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News: Thursday, September 22nd, 2022

Irene Kelleher Totí:ltawtxw Officially Opens its Doors

On September 20, 2022, the Abbotsford Board of Education hosted the official grand opening event of Irene Kelleher Totí:ltawtxw, the newest elementary school in the Abbotsford School District. Over 100 guests - including school trustees, government officials, district staff, students, and various community members - were in attendance to commemorate this exciting day, learn more about the building process and the history of the school's namesake, Irene Kelleher.

"Our board is thrilled to welcome students to our newest school in the Abbotsford School District," said Dr. Stan Petersen, Chair of the Abbotsford Board of Education. "Years in the making, our community has patiently been waiting for this space, and the end result far exceeds our expectations. This school will provide endless opportunities and inspiration for our students for years to come."

Irene Kelleher Totí:ltawtxw, located at 2540 Eagle Mountain Drive, can accommodate up to 460 kindergarten to Grade 5 students, and has an additional 88 spaces for childcare on-site. The new school features a modern design, with bright natural light and learning commons spaces that open to the main entryway to create a more welcoming feel. Collaborating with the Indigenous Education Department, Station One Architects and Mierau Contractors Ltd. embedded thoughtful design details throughout the school to connect to the Indigenous Culture.

Principal Shelley Portas couldn't be more excited for the new school as well.

"It's a once-in-a-career opportunity that you get to welcome the first year of students and staff into a brand-new school, and I'm honoured to be here at the beginning to help lay the foundation of Irene Kelleher Totí:ltawtxw's story with this wonderful community," said Portas.

Who Is Irene Kelleher?

Irene Kelleher was born in Matsqui on December 16, 1901. Raised in the Fraser Valley and eventually returning to the area later in life, Irene was a vital contributor to public education in British Columbia and a respected community leader. Born of Indigenous grandmothers and settler grandfathers, Irene Kelleher lived her life in the shadow of her heritage, deeply affected by the racism of the colonial culture in British Columbia. Challenges followed her throughout her education and early on in her career. However, Irene persisted through the adversity and became one of the first people of Indigenous heritage to receive a BC Teacher Certification. 

Unable to get a job close to home, Irene taught across the farthest reaches of the province for almost 20 years in small single-room schoolhouses and remote island communities. In 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, she returned to her hometown of Abbotsford, where she was hired at North Poplar Elementary. Supporting hundreds of students over her career, she eventually retired as Principal of Abbotsford Elementary School in 1964. Irene Kelleher modelled what it means to persevere through a traumatic history and demonstrated how to live life in a meaningful and encouraging way for others. Irene left a legacy of respect, patience and kindness towards her students and peers, which will be commemorated in the history of this elementary school.

Media Contact:

Kayla Stuckart, Manager of Communications
Phone: (604) 859 – 4891 ext. 1206