School in the Wake of COVID-19

Spring break is almost over in Vancouver, British Columbia.  On Monday, March 30th, for the first time in my life, the doors of the school will not open to welcome students back.  The doors of the school will remain locked.  Students will not return to in-class schooling as per the direction of BC Health officials.  This is completely new terrain for educators, families and students.  Fortunately, we had the luxury of Spring Break.  No one is falling behind. We had the gift of two weeks to consider how we will approach this challenge.  Although educators have been on a regularly scheduled holiday, I know the work ethic of my colleagues.  I’m willing to guarantee that more than one educator is already dreaming about kids, thinking about the days ahead, and creating a things to do list.  Teachers are dedicated individuals who go into the profession because they want to enrich the lives of children.  At this point in the school year, teachers know their students personally and have a good understanding of their individual learning needs.  Teachers will be participating in conversations and online meetings on Monday and Tuesday and contacting parents in the coming week.  Administrators have been participating in online meetings with district staff and dealing with a barrage of email to prepare to meet the most immediate needs.  Our superintendent is communicating online with staff, being interviewed and creating YouTube videos to reassure people that we’ve got this.  At home, there are some basic things that families may find helpful to support their child(ren) in learning at home.

The new curriculum in British Columbia has garnered worldwide attention because it has effectively incorporated current research about learning.  This involves looking at learning through a different lens than what most adults grew up with.  Learning has never been something that happens between the hours of 9 – 3 pm.  The redesigned British Columbia curriculum tries to capitalize on the curiosity of a typical 5-year-old entering kindergarten and put the supports and structures in place for that same curiosity to continue to exist in the typical 17-year-old student in secondary school.  It capitalizes on the role of student interest, self-regulation, and benchmarks to signal a need to loop back for more repetition and practice, or to move on to the next phase of learning.  Learning may be happening for all of the waking hours but “school time” allows for the time for deep thinking and the front-end loading for skill development.  It is not intended to be painful, but it is intended to be deliberate.  Although not all parents are educators, all parents educate their children in one way or another through-out their lives.  Here are some things you can do with your children to facilitate learning at home.

Set up a workspace for school times.

Support kids in setting up a workspace for 9 am to 3 pm.  Currently at home I am taking  up the entire dining room.  Pencils, paper, journal, iPad, plug in.  Have your child make a list of things required.  They are best at “doing school”.  I would encourage one notebook designated for questions.  Questions might be for teachers or for future inquiry projects.  Let the teacher know if there are things you require when you are contacted.

Set up a daily routine for “school”.

Sit down and create a daily schedule with your child.  In my classroom, it was always called The Shape of the Day.  Kids will recognize this process as it is done in one form or another in most classrooms.  Showering, getting dressed, eating breakfast and brushing teeth happen before the start of the school day.  Be sure to build in “recess” and “lunch” breaks.  Be on time.  You could be teaching your child the structure so they can have a successful home-based business in the future.

9:00 am – Review daily schedule.

Make any necessary changes to incorporate Skype calls to interview Grandma, chats with friends about books they are reading, or interesting programming that fit in with student learning.

9:15 am – Online yoga or physical activity to stretch and exercise.

9:30 am – Literacy Time

Children get better at reading by reading.  This may involve taking turns reading with a parent.  It could involve listening to a parent read and stopping to discuss issues and interpretations.  It could be listening to an audiobook and following up with discussion with peers via messenger or illustrating while listening or writing a journal entry afterwards.  It could be writing a personal blog or a story.

10:30 -11:00 am – recess break / Snack preparation by the child and free choice play

Snack preparation is another opportunity for developing literacy and numeracy skills as well as teaching about nutrition and independence.   Let your child participate.  Opportunity for more physical activity.

11:00 am – Numeracy Activities

The type of activities done during numeracy time may involve some skill and drill practice of basic facts, playing store that involves pricing items, paying for them with real money and making change, budgeting for future trip planning.  There are also a number of online options to develop numeracy skills.

12:00 pm – lunch break / lunch preparation by the child and free choice play

Again, children should be involved in the preparation and clean-up of lunch. Go outside for a break while practicing physical distancing of at least 2 metres.

1:00 pm – Project Based Learning

Supporting students in asking questions and developing a plan to find answers is at the heart of Project Based Learning.  Hard questions make for interesting projects.  My children learned early on that they would not be as likely to get in trouble for making a mess if it was done in the name of “Doing Science”.  The question can be as easy as “What kind of bird is that?”  Spring in Vancouver guarantees that kids can look out any window or go for a walk and see several species to make close observations with field notes that include dates, times, drawings, notations, comparisons, and questions to pursue.

