50 years on, Hapnot Collegiate the bedrock of Flin Flon’s education system

Virtually everything about Hapnot Collegiate has evolved since the current incarnation of the high school first opened.

Chromebooks have replaced typewriters. Teaching methods have been tailored to all types of students. And vocational training, sports and social advocacy have become much more integral to the school.

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Yes, after 50 years, dozens of teachers and thousands of graduates, Hapnot remains the bedrock of the Flin Flon education system.

“[We have] tremendous community support for the school and education, and a long tradition of excellence in many areas,” says Hapnot principal Brent Bedford. “The accomplishments of graduates from Hapnot are long and varied, and we continue to have a strong, community-minded staff.”

Formerly known as Flin Flon Collegiate, Hapnot Collegiate opened at its current Green Street building in 1966. The school acquired its name from Hapnot School, which opened in Flin Flon in the 1930s.

Upon welcoming its first crop of students, the new three-storey Hapnot Collegiate became emblematic of a new era in Flin Flon – a time when baby boomers were coming of age and ready to make their mark on their community.

Flin Flon’s population was thriving at the time, as evidenced by the addition of portable classrooms at Hapnot in 1969 and a new wing for the main building in 1973.

By that time, a young teacher named Glenn Smith was early into what would become a nearly three-decade career at Hapnot.

Having moved to Flin Flon from southern Manitoba, he was struck by how engaged the parents of Hapnot students were.

“They wanted their kids to be successful and so they had high expectations,” says Smith. “They believed in the school and they believed in the teachers, and so kids, for the most part, were pretty highly motivated.”

Smith, who later spent 18 years as Hapnot principal, says the school was always innovative in ensuring Flin Flon’s remote location would not hinder students’ readiness for life after graduation and, in many cases, the community itself.

One school-based campaign saw university-bound grade 12 students meet throughout the year to prepare themselves academically and mentally for post-secondary studies. They would even travel to either Winnipeg or Saskatoon to get a feel for the city and visit their future university campus.

“So the culture shock of leaving little Flin Flon and going to university was blunted,” says Smith.

Those types of efforts paid off. Hapnot graduates have gone on to virtually every profession imaginable, with their ranks including medical doctors, university professors, professional athletes, business owners, actors, miners, soldiers, lawyers, truckers, politicians and musicians, among others.

“If you research graduates out of Hapnot, there’s a tonne of people who were highly successful,” Smith says.

“We used to have rates like 70, 75 per cent of graduates were going to university.”

Regional

Though based in Flin Flon, Hapnot was for most of its history a regional school, drawing students from Creighton, Denare Beach and in some cases Cranberry Portage.

As a student, Kelli Blouin made the daily trip from Creighton to Hapnot in the mid-1980s.

“For us, coming from Creighton and going into Hapnot, it was like the big school,” she recalls. “And there was a little bit of fear and excitement as to what we were going to be facing, but it was good. There were all kinds of groups [of students], so you kind of fit into a group.”

Though Blouin moved to Saskatoon by the time she graduated, she has positive memories of Hapnot, from the lifelong friends she made to her time on the school’s cross-country running team.

Tim Babcock, a 1997 Hapnot graduate and current Flin Flon city councillor, grew up within walking distance of the school. He relished the school’s rich music scene.

“My favourite memory from Hapnot is probably playing in the pit band for musicals,” he recalls. “It was a special event that everyone worked real hard to pull together.”

Babcock was also impressed by the array of courses afforded to students.

“You could take courses that reflected your interests, such as band or computer science,” he says. “We had a large graduating class, so we had a lot of options with regards to scheduling.”

Trailblazer

Over the decades, Hapnot has been something of a trailblazer in education. Smith, the former principal, says Hapnot was one of the first high schools in western Canada to introduce computers, beginning in the 1970s.

In the early 1980s, Hapnot was also the first school in Manitoba to organize an annual Safe Grad – a graduation ceremony that provides designated drivers to ensure all students get home safely. The decision followed the tragic death of a Hapnot student in an alcohol-related accident.

Of all the changes Hapnot has undergone, perhaps none is more striking than the decline in student numbers. The school’s enrollment, once as high as about 700 students, now sits at 271 pupils.

The decline stems from Flin Flon’s shrinking population, the 2007 addition of a high school in Creighton and the contemporary tendency toward smaller families.

Fortunately, the enrollment decline has coincided with the rise of online-learning options that have opened up a broader array of classes to today’s students.

Academically, Hapnot remains strong. Bedford, the current principal, notes the school’s students tend to score at or above the Manitoba average on provincial math and English exams.

Artistically, he says Hapnot’s choir and music programs receive recognition at honour choir and band festivals across Western Canada.

And in terms of athletics, Hapnot is dominant in several sports despite competing against larger schools. A walk through the school gymnasium reveals an impressive array of zone banners.

“The school has enjoyed participation rates in athletics and the arts as high as one-third of the school population,” notes Bedford.

Participation is also high in social-advocacy initiatives, including the Equity and Social Justice / Gay-Straight Alliance Club, which was recently profiled in the official magazine of the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents.

In keeping with broader educational trends, Hapnot has in recent years placed an increased emphasis on trades training. Much of the school’s former parking lot is taken up by the Technical Vocational Institute, which opened in 2014.

Hapnot is also renowned for its annual Dinner Theatre productions, where generations of students have sung and danced their way into the hearts of audiences.

Bedford, who has spent 25 of his 26 years in Flin Flon education as a teacher or administrator at Hapnot, believes an organization is only as good as the people within it.

In that regard, he is confident in where Hapnot stands.

“I have had the opportunity to work with many excellent teachers, administrators, support staff and of course students,” he says. “That is what makes Hapnot an awesome place to work.”

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