Mennonite Educational Institute
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (October 2012)|
|Mennonite Educational Institute|
Equipping students for life and forever
|4081 Clearbrook Road
Abbotsford, British Columbia, V4X 2M8, Canada
|Superintendent||Mr. Ernie Janzen|
|Principals||Mr. David Neufeld (Secondary), Dr. Heather Smith (Middle), Mr. Shawn Burkinshaw (Elementary)|
|Vice Principals||Mr. Rick Thiessen (Secondary), Mr. Jeff Gamache (Middle), Mr. Brad Knodel (Elementary)|
|Colours||Blue and Gold|
|Enrollment||665 (Secondary), 398 (Middle), 469 (Elementary), (2006/7 figures)|
Mennonite Educational Institute (MEI) is an independent school consisting of four day schools — a preschool, elementary, middle, and secondary school — in the city of Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. Founded in 1944 as a private high school by a group of Mennonite churches, governance, at a board level, is provided by representatives of 14 Society churches.
History of MEI
In May 1944, representatives of fourteen Mennonite churches in British Columbia were invited to a meeting to discuss starting a Mennonite high school. Support for this concept grew very slowly. Only seven churches were represented at the first meeting, and one of these was strongly opposed to the idea. However, at a second meeting on June 5, 1944, representatives from nine churches voiced their support; this group of supporters became the MEI Society churches. At this meeting, Mr. C. Toews, Mr. G. Sukkau and Mr. A. Bauman were elected to go to Victoria to present the plan to the provincial government.
The committee met with Dr. Samuel John Willis, British Columbia's long-serving Deputy Minister of Education, who pointed out the advantages of integration into the public Canadian school system for students of Mennonite origin. Eventually, however, he stated that the government had no objection to the establishment of an independent school, if three conditions were met: there would be no financial support from the government, qualified teachers must be hired, and the English language must be used. In addition, Grade 12 students would be required to write departmental examinations.
However, further obstacles surfaced. Due to wartime restrictions, no building permits could be obtained to erect a new building. On July 3, 1944, representatives from ten churches met to discuss this. It was decided to enlarge South Abbotsford Bible School, allowing Grades 9 and 10 to be offered in the fall. Mr. Isaak J. Dyck of Winkler, Manitoba was hired to teach at a salary of $1,500 per year. Mr. F.C. Thiessen taught as well, and served as principal for the first year.
A 26'x46' addition was hurriedly built onto the Bible School at a cost of $1,500. Churches which had pledged support were levied a $1 per member fee, thereby raising $2,300 to cover the costs of building and outfitting the school with desks, blackboards, and basic library and lab equipment. Student tuitions were set at $80.
Interest in MEI that first year exceeded expectations, with sixty students wishing to enroll. Since some Grade 11 students also wished to attend, a third teacher, Mr. H. Nikkel, was hired. However, the war intruded again, and several of the young men who had begun attending received their conscription notices and were forced to leave.
In order to help the fledgling school get on its feet, all three teachers accepted salaries at 50-70% of those paid in the local school district. The 44 remaining students generated only $3,520 of the $4,200 required for their salaries that year. Despite such a meager beginning, the project continued to move forward.
It was assumed right from the beginning that the Bible school annex was a temporary solution, and discussions about whether the school should be located in Abbotsford or Yarrow continued. Eventually, 2 acres (8,100 m2) were purchased at the corner of Clearbrook and Old Yale Roads, and blueprints were drawn for a six-room school.
New MEI Campus
It was decided that for 1946-47, South Abbotsford Bible School would move to property which had been purchased north of Clearbrook, on the present Columbia Bible College site, allowing the high school to expand into the entire Bible School building until the new facility was ready for occupancy.
The building period appears to have been very difficult. Some materials, such as kiln-dried lumber, could not be obtained due to war shortages, volunteer labour (which was needed to keep the costs down) was not always readily available, and money from churches to support the project was slow coming in. Several large bank loans were necessary and anxiety about the school's future ran high. However, despite setbacks and difficulties, the building was occupied in December 1946, and grew steadily over most of the next 34 years, both in physical size and in student enrollment.