Generally big questions cross many different disciplines of subjects which should be encouraged.  Successful learners in adult life are divergent thinkers.  This is to be encouraged.  At this point in history, it is not possible to master all of the relevant content because new content is generated at such a high rate.  We are teaching kids to think about the application of content to answer new questions.

This time can also include outdoor physical activity, as long as there is attention to physical distancing recommendations of two meters from others.  There are also a number of online opportunities to sign up for or follow along on television.

2:45 pm – Make a schedule for the following day and clean up.

In many families, a student workspace may also be a family living space.  Clean it up.  The learning may continue but school is over.

3:00 pm – Home Time

I encourage you to draw lines around “school time’.  My caution is that if ALL time is designated school time, I anticipate you will get considerable pushback from your child(ren).  Take the time to play games together and let your children make personal choices. Limiting screen time will undoubtedly be necessary but brainstorming a list of possibilities is helpful.

Teachers will be in contact with families in the coming week to provide more information.  Teacher communication with families has taken many forms this year.  Some teachers communicate using the online platform My Blueprint or Fresh Grade, while others communicate via a class newsletter and email.

I encourage you to begin with the structure of learning at home on Monday.  The content of work times will change over time with teacher input, but the routine of school will create a predictable structure that will be reassuring to students.  The goal is to minimize the struggles that often emerge during assigned homework times.  If daily school at home is not successful, we have more work to do with our students to enlist their engagement and support.

I can guarantee as educators, we will not have all the answers this week.  I can also tell you that I was emailing a question to a colleague on Friday night at 9:05 pm and getting an instant reply.  Educators are on high alert and doing their best.  They may have pressing issues to deal with immediately and they will have a myriad of concerns that you will not know or understand.  Currently I am waking up in the middle of the night thinking about the welfare of the little salmon that are part of the Salmon Enhancement Program at school.  For some this is a relatively small concern in a myriad of more pressing matters.  For me it matters because my response to my students demonstrates my investment in their questions and concerns.  At the end of the day, we are all directly accountable to our kids.  Our collective task is for “school at home” to be another way to go about learning in the midst of a significant pivot.  It will be an exercise in teaching our kids to be resilient.  I hope we will be working together with our kids to meet their needs as learners and as young people experiencing a historical first. We are all writing our own story. Let’s make it one of creative thinking, collaboration, and victories – big and small.

Back to School

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It is that time of year where I am filled with conflicted emotions.  I desperately want to eke out every possible enjoyment of summer.  The lazy days of summer start to pick up the pace.  I desperately want to maximize reading of fiction, organizing, writing, socializing, exercise and random opportunities into the last days of freedom from responsibility.  The last bit of time before the days spin by and I drop into bed exhausted.  Too tired to read.  Too tired to pick up after myself.  Too tired to want to do anything other than flop down in front of reruns of Modern Family.

And yet, there is also the excitement of a new school year.  The smell of new books.  The seduction of brand-new highlighters and pens, colourful file folders and novel post-it notes.  The promise of a new year with complete organization and balance in life.  People to meet.  Conversations that make a difference.  The excitement of a new year of possibilities.

The good-bye speech from one of my teachers at my previous school, included the story of the teacher calling me to deal with four boys that were wreaking havoc in his class one afternoon.  He came to my office to find them drinking tea and talking about their feelings.  There is always a story and I do love to unearth them!  Facilitating the first steps to calm-down strategies and then moving on to problem solving makes a big difference in student perceptions of conflict and their ability to navigate it.  It’s also the essential piece required for empathy and for relationships to be repaired.  I look forward to facilitating those lessons that have the potential to make long term differences in lives and a kinder and more peaceful world.

I also love the opportunity to collaborate about learning opportunities with colleagues, students, parents, and community partners.  I have been fortunate to work with many strong administrators in my capacity as both a teacher, administrator, and as a parent.  These individuals believed in a flattened hierarchy and they believe in empowering others to assume leadership positions.  I look forward to helping teachers, parents and community partners to achieve ends that benefit them personally while also supporting the school community.

The Vancouver School district has defined a vision of creating a collaborative learning community through a lens of excellence and equity.  As a social justice advocate, equity of opportunity for all students in foundational in my educational philosophy.  As a principal in a new school, I am reflecting on what I need to learn from my new school community.  I will be investing in trying to learn about a new school culture.  I’m looking forward to the opportunity to the activities and conversations that can lead to a common understanding of our culture and define directions to consolidate and celebrate our strengths and the capacity for future growth.

