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Students collect oral history of Surrey schools

Elgin Park Secondary class interviews retired teachers.
Elgin Park Secondary Grade 10 student Christa Andersen with Peggy Hansen last week

Grade 10 students at Elgin Park Secondary got an insight into local history last week – but not from the usual viewpoint.

The students, hand-picked by teacher Carolyn Pedersen, were interviewing members of the Surrey Retired Teachers’ Association on their experiences on teaching in Surrey from the 1940s to the 1990s.

It’s part of an oral history project the association’s Heritage Committee is undertaking with the support of a federal New Horizons For Seniors grant.

Some 10 recorded interviews were done in the school library Oct. 2.

“We’re hoping for a total of 40 interviews over four sessions,” committee member Alice Tiles said.

“We’re trying to have them downloaded and put on CDs, and hopefully transcribed.”

The former teachers who discussed their experiences in a morning session ranged from Peggy Hansen, who started her career with the school district in 1945, to Lloyd Foncier, who described how administration of schools changed from the early 1960s to the present.

It’s an area of local history that hasn’t been thoroughly documented, and it’s disappearing as fast as old schools are closed and the resource of veteran teachers diminishes with each passing year, committee member Karen Sucheski said.

“We thought it was really important to get the project going,” she said. “We lost two retired teachers last year that we really wanted to interview.”

Fortunately, the 800-member association is not neglected by the school district, Tiles said, adding that they have been given the use of a classroom at the decommissioned Grandview Heights Elementary.

The students did a great job of interviewing them, the retired teachers agreed.

Foncier said his interviewer, Rachel Wang, “asked good questions and great followup questions.”

Wang said she was surprised to learn that provision of kindergarten is a comparatively recent development in the school system.

“I always thought that was around for a long time,” she said, adding that she was also surprised to find out that Surrey schools once offered open-area learning, which provided many more options for specialized courses.

“I didn’t know that was possible,” she said.

“It was done in the early ’70s, but less so now,” Foncier said.

“I don’t think there’s the emphasis on it there was – it was demanding of teachers.”


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