Need directions to a classroom at Montgomery School? No problem — just follow the signs. Head north on Darwin Drive, hang a left at Banting Avenue and you have arrived.
As a centre for science excellence and home to the school division's Grade 8 ScienceTrek program, the hallway street signs at Montgomery that honour scientists such as Da Vinci and Galileo are a fitting part of the school atmosphere.
But when staff and students took a closer look last school year at the list of legendary scientists represented, there was a glaring omission.
"We looked around the building and asked the question about how the building speaks to the devotion to science. We looked at the names and all of them have one common factor — all of them are men — and, with the exception of David Suzuki, all of them are dead," said vice-principal David Crowell.
"When we think about encouraging a much more diverse understanding of what the world looks like then that world view should not just be a very narrow focus. It got us thinking about who else could be on the wall."
That sparked conversations with students about female scientists who could be recognized. Suggestions included physicist and chemist Marie Curie, medical biophysicist Sylvia Fedoruk, Dr. Donna Strickland who won a Nobel Prize for her work on touchscreen technology, and primatologist and anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall.
"A Grade 8 student took it upon herself to find the address for the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada and she sent a letter," Crowell said. "We promptly forgot about it and moved on with our conversations. Lo and behold, she shows up excited to school in mid-April and she had received the letter back from Jane Goodall."
In a handwritten reply illustrated with a drawing of a chimpanzee, Goodall shared how, as a young girl, she dreamed of going to Africa to live with wild animals and write books about them.
"I never thought of being a scientist. No girl, I was told, could do anything like that. Women simply did not become scientists back then. It was my mother who told me I'd have to work hard, take advantage of opportunities and NOT give up," Goodall wrote.
The result of the letter and Goodall's response was last fall's dedication of Dr. Jane Goodall Way, which leads students out to the school's park and playground area. The addition of the street sign ties in nicely with the quote from Goodall that visitors see when they walk through the front door of the school: "Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference."
The addition of a new sign is one of the things the school is doing to strengthen the connection to science. The presence of the ScienceTrek program plays an important role as does the school's makerspace lab and the opportunities offered to students through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) learning.
With a fresh list of suggested scientists that the school might choose to recognize, there are likely more naming opportunities in the future for Montgomery School.
"The plan is that once a year we will populate a little more," Crowell said. "We can name all kinds of things . . . and create a more rounded view of what excellence in science look like."