Over the past year, our dynamic superintendent, Suzanne Hoffman, has used the metaphor of the iceberg to facilitate conversations between administrators about the culture in the Vancouver School Board, one of the largest and most complex of the 60 districts in the province.  It has provided a meaningful way to facilitate discussion about culture,  both the visible parts of the culture that are easily observable, but also the larger mass that exists beneath the surface and is more difficult to discern.

I spent most of my career as a teacher in Coquitlam.  When I started to work as an administrator in Vancouver a decade ago, I discovered the challenge of trying to identify and understand the less obvious aspects of culture.   I attended VSB schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12.  I lived in Vancouver until I got married and moved to the suburbs.  I believed I knew Vancouver culture.  And I did know the obvious, exposed areas of the iceberg.  But I had no insight into the less obvious aspects of the culture.

Visiting David Livingstone Elementary and initial conversations have given me some insight into the culture and vibrancy of opportunity at the school.  I look forward to the conversations with the people in the school community to help me develop a deeper understanding to guide my work.  And this part is the most enticing part of back of school.

Who are “Breakaway Learners”?

Sometimes, happenstance or serendipity, or whatever you want to call it, just happens.

Subject line in my overly full email inbox reads:  A seemingly out of the blue email from a children’ book author based in US and living at UBC
The text:   Long story short, I am a visiting scholar at UBC through March 5th and passed your school many times.  I write children’s books — which I have read to thousands of children of all ages and stages (ideal range is 2nd — 5th grades)… Seeing and being in schools and working with children of all ages and stages is what I do — and having been a university president and senior advisor to the US Department of Education, I am ever of the view that the most important education is that which occurs early…  And, for the record, I attach a photo of myself and a short bio so you can see I am legit.  

My Response:   Is there a cost attached to this great offer?

The beginning of another beautiful relationship that started online!  Karen Gross did come to University Hill Elementary School to share her stories with our students.  She captivated both teachers and students alike.  She was aware of our outdoor school and environmental focus and arrived with her newest children’s book, Lady Lucy’s Dragon Quest, a story about droughts and saving land and crops with a strong female protagonist with a collaborative approach to problem solving.  Our Korean students were thrilled that Korean students were the illustrators, who are now in college and who continue to illustrate.
2.  plasticity references the permanent change that occurs in the institution itself in response to required changes
3.  pivoting right references supporting students in their ability to make short and long term decisions that will bring abut the most favourable outcome
4.  reciprocity  that extends beyond student willingness to share ideas and commit to agreements with staff listening and responding, to institutions being responsive to the ideas and needs of their changing populations
5.  belief in self by teachers and institutions stepping away from a deficit model of education to one that builds on strengths

Wild About Vancouver

Wild About Vancouver is a celebration of the outdoors being held from April 18-25, 2018.  Activities are planned by individuals, schools, sports organizations and community groups and centres.  All activities planned during the week are free to participants.   The goal for the week is to generate lots of energy, ideas and momentum for participation in outdoor learning, activities and fun that continues well beyond the week long celebration.  There are lots of opportunities to participate.

  1. Get ideas and register on the Wild About Vancouver  website. Tweet out lesson ideas, activities, events and blog links.  Be sure to include @WildAboutVan so we can retweet and generate some excitement!

Hashtags #getoutside #getoutdoors #outdoorlearning #outdoorclassroom #natureschool 

3.  Email blog posts to banack@ubc.ca

4.  Encourage a friend to participate in an outdoor activity.

  • Ideas from University Hill Elementary School for the 2018 Wild About Vancouver
    • scheduled weekly nature school / outdoor learning experiences
    • Hatch butterflies in the classroom
    • Create a butterfly garden for them to live in when they are released
    • Create an Outdoor Classroom
    • Start a leadership group to teach playground games
    • Plant Potatoes.
    • Start Worm Composting
    • Raise salmon fry  and release them into the wild
    • Read Gillian Judson’s new book, A Walking Curriculum with your staff or community group and try out a few of the walks or ALL 60!
    • Host an Earth Day Barbeque

#GetOutside  #HaveFun

For those interested outdoor enthusiasts outside the Lower Mainland of Vancouver, British Columbia, consider of the continuing the movement in your community!

The Best Version of Ourselves

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This year I have read a plethora of reasons NOT to participate in the tradition of New Year’s resolutions:  “If you can’t love yourself at 185 lbs., you can’t love yourself at 150 lbs.”  “Embrace who you are.”  “Be gentle with yourself.”  I am a believer in self care and proactive, positive change but these loud and prolific proclamations evoke the images of Mr. Scrooge and his “Humbug” response to considering the notion of goodwill toward all people during the Christmas season.

