For the last 12 and a half years, students, staff and visitors to Diamond Jenness Secondary School have been greeted by Germaine Michel, a veritable staple of the school’s culture and one of the first faces everyone sees walking through its doors.
That will soon change. Michel has retired, and despite returning first to replace herself and now to train her replacement, she is very much looking forward to her new freedom.
“I made some good friends there, and there’s a great bunch of people working at DJ, they care for the kids, that’s for sure,” she told The Hub. “But lets put it this way: there’s less stress in my life now.”
Michel came to Hay River in 1988 when Pine Point was closed down. She went back to school with her own children and eventually went on to take a secretarial course. When the Nats’ejee K’eh Treatment Centre opened, she got a certificate in addictions counselling and went to work there for a year.
“I heard there was a position at the school open and I wanted to try out a new environment so I applied and I got it,” she said. “I loved it but toward the end it became a bit much.”
While Michel said she enjoyed the work and loved seeing the students, she said she had to retire for personal reasons.
“I’m going to miss the kids but not signing their late-slips,” she said.
While there is a candidate training for the position this week, Michel’s absence will leave a hole in the fabric of the school’s community, according to staff members.
“Because she’s been in the community for so long, making the connection with students and families has been easier because she knows everyone,” said Kim King.
Vice-principal Tim Borchuk added that Michel has been a valued employee for the better part of 13 years “through thick and thin.”
“She means a lot to this school and we appreciate her,” he said.
Borchuk also noted that he will miss Michel’s habitual goodbye at the end of the day, thanking her colleagues for their work.
Over the years, Michel said she has seen a lot of changes, most notably the many renovations to the school’s building itself. Alternative learning paths like the leadership and resiliency program have greatly reduced the number of students shuffling by her wide desk to the principal’s office for a scolding but she said that in the end the important things don’t change.
“Kids are kids,” she said.
Anticipating her new life of leisure, Michel said she is looking forward to spending more time quilting, an activity for which she has a prodigious passion. She is also contemplating a trip to Las Vegas just because she can.
“I think it’s going to be really good,” she said.
“I loved my work and now it’s time for something else.”