Edmonton teacher remembered for giving children a head start

The family of teacher Aleda Patterson wishes there was a video of the moment this spring when they told her that an Edmonton elementary school would bear her name, in recognition of her efforts to give children a head start in life.

Patterson died on Sept. 27 at age 84.

"I never told her that we nominated her because if she didn't win, I didn't want to explain," her daughter-in-law Tammy Patterson told CBC's Radio Active on Tuesday.

"The look on her face, I'll never forget it. She was thrilled, excited. She called me every day for the next three or four days for me to tell her exactly how did this happen."

And even though family members filled out the nomination form and then responded to Edmonton Public School's numerous requests for more information, the real work that lead to the honour was all done by Aleda, Patterson said.

After teaching in Edmonton for almost 20 years, Aleda and her husband Ralph began splitting their time between Edmonton and Colorado, allowing them to manage a housing division and develop two golf courses. 

While in Colorado, Patterson said, she saw a bus with a logo for ABC Head Start, an early education program for children whose social and academic development was delayed as a result of limited financial and other resources.  

"She had some friends in Edmonton who were teachers and social workers. And as I understand it, she had just had a meeting with the public health people and they were saying that a lot of kids were coming to school for kindergarten really unprepared ... things like not having physical therapy assessments, speech language pathology assessments, things like that," Patterson said.

"So she recruited all her friends that were social workers and teachers and they started off [serving] 10 families in 1984 and today I think ABC Head Start serves over 437 families."

The program was initially funded through a $10,000 grant that one member of the core group had received. 

After that, Patterson founded the Scarecrow Festival, a popular Halloween-themed event for children that took place at Northlands, which became a key fundraiser for ABC Head Start. In about a decade, it raised more than $1 million for that program and the Kids With Cancer program.

Patterson volunteered for the programs — "You know, when you're Aleda's daughter-in-law. You have to help with the charities," she laughed — and spearheaded the nomination process to have the school named after her.

When Aleda's name made the short list, Patterson and husband Wes spent family vacations grilling Aleda about her projects, with Aleda none the wiser about their reasons.

The Aleda Patterson School is the first of its kind for the Edmonton public board — a kindergarten to Grade 3 school in the West Meadowlark.