Beloved teacher leaves $100K legacy for 100-year-old Armstrong school | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Beloved teacher leaves $100K legacy for 100-year-old Armstrong school

Grade 1 student Mayelle Stanley, six, swings from the playground at Armstrong Elementary School, March 17, 2021.
Image Credit: Ben Bulmer
March 19, 2021 - 7:00 AM

A former Armstrong Elementary School teacher wants her legacy to be retained in the old brick walls of where she taught for more than 40 years.

Armstrong Elementary School’s 100th birthday is in September, 2021 and Vernon resident Helen Sidney is donating $100,000 to the school. An official announcement and presentation are still in the works.

“I came to Armstrong in 1943 to teach at that school and it was from Grade 1 to Grade 8. There was no Kindergarten there at that time and I taught there for 41 years,” she said, adding she had to resign and be rehired when she took time off to raise her daughter.

The 98-year-old taught Grade 1 and 1/2 split from 1943 to 1988 before she was forced to retire.

READ MORE: Vernon woman acknowledged for nearly 30 years of picking up litter

Armstrong Elementary School was the first consolidated school in British Columbia and opened in September 1921 as Armstrong Consolidated School on Pleasant Valley Road.

Armstrong’s first mayor James Milton Wright, who served as the chair of the school board when the school was being built, was instrumental in seeing the shift from rural one-room classrooms to a school for all ages, said Jessie Ann Gamble, vice-president of the Armstrong Spallumcheen Museum and Arts Society.

The opening of the Armstrong Consolidated School in September of 1921 (now the Armstrong Elementary School on Pleasant Valley Road).
The opening of the Armstrong Consolidated School in September of 1921 (now the Armstrong Elementary School on Pleasant Valley Road).
Image Credit: Greater Vernon Museum and Archives/ #20825

Today there are families who have seen five generations attend that school.

Principal Corrinne Langston said there are roughly 260 students now attending from Kindergarten to Grade 5 in 12 classrooms.

Armstrong Elementary School, March 17, 2021.
Armstrong Elementary School, March 17, 2021.
Image Credit: Ben Bulmer

The Armstrong school had the first school bus system in the province, as children in rural areas could no longer walk or ride a horse to their one-room classrooms and it meant that students from both town and rural areas would learn together and receive a better education.

“In addition to doing that, they could have industrial arts for the young boys and domestic sciences, or home economics for the girls,” she said.

In September, 1921 the school had 15 teachers and more than 500 students from Grades 1 to 8. The district’s school boards always maintained the building, transforming it from a steam boiler to natural gas, and installing an elevator when the time came, she said.

“It was never allowed to become a derelict old building,” Sidney said.

In 2016, Armstrong Elementary School faced closures due to declining enrolment and lack of funding, but that’s no longer the case.

READ MORE: Armstrong, Silver Creek schools saved from closure

FILE PHOTO - Helen Sidney holds some of the awards she's received for community service over the years.
FILE PHOTO - Helen Sidney holds some of the awards she's received for community service over the years.

Sidney said she practically lived at that school for 41 years.

“I worked in that library as well when it first started. It’s a lot different now than when it started. I took my birdcage with my canaries for the kids to enjoy, my goldfish, the little turtles and so on,” she said. “Before I pass away… I would see that update to that library and see how it functions and enjoy it while I’m still alive."

When the school was first built, there was no gym or library. They were built later in 1971.

Until then, students did exercises beside their desks. A few rooms had sliding doors that opened if they needed a large room for an assembly. Sidney remembers the radiators and the large eight-foot slabs that were used for the furnace to heat the classrooms.

"They opened one window in the basement and threw the slabs inside so it was close to the furnace and of course that steam heat heated our radiators,” she said.

Teaching was one of her lifelong desires, and her students adored her.

“Even today, I meet them all the time.” 

The children would always go to Sidney to help them pull out their baby teeth.

“We had a lot of fun, played together well and we worked hard,” she said. 


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