– by Jacob Noseworthy
Walker Development Centre, School District 51’s alternative school in Grand Forks, is an incredibly unique school with a long and remarkable history.
Walker Development Centre (WDC) was opened in August 1977 as the Grand Forks Alternate School. It originally began in the basement of the Anglican Church, without even the essentials such as pencils and wastepaper baskets needed to run the school.
It all began with the first two staff members: Diane Thome, the child and youth care worker, and Ted Roberts, a social studies major fresh out of university as the teacher.
After three years, Roberts left and was replaced by Keith Farnsworth. In the mid-1980s, Farnsworth swapped with Fred Walker, and Walker joined the alternate school while Farnsworth moved to the high school. With Fred as the teacher, the school was able to move from the church to the converted band room across the street from the school board office, which is now the district tech building.
After teaching at the alternate school for many years, Fred Walker passed away in December 1990 from a heart attack. He continued teaching up until the day he passed, and was mourned greatly by the students.
Thanks to an entirely student-run movement, the students made a presentation to the school board asking for the school to be named in honour of Walker. Shortly after, the name was changed to the Fred Walker School.
The fact that the students of the school entirely orchestrated the name change was a major testament to how much Walker meant to them.
In 1992, the senior school was moved next to the Yale Bridge in the current Happy Days building. The school taught students from Grade 10 to 12, adults, and eventually expanded to include a distance education program teaching from kindergarten to Grade 12 and adults.
Part of the move included meetings between Superintendent Denny Kemprud with students to learn what they wanted and needed for their education and to discuss the future of the senior program.
Unfortunately, by the mid-2000s the distance education program was found to be unfeasible and was shut down. Despite this, the junior program, which still operated across from the school board office, was moved to the downtown location and became the Fred Walker Learning Centre and taught Grades 8 to 12, as well as adults.
After a few years together in the Yale Bridge location, the school moved to its present location beside the courthouse and changed its name to Walker Development Centre, which it remains today. As of 2008, WDC taught kindergarten to Grade 5, as well as the program from the past location. By 2010, Walker became what it is today, as the K-5 program was shut down, and the school became Grade 8 to 12 and adults again.
Today, there are three distinct classes: the morning junior class, the afternoon senior class, and the evening adult class.
Diane Thome, the original child and youth care worker at the school, commented on the importance of the school. “It was my life’s work beyond raising my family and it makes me feel really good that I was able to provide an encouraging positive environment.
“It was special that the school allowed me to work with students outside of the classroom as well as within. We were able to teach them life skills like cooking, shopping, how to get their driver’s licence, about personal care, budgets, mental health, job interviews, drug and alcohol services, so many different things.
“Academic curriculum was an important part of the program but adaptations were provided to meet a student’s particular individual need.”
She also spoke about Fred Walker. “He was a really caring person, and cared about kids outside of school, even having tutoring groups at his house. He was gruff on the surface with a booming voice, but the kids really knew how much he cared. He wasn’t strict, but he had boundaries and the students knew to respect them.
“He had a history in special ed, and was great at math. He was a fabulous mathematician and understood the languages of math. He had a real talent for teaching it, and made kids realize they could do math.”
She continued by adding, “He went to Notre Dame in Nelson, and began teaching in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Up there, the teachers and the principals all helped each other and it was really supportive. When he came to Grand Forks, he taught at Perley, and started bringing Grade 7s to the high school to let them take some courses.
“He also spent a lot of time talking to them one-on-one about outside life and realized there were things going on outside of school too.
“Fred also said, ‘Elementary teachers teach students, high school teachers teach curriculum.’ He wanted to make sure that high school students could be taught with the same care as elementary students.”