Part of family tradition with my mother included annual New Year’s Resolutions.  The pens and erasers and note paper from stockings were put to good use.  My mother, my older sister and later my sister-cousin, would compile lists of things that we were going to do in the following year.  It was a time of dreaming big and thinking through all of the possibilities.  I did learn to ski, snowboard, water ski, drive, finish a 10 km run, do a mini-triathalon, finish my MA, take the kids to the park rather than clean the house, entertain, travel and rotate between personal and professional reads.

Yes, I have also been a chronic breaker of New Year’s resolutions.  My eating habits slip and so does my exercise regime.  My love affair with diet coke re-ignites.  I don’t sleep enough and work too late.  I don’t invest enough time into human rights work.  I don’t do all of the wild and wonderful things I had planned for the new year.  But the possibility remains that I will and if I do, I will be proud of my accomplishment.

I still heartily believe that I can be a better version of myself. And so I am in the process of making both personal and professional goals for the upcoming year.  This will be the year I unfriend diet coke, eat less junk, take more stairs, stretch before I exercise, get enough sleep and maximize engagement in relationships and in online possibilities.  And yes, I believe I can do it.  At least some of it.  Hope still burns!  And in my wake of enthusiasm, I will encourage my relatives, friends, colleagues and students to join me in the pursuit of being the very best version of ourselves.  Good luck with your New Year’s resolve and accomplishments big or small along the way! Continue reading “The Best Version of Ourselves”

“We are story…”

Richard Wagamese calls it. It’s up to us to create “the best story we can create while we are here”. The celebration of relationships with the earth, family, community and spirits as well as the embedding of history and survival techniques in story is what sustained our First Nations people for thousands of years pre- contact. The importance of embedding story in curriculum has been explored extensively by Kieran Egan at Simon Fraser University and has become a mainstream truth. What is new, is the rediscovery of the fact that embedding memory and history in story to make it meaningful is part of the legacy handed down to our current society by First People’s cultures. Learning about and acknowledging and integrating these foundational truths from First Peoples cultures is how we can truly reconcile our relationship with Indigenous people that has been seriously compromised in the process of colonization and the subsequent quest for economic advantage.

The First Peoples Principles of Learning were written by fnesc (First Nations Education Steering Committee) and the British Columbia Ministry of Education .  Laura Tait did an amazing talkat The Changing Results for Young Readers Conference in 2013.  It’s well worth listening to her 15 minute presentation, complete with pictures and stories from her family and Tsimshian community to bring life to the words. image

For me, the concept that bounced out was the acknowledgement of more than one way of looking at the world. Imagine the wars based on religious intolerance that could have been averted if we had been able to grasp this concept. I think of all of the time it took me to grasp the concept of “sister- cousin” from my Indo-Canadian students.  And for me it should have been easy.  I grew up with a cousin who was more like a sister and even lived in the same house for a chunk of time.  When I finally “got it”, I had to tell Babita, the student who persevered and patiently explaining the relationship of “sister-cousin”.    She had persisted with the idea despite my insistent references to the definition of the word cousin. Her eyes were filled with the delight, or was it relief, of a teacher when a student finally understands the seemingly easy concept that has eluded them.  It didn’t just take my willingness to try to understand but her patience and perseverance in hanging in there with me on the journey of discovery.  We hold on to these little successes along the way.  To end where we began, with the words of Richard Wagamese:  “We change the world one story at a time.”  Babita changed mine.

Continue reading ““We are story…””

UBC Students Support Outdoor Learning in Schools

imageI met Hartley Banack’s Faculty of Education (EDCP323) class outside the Botanical Gardens at UBC.   The class is a diversified group with some students completing Bachelor of Education requirements and some practicing educators working towards a diploma in Outdoor Education.  Several Vancouver schools are actively engaged in working with teachers and their Community Schools Teams to provide outdoor learning opportunities for their students so I was thrilled to be a part of this class.  We chatted about outdoor learning opportunities, challenges and goals at my school under the pagoda. We continued the discussion of possibilities and considerations en route to the amphitheater. Student presentations and discussion of articles focusing on experiential learning continued in a shaded area  of the amphitheater.  Discussing outdoor learning WHILE we were outdoors was a perfect.

