A Phoenix rises as a new school opens

Last week I was honoured to be invited to the official opening of the Captain Nichola Goddard School in Calgary. Located in the North Central community of Panorama Hills, the school is currently home to 560 students, with the capacity for up to 1000.

The children of the school voted on the phoenix as the animal to represent their school. The school opening event began with a student performance about the symbol of the phoenix: a proud, honest animal who rises from the ashes. The ashes represent the school’s namesake, Captain Nichola Goddard, the first female Canadian soldier who was killed in combat. She was killed in Afghanistan on May 17, 2006.

Nichola’s father, Dr. J. Tim Goddard,was my Ph.D. supervisor. Like his daughter, and the rest of the family, Tim is an inspirational leader. With both feet firmly grounded in reality, Tim’s jovial personality is complemented with wit, hope and a no-nonsense approach to life. Even though he has worked in various high-level administrative positions at different universities, such as Dean and Vice-Provost International, Tim is just as comfortable kicking back and watching a game of rugby. He wears his suits with ease, but whenever he sits down, you can see his trademark quirk  — brightly colored socks with a pattern. (On the day of the school opening he was wearing yellow polka dot socks.) Tim’s socks serve a reminder not to take life (or ourselves) too seriously.

After Nichola was killed, her parents and sisters set out to do what they do best… use the resources they have to make the world a better place. They began the Nichola Goddard Foundation, from which they do international work, as well as support scholarships for university students. One of the elements of Tim’s leadership that I have always admired is his ability to leverage resources that he can’t control. Through the foundation, he partners with the Light Up the World foundation on the collaborative Light Up Papua New Guinea project. The project aims to bring solar-powered LED lights to medical aid stations throughout Papua New Guinea. The project makes medical treatment possible during the hours of darkness in regions where there is no electricity. This has a particularly powerful impact on women giving birth during the night hours, as it means that the medical workers can ensure the safety of both mother and baby during the birthing process. The location of the project is significant. It is where Tim and his wife Sally met and where Nichola was born.

During Tim’s speech at the school opening, he shared that the Light Up Papua New Guinea project has now helped two million people in that country.

The students of the Captain Nichola Goddard school are highly aware of their school’s namesake. Her photo is posted in the school and the students know her story. They also know about the good work being done by the foundation that the family has set up. One of the most touching moments of the school opening was the presentation of the cheque from the school to the foundation for over $4000. The students raised the funds themselves through the sale of baked and hand-made goods, as well as a donation campaign they called “nickels for Nichola”.

Logo Captain Nichola Goddard SchoolThe school has been open since last August and its inaugural students are about to finish up their first year of studies at the school. The official school opening date was symbolic. The school had its official opening ceremonies on the Nichola would have celebrated her 33rd birthday. A Phoenix rises.


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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