Waldheim School, community and Mellesmoen combine for ideal fit
WALDHEIM–You would be hard-pressed to find a community and its school more in harmony than in this picturesque, tranquil setting.
Upon entering Waldheim, there is an inescapable sense that this is a place where structure and undeniable pride in ownership are evident among the locals.
Ask Waldheim School principal Bruce Mellesmoen, and he readily concurs with that observation. Beaming with pride at the vibe that permeates the school, there is equally no doubt in his pledge that it is not something to take for granted, “and we don’t want to let that slide. We set the bar pretty high and our kids know that and they work hard to maintain that,” he said, noting that it is exactly like what you would want as a parent.
According to Mellesmoen, the values of this tight-knit community of around 1,000 people are mirrored in the school’s unequivocal commitment to We Know Your Child. If you think that is mere rhetoric, consider the fact that three years ago the school housed 350 students and today it is one away from reaching 400. Translation–word gets around.
“This community really cares about education and wanting the best for their kids, and so there is a really strong connection between the school and the community.
“We have had quite a few new families moving into the town and people returning to their roots to raise their own children. It is a very tight-knit community. I think that sense of respect and caring for one another permeates the building. The majority of the students who come into this office want to talk about credits or maybe about their future. Our kids are extremely respectful and we’re like family: staff and students,” Mellesmoen said.
A self-confessed proponent of mentors, Mellesmoen pointed to the book Softening the Edges written by Katie White, a Saskatchewan-based educational consultant. He indicated that the book and its messages have resonated with him. That connection was strengthened when he went on Twitter to become acquainted with White. That has turned out to be a close connection to the point where he has personally handed out 23 copies of the book at the school.
“She is speaking our language. It’s teacher led and from a Saskatchewan perspective so it is inspiring for sure,” Mellesmoen observed.
Citing specifically the contribution of vice-principal Jesse Reis, who he said he can trust 100 percent in terms of decision making if he is away from the school, Mellesmoen was adamant that sort of trust and genuine interest in what is in the students’ interests is shared among the staff. Ironically, there is an interesting mix among the 21 staff members. There are 14 whom Mellesmoen refers to as “lifers” and then those who might be looking on this as a springboard to a larger centre.
Mellesmoen underscored how the long-time staff members have worked to help make new staff members feel a part of the school fabric.
“Regardless, we all speak the same language. We understand we’re in this together, and I always try to hammer home how important it is that we support each other. One of my jobs is to create other leaders and to provide them with the opportunities to lead because that is empowering.”
Suffice to say, Mellesmoen goes to considerable lengths to move around the building, both for the purpose of supporting his staff and to make sure the students are familiar with him. Hence, the stack of paperwork awaiting his attention in his office.
Whether it is discussing the latest current events with the high school students, or just having the chance to read a story to kindergarten kids, it makes for a fulfilling day for the administrator who is in his third year at Waldheim (he has been in administration 11 years in total).
Mellesmoen is a devout believer in the importance of assessment and collective efficacy, and that is a priority with the entire staff. But it isn’t just about numbers and test scores.
“As a staff we get together in small groups and then all together. We’re looking for common themes and sometimes it can be similarities between age groups that you might not even have thought of before,” he said.
Under the tutelage of Steve Kitchen, the Grade 12 homeroom teacher, and Joanne Lapierre, the senior special education resource teacher, Waldheim has made its transitions class a top priority by wanting to prepare students for life after high school. In future, the plan is to have extra emphasis on financial literacy in the delivery of this elective credit course.
Mellesmoen alluded to the importance of students being prepared for university or the workforce and how to manage on their own. This would include the need for technical literacy so as not to become unwilling victims of the latest scam. Because with social media, you’re often only seeing the tip of the iceberg and not the stuff behind the scenes.
“As I’ve told our kids when you leave here, it can be quite an eye-opener but it is best if we talk about this. Steve [Kitchen], for example, has been doing this for a long time and he knows the questions before they are asked. It can be very beneficial in helping the students understand some of the realities and make the necessary adjustments.”
Mellesmoen, who previously taught transitions in the neighbouring town of Hepburn, said one of the important messages is to talk about prioritizing needs and not falling victim to wanting it all at an early age.
“I tell them that I never had a new pair of skates or golf clubs until I was an adult,” he said.
If you subscribe to the thought that having a varied perspective can be invaluable in a transition program, then Mellesmoen has had more than his share in what he now treasures as a great journey.
Clearly though there were some serious detours along the way and it is highly ironic to say the least, particularly when you consider the chair he occupies today.
In his own words, Mellesmoen struggled in high school in his home community of Watrous and made some bad decisions before graduating with a less-than-stellar average. At the time, it was no big deal because he was seemingly lined up to take over his father’s business. However, his father suffered a heart attack and the business was sold which sent him reeling into a series of jobs that had no real purpose. It was when helping his sister coach a youth softball team, that he was the beneficiary of some insightful sibling advice. It was suggested he should be a teacher.
However, his marks were insufficient to gain entry to the College of Education at the University of Saskatchewan.
Yet in 1994, after seven years out of the school system, he went back to upgrade his marks in what he recalls “was a very humbling experience. I was sitting through the classes with many of the same teachers again, but this time with a completely different attitude.
“The success I felt after that–I just felt like I can do this. I can do anything. It’s like I tell the kids, nothing comes for free but it was life changing for me. It all created who I am today and helped me become a much better person. It’s ironic that a school system that nearly broke me all those years ago is now the same system putting things back together, and I am very thankful for the journey now.”
Armed with that personal experience, Mellesmoen said it has proven highly beneficial in those instances where a parent has called his judgement into question.
“The greatest gift you can give anyone is to provide them with the opportunity to be heard and respected. It can be humbling but also powerful. If I have created a problem, I will own it and we will work it out together.”
It speaks to the poem, The Man In The Glass penned by Peter Dale Wimbrow, which he has posted on his office wall. It talks about how the one person you can’t fool is yourself. Typical of the importance he places on mentors in his life, this was a poem that his greatest mentor, his late father, referred to on a daily basis.
“When I sit back and look at it now, I am just so hopeful of what is to come and I can’t wait. I can’t believe I am sitting in this chair and I still pinch myself, but I know that I’m going to be OK,” Mellesmoen reflected.