During the late 1960s, student enrollment dropped, largely because of reorganization in the public system which moved Grade 7 to the elementary level and Grade 13 to the college level. The Mennonite community also shifted towards greater support of public education. MEI's building was old and in need of repair, and the facilities it offered did not meet rising standards. Career-oriented course offerings in the surrounding public school district had expanded, but financial restrictions kept MEI's course offerings narrowly academic. Turmoil in the youth culture prevailed across the continent. All these reasons sparked serious debate about whether MEI should continue or whether the public system would better meet the needs of modern students.
Move to current site
In April 1973 several concerned businessmen in the community formed a new society called "Friends of the MEI", with the goal of providing financial assistance to the school in order to expand its program offerings and to renovate or relocate the school building. For the first several years of operation, the "Friends" contributed exclusively to the school's operational budget. But discussions about moving the school to a new campus burgeoned, and in 1976, the Society resolved to begin actively searching for a possible new site. It was the vision and drive of the Friends of the MEI that provided the impetus for relocation to the present site at the corner of Clearbrook and Downes Road; the school moved in 1980. In keeping with the "tradition" of continual expansion, the new school building has already seen two additions: one at the east end in 1988, and another at the west end in 1992. These additions give the secondary school a total floor area of over 70,000 square feet (6,500 m2).
MEI expanded its program offerings beyond the secondary grades for the first time in 1993, with the introduction of Kindergarten and Grade 1. A complete elementary school opened its doors in 1997 on the Abbotsford campus, the site of a former soccer field for the secondary school, and offered Kindergarten to Grade 7. By 2003, this school had 608 students enrolled.
MEI Chilliwack, established in July, 2001, helped the Society address one of their goals for the next ten years — to build a satellite campus in that area. The Chilliwack campus was founded in 1990 and operated under the authority of Valley Christian School. In 2001, the Parent Society of financially troubled VCS released the school so that it could become part of the MEI Society. MEI Chilliwack offered Kindergarten to Grade 9; students of high school age who wished to continue their education at MEI were compelled to travel to the main campus in Abbotsford. On July 1, 2010, the Chilliwack school became independent once again, under the name of Cascade Christian School.
In 2003, construction began on a middle school on Downes Road, next to the secondary school building. In the fall of 2004, the doors to this latest addition were opened, reducing the number of students in the elementary school to 450 by limiting it to Grades K - 5.
The new middle school had 370 students enrolled, with space available for approximately another 100 students. This addition also meant that the portable classrooms could finally be removed. With the Grade 8 classes moved into the middle school, the secondary school's enrollment has been lowered to a more manageable 635 students.
Independent school status and governance
MEI is classified as a Group 1 school under British Columbia's Independent School Act, and as such receives only 50% of the Abbotsford School District’s per student operating grant from the Ministry of Education. The school receives no government funding for capital costs. Governance is provided by a board of directors, consisting of 6 executive and 15 non-executive members elected by members of MEI's 12 supporting churches.
MEI has maintained a tradition of academic excellence throughout its 60-year history, consistently ranking in the top 10% of secondary schools in BC for student performance on provincial exams. Students in Grades 4, 7 and 10 exceed public and private school average results in standardized Math & Academics Reading test and in 2004, MEI graduating students were recognized as a finalist in the Fraser Institute's recognition of Academic Excellence in the province. The school's stated commitment is "the assurance that all MEI graduates are qualified for admission into universities, colleges, technical, and Bible schools." Over 50% of MEI's students complete their year on the school's Honour Roll, and more than 2/3 of graduates move on to post-secondary institutions. The Fraser Institute's 2008 report card on school performance gave the secondary school 8.3 out of 10 and an overall ranking of 31 out of 316 schools in the province.
After adding basketball to its academic offerings in 1946, the school has attained excellence in a number of sports, hanging BC Provincial Championship Banners on the gym wall in basketball, volleyball, tennis, and golf. Individual MEI athletes have also won gold at the high school swimming and track and field championships.
- "Overview of Independent Schools in British Columbia". Bced.gov.bc.ca. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
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- "Programs - Academics". Meisoc.com. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
- "School Report Cards by Fraser Institute". Fraserinstitute.org. Retrieved 2012-10-02.