Ten Great Years!
MH Vicars School of Massage Therapy is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2012, but the real story of the school goes back even further.
For years before she opened the school, founder Maryhelen Vicars had been considering a career as a massage therapist. She had been freelance writer and editor for almost 20 years, working with magazines, businesses, and government departments. But as she gradually became less satisfied with her career, she began researching massage schools and talking to therapists about their training. In 1998, she finally took the plunge and enrolled in a massage program.
Maryhelen's story mirrors that of many MH Vicars students. Most of our students come to massage therapy as a second career or after being out of the workforce with families, and most of them have been thinking about it for quite a while before they come to us.
But unlike the vast majority of Vicars grads, Maryhelen didn't go on to work at a spa or clinic or open her own practice. Unsatisfied with the education she had received, she decided to open the kind of school that she wished she could have attended.
"I went to a large community college, then a small independent-study college, and I was disappointed by the experience at both," Maryhelen says. "The way the classes were run had nothing to do with what we know about the way adults learn, and I found that the quality and presentation of the material was very uneven.
"So even while I was still in school, I began to think about how it could be done better."
Maryhelen wanted a way for adults like her—with families, responsibilities, and valuable life experience—to be able to go back to school without disrupting their whole lives. At the same time, she wanted to offer a curriculum and skill set that was equal or superior to that offered by conventional colleges.
So instead of starting her own practice, Maryhelen started consulting with experts – adult education specialists, curriculum development professionals, and of course, other therapists. She had worked in adult education already, teaching communication skills to government and industry groups, so she knew where to start.
"I discovered what needed to be written and what had to be done, and found the best possible people to do the things that were beyond my own skills," Maryhelen says. "I found people with specific knowledge in massage therapy education to help develop the curriculum, and I found people who were experts in designing education programs for adults.
"The teachers we hire all have success running their own massage businesses as well as experience teaching massage – I think it's important that the classroom is informed by the instructors' experience in their own practices."
The school opened its doors in Edmonton 2002; but they weren’t the same doors today's students are familiar with. The first classes were monthly, and included students not just from Edmonton but all over Alberta and Saskatchewan.
LEFT: Director of Curriculum Linda McGeachy teaches a class in Edmonton in 2005.
These first classes were held in a rented space at the Old Strathcona Community League, while our current airy, colourful home was still under construction.
But there were other, even bigger differences. In the beginning, the school was called the Western School of Remedial Massage, until confusion with a similarly named Saskatchewan college led us to change our name to the MH Vicars School of Massage Therapy after only a year.
The Edmonton school moved into the current space on Roper Road in September 2003, and introduced weekly classes the same year.
After only a few years, the school was doing so well that it was time to expand. In 2006, the first classes began at the new Calgary campus. The Calgary school made MH Vicars' independent-study approach available to students in southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and southern BC.
RIGHT: Our official school dog, Paddy, was a familiar sight around the Edmonton school, adding to the calming atmosphere in the office.
|ABOVE: We spent several months turning a drab office space in north Calgary into the bright and cheerful space our students now enjoy.|
The staff has grown along the way as well. What started as Maryhelen and administrator Alida Flynn researching school regulations and recruiting students in Maryhelen's crowded home office became a two-person operation on Roper Road, and gradually developed into a hard-working team of four full-time office staff and more than a dozen instructors spread over two campuses.
In 2010, Maryhelen decided to take a step back from day-to-day operations of the school. She is enjoying her semi-retirement on Vancouver Island, while trusting Executive Director Roberta Brosseau and the rest of the staff to help MH Vicars School continue to grow, and produce even more amazing massage therapists.
LEFT: Maryhelen and Paddy enjoying their retirement in Vancouver Island's wine country.
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