It’s been nearly 20 years in the making and now the North Trail High School is finally set to open its doors to Calgary students.
With public schools set to welcome learners on Aug. 31, media were given a tour of the new $70 million high school that will finally serve teens in the Calgary communities of Country Hills, Country Hills Village, Coventry Hills, Harvest Hills, Hidden Valley and Panorama Hills.
Aliza Lakhani will be entering Grade 10 at the school this year. The former Riverside Grade 9 student was thrilled to be part of the first students attending North Trail.
“It’s really amazing, all the architecture and the work that’s been put into it,” she said.
“A lot of things are green and new and modern in the school to accommodate new learning styles and I think it’s just really cool. It’s going to benefit the students a lot.”
For many students, the prospect of a long commute to high school loomed. Lakhani was prepped to attend either John G. Diefenbaker High School or James Fowler – a respective 15-minute commute to one and 25 minutes to the other.
Her last school was 40 minutes away and it prevented Lakhani from participating in before and after school activities, she said. She just wasn’t able to get there on her own.
“I think with the new high school being so close, I’ll be able to do a lot more clubs and get to school earlier and do more classes,” she said.
Fellow upcoming Grade 10 student Maya Stewart was looking at a 45-minute commute each day to Crescent Heights High School.
Now her school is within walking distance.
Stewart’s parents were among those who rallied to have the new school built, she said. She’s excited to be a part of North Trail. She loves the new building.
“It’s really open and there’s lots of windows so it’s nice and bright in here,” Stewart said.
“The gym. I like the gym. And there’s a theater here, too.”
Students will bring the school to life: Principal Bester
For the first year, North Trail will welcome Grade 10 and 11 students only. Students will progress from there and the first Grade 12 classes will happen in 2024/2025.
Even though it’s only two grades, they’re expecting nearly 1,300 students. Once you add in next year’s freshmen, it will be at 1,800. That’s already near capacity.
New principal Mike Bester said for a lot of parents in the community, this building is a long time coming. He knows there’s been a need in the area for years.
It’s a big and beautiful building with a lot of great open space, but Bester said that it’s the students that bring the most light to the building.
“It will feel smaller once we get all of our students here,” he said.
“That’s the most exciting part. It is an amazing, beautiful building, but it comes to life when the kids come.”
Bester said the building has tremendous new educational features, too. It’s filled with advanced technology, land-based learning opportunities, natural sciences (with an outdoor, rooftop garden), and a massive learning commons.
One of the science learning leaders, Rachel Gustafson, said the science facilities in the building are state-of-the-art. They have a ton of space and many things that most high school labs in the city don’t have: 3D printers, UV sanitation, fume hoods and cabinets.
“I mean, the opportunity for us to be part of the process where we’re able to actually select materials and instruments that we want to have our students experience has been the biggest opportunity for us,” she said.
“It has just been groundbreaking.”
Home of the Nighthawks
Tim Mo teaches Design Thinking for Innovation at the North Trail High School. He’s as excited as the rest of the staff and students to be in a new, cutting-edge building.
“I think definitely it opens up a lot more options, opportunities for us to use new equipment like this,” he said.
“For us teachers, we are probably conditioned to be accommodating in the teaching tools that we get. So, to be able to use new tools like this is definitely a huge advantage when it comes to the stuff that we can offer to the kids and that gets me super excited.”
Mo teaches, but he also had an interesting additional role to tackle with the school. He helped design the school’s new Nighthawks logo.
The Nighthawks name was chosen through a selection with the community, in consultation with the Indigenous Elders in the area, Mo said. It’s a blue and green motif for the main school logo and a simplified design of a hawk for the school athletic uniforms.
Mo said he has dozens of different design sketches that he made.
“We really wanted to narrow and have a distinct logo for our school,” he said.
“So, we narrowed down to one would be for the athletics – a more simple and modern one – and one for the kind of overarching what the school encompasses.”
Bester said everything’s pulled together for that first day of school. He expects a sleepless night before school starts on Aug. 31.
But then the magic happens. It’s something he experienced only once before, fresh out of university as a brand-new teacher. He was a part of the Lester B. Pearson High School opening in Calgary back in 1990. It’s a career come full circle for him and he’s excited to get started.
“I’m really just humbled to be here, and to have this opportunity,” he said.
“It’s not an opportunity that occurs often in a career.”
The school was built by Bird Construction through Alberta Infrastructure.
After years of community struggle, the building was finally funded in the 2019 provincial budget.