrading computer skills was popular a few years back but now that everyone has grown up on computers they don’t necessarily need to learn programs since they already know popular ones such as Word or Excel.

“That push seems to have backed off a bit,” she said. “I just assume it’s because we have younger students (and they already know it.) They could be teaching us.”

Just because she loved her job doesn’t mean Luke isn’t looking forward to retirement. She just might find herself even more busy. First up for Luke is a six-week stint house sitting in Victoria followed by a trip to Bali in April.

“Apart from that I’m all about the garden,” she said. “I want to become as self-sufficient as possible. We’ve got a nice little garden space that has been created but not yet planted. When I get back I’ll be really busy planting gardens.”

Luke said she also plans to put a lot of energy into the community through volunteering with the agriculture society and the learning garden at the recreation centre.

“I want to help bring agriculture back in this area as a way for people to make a living and attract young people and start to put us on the map,” she said. “We have the most sunshine of any community in B.C. We’ve got the history; we’ve got the fields; we’ve got the expertise. I think all we need is imitative and focus on developing that.”