Alumni associations are routine at high schools and universities, but a Burnaby elementary school hopes the concept will help it reconnect with grads from the past half century.

St. Francis de Sales Elementary School, which is marking its 50th anniversary, has launched its own alumni association, a relatively rare development for schools that teach only to Grade 7.

“It really is brand-new. I haven’t heard of any elementary schools doing it,” said James Lota, a grad of 1991 and a member of the association.

According to Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese (CISVA), a few local schools do have official or unofficial alumni associations, but it’s hard to tell exactly how many, and few exist at primary sites.

Lota is happy about the new development, saying it’s a good chance to reconnect with old classmates. “It’s like coming home,” he said. “The community was just as I remembered it 30 years ago.”

In fact, he was part of the push to get the alumni association going. The school’s 50th anniversary presented the right timing to reach out to the wider community, he said, and the aging school might benefit from a few more people coming out to fundraising events, too.

St. Francis de Sales Elementary school.

Brian Power, who graduated from St. Francis de Sales long before Lota, also has fond memories of the school.

St. Francis de Sales was built in the early 1960s, but suffered significant damage in a fire. Power remembers watching the school being rebuilt in time for the first day of school in September 1968.

When it first re-opened, the school had novel “open concept” classrooms where students could overhear what was going on in other grades, presumably so they could learn from one another. By the time Power started attending the school, a few years later, the experiment was over. It was too distracting, it turned out. Partitions were put up and, later, permanent walls added.

But launching an alumni association, another novelty, “could only be a benefit,” said Power. “Reunions are always a fun thing to have.”

Leroy Persoon, a grad of 1975, is less sure. While he has stayed in touch with some former classmates, he believes the alumni association will face a challenge in drawing people in from all five decades of the school’s history.

“We had a really positive experience and those I have kept in touch with are still in the area,” he said. But “I’m not sure how successful it will be for those who have graduated some time ago” or have since moved.

Alumni and friends of St. Francis de Sales school. (Mike Navarro photo)

The alumni association was launched in early 2019. It currently has about a dozen members, but alumni association coordinator Tammy Taurus hopes momentum from the school’s 50th anniversary will boost those numbers.

“Our goal is to get at least 50 alumni to share stories of what St. Francis de Sales school was like when they attended, so we can share with current and future students,” she said. “We want to memorialize the stories from previous alumni to pass down to the future generation.” 

She calls it the “Power of 50.”

More information is available at the SFDS Flames Alumni Community page on Facebook.