MONTREAL, OCTOBER 20, 2011 – Seventy years following the inaugural “Opportunity Class” at Willingdon Elementary School in N.D.G., graduates are being invited to participate in a reunion on the weekend of October 29th to retrace their steps and see how the experimental class benefited them and their development as individuals and citizens of the world.
The weekend will begin with an evening reunion on October 29 (6 p.m. to 11 p.m.) at Restaurant Antico Martini (6450 Somerled) in N.D.G. and continue the following day with a private brunch. In all, 40 people, including 25 graduates are expected to attend. Only 80 to 90 students were selected to participate during the life of the Opportunity Class.
Willingdon’s Opportunity Class began in 1940 when the Montreal’s Protestant School Commissioners decided to create “experimental classes” at the elementary school level for intellectually gifted children. Dubbed “Opportunity Classes,” two of these opened up at Willingdon to an initial enrolment of some 40 students.
According to the School Commissioners’ Report for that year, the students for these classes were “selected after careful examination from all schools in the Notre Dame de Grace area." The report explained that “special equipment and materials and a greatly enriched curriculum” were provided, and “teachers of superior natural ability and educational attainment were selected.”
Students had moveable desks which were rare at the time and were encouraged to work both independently and in small groups. By the end of that year, "all observers, including school officials and the parents of the children themselves agreed that they are so far fulfilling their objective.”
The classes operated under the same format in which one teacher taught 10 children in each of Grades 4 and 5 in one classroom; another had similar numbers in Grades 6 and 7. Following Grade 7, the students attended high school, where there was some choice of program, but no further special classes. Annual enrolment data shows about 40 students enrolled in these classes at Willingdon School in subsequent years up to 1948-49. In September, 1949, Opportunity Classes ceased to exist.
"The Opportunity Class began the dream for me,” said Ann Morrison Tonks, a student in the Opportunity Class from 1943 to 1948. “ The class introduced me to a world beyond what I knew and am still discovering,” said Ann Morrison Tonks, a student in the Opportunity Class from 1943 to 1948. “I have passed on that dream to my sons and their sons. On occasion I think with dismay: What if there had not been an Opportunity Class?"
For more information, contact Stanley Diamond at 514-484-0100