Globe and Mail

Townsfolk mum about affair

A student-teacher liaison has brought unwanted notoriety to a hamlet in Alberta's oilpatch

JILL MAHONEY
The Globe and Mail
Friday, December 15, 2000

DEWBERRY, ALTA. -- Excitement rarely visits the Alberta village of Dewberry.

But the town's sleepy veil lifted this week, as the sordid tale of an affair between a 25-year-old married teacher and a 17-year-old teen hit the papers. Before the trial -- Jocelyn Jaster was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor and found not guilty on Wednesday -- the whole episode was a bit of a mystery that villagers didn't much care about.

"Nobody around here even knew about a trial. I didn't even know till I read the paper," said deputy mayor Jack Brock. "This is a pretty redneck little place, and they don't talk about those things. . . . You're in an area where everybody protects everybody else."

Indeed, Dewberry, with a population of 185, is deep in Alberta's eastern oilpatch, which provides much of the grease -- money and people -- that keeps the village viable. For fun, people ride snowmobiles in the winter and watch the chuckwagon races in the summer; before this scandal, the community's claim to fame was as "Home of the Largest Chuckwagon."

The big businesses in Dewberry, a former railway settlement about 250 kilometres northeast of Edmonton near the Saskatchewan boundary, are the Massey-Ferguson dealer and the Co-op store. The main street is wide and short, with only nine buildings. The only people you'll see are darting into the Co-op for cigarettes or clustered in the coffee shop. Their huge pickups and sedans are left idling with the doors unlocked on days like yesterday, when the temperature dropped below minus-30.

While the story of Ms. Jaster and her young lover, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, piques people's interest, most don't want to talk about it. You see, nearly everyone in Dewberry is related in some way or another. And in a place like this, it's best to keep your mouth shut, especially when it comes to matters of sex and school and scandal.

The affair was in 1998, running from June until September. Ms. Jaster was a teacher at Dewberry School, a new building at the west end of the village. It has about 185 students, drawn from the trailers and little houses nearby and the farms that dot the countryside.

The petite ginger-haired woman taught the little ones in a mixed class of the first three grades, and the teenager, a tall, strapping lad, was in Grade 11. He didn't much like school and often wasn't there, instead dreaming about playing professional baseball.

The story wasn't known by most of the townsfolk until this week, when they devoured the stories in the big-city newspapers that you can get at the Co-op or looked them up, as the deputy mayor did, on the Internet. "It put us on the map," said one woman, who would give her name only as Judy.

But press Judy, a bookkeeper, and you'll hear a tirade about the role of the boy's mother and father, who knew what was going on. "He had parents in this whole situation who should've been tugging a little harder on the strings," she said.

She gets even more worked up about a $150,000 lawsuit that the teen has launched against Ms. Jaster, the principal and the school board. "If he gets paid one plugged nickel, that is one plugged nickel too many. Why should he get one red cent?" she asked.

Contacted yesterday, the boy's mother would say only that "we'd like to get it past us."

People here say the youth, now 19, is a good kid, and that Ms. Jaster, who is now 28 and studying Web design because her teaching licence was revoked, was an excellent teacher.

"Her students really liked her," said Sharmon Ginther, whose son was in Ms. Jaster's class.

Many Dewberry residents feel that it takes two to tango, and that with only eight years separating them, plus the fact Ms. Jaster wasn't the teen's teacher, it was a relationship like any other.

"Let's face it, you want to get right down candid about it, horny is horny," Mr. Brock said. "That's not an unknown thing, for these little affairs to be going on."

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