imageIt was inspiring to be part of this class because it provides a model for outdoor learning that is currently being explored in many schools with a clear understanding of the merits of outdoor learning. In some cases, outdoor opportunities to learn are specifically focused on the sphere of P.E.  When I first started teaching in the Abbotsford school district, there was a P.E. specialist in every school.  The calibre of the instruction was high and I learned a lot from teachers with extensive background knowledge.  In my current context, I am still learning a lot from teachers with well developed background knowledge in Physical Education who are classroom teachers.  Mr. Wan has a passion for physical education and organizes equipment for classroom experiences, extra-curricular sports and outdoor opportunities at lunch.  His class each year  is trained  to set up badminton nets, the ping pong table and equipment for outdoor play at lunch time.  Ms. Harris has worked with Action Schools to train student leaders to facilitate games for the younger children and provide classroom equipment for outdoor play.  Teachers have participated in professional development and arranged for special outdoor events such as The Terry Fox Run, Sports Day, Jones Park play, Grade 6 Camp, kayaking in Deep Cove, Beach Day, and Queens Park day,  .  Parents actively fundraised for four years and worked with volunteers from the Knight and King Edward PriceSmart Foods to ensure out students had a playground for free play.

Ms. Collins, PAC and our ever supportive husbands worked with us to secure the Small neighbourhood grant and build four garden beds on the school grounds.  Several of our teachers have worked with their classes in the garden and been involved in programs such as Growing Chefs to teach students about science and food sources.  For many years Ms. Evans has worked with student leaders to facilitate participation in the Fruit and Veggie Program and the Dairy Foundation Program for early primary.  And yes, she even arranged for the cows to come to Tecumseh!  A sight to behold, kids sitting down on the cement fully engaged in just watching the cows.  School wide sorting of waste into composting, recycling and landfill garbage has also helped to extend learning about our environment and ecosystems.

Integrating outdoor learning beyond physical education and science is the next challenge.  Ms. Collins and Mr. Larson are actively involved in teaching students about human rights.  Their annual participation in Walk For Water is a great example of how the outdoor experience is integral to the learning.  Our playground includes picnic tables down by the swings.  This lends itself to allowing students to working outdoors.  One year my Grade 4 students looked up in the sky to see eagles attacking a crow.  It made for some great poetry!  The accessibility of iPads has allowed students to easily take their own photos to inspire or support their written work on Apps such as BookCreator or ExplainEverything.

Vancouver Schools are fortunate to have a well developed Community School Teams.  The secondary school and the elementary schools that feed into them form a hub.  Administrators meet regularly as a group and with the CST staff to provide opportunities and after school programs facilitated by student leaders from the secondary school and paid programmers.  In our school, the variety or field options and the garden allows for varied outdoor experiences.image

It is exciting for the discussion of outdoor learning opportunities in schools to be happening at the university and in schools with a mind to share ideas.   Hart Banack has assigned his students to form working groups to investigate the possibilities for outdoor learning in the school grounds and in the communities of several school sites in Vancouver.  The bank of ideas with details such as related costs and curriculum connections will be invaluable as the new year begins and yearly planning unfolds.  I can’t wait to hear their findings and ideas for sharing information with teachers.  Special thanks to Hart Banack, UBC and EDCP323 students for welcoming me into your class and supporting our work in schools.

A Season to Celebrate

June in schools…  The amount of things on the “To Do” list grows exponentially and it is easy to get overwhelmed.  The beauty of June in schools is the sheer quantity of things to celebrate.  Monday I was called in as an extra adult for the Grade 7 kayaking trip in Deep Cove.  My desk is a mess, I’m behind on email, I have a few more learning outcome checks to do with the class I enrol and the list goes on but duty calls… and I go kayaking with Grade 7’s.

As soon as we started out, our guide commented on how well our kids were doing.  The kids were quick to point out they had kayaking experience from Camp Elphinstone when they were at Grade 6 camp.  Some of these kids who were hard to lure off the dock during grade 6 camp were now confident venturing out towards Indian Arm in their two person kayaks.  When I perused the group, I could also find the kids resistant to speak English when they started at the school, laughing and talking with their friends.  Kids who worried about being part of the group were very much part of a community.  Venturing out to share the day with this group of Grade 7 students was a gift.  These same students will be walking across the stage tonight to celebrate their transition to secondary school.  The day promises to be busy with the preparations but the evening will encompass the pride of reaching this milestone.

We celebrated my son’s graduation from university this Spring.  The bursting pride, the verge of tears, the over the top amount of pictures were very much the same as all those accomplishments and transitions along the way.  It could have been riding his bike on his own, The Test of Metal Competition up Whistler, leaving elementary school or high school graduation.  The pause to come together and celebrate lasts and become the stuff of stories that endure for years.  I’m trying to keep this in perspective as I rush to attend end of the year professional commitments and retirements.  In each event is the opportunity to celebrate the big and small accomplishments along the way.  Enjoy people.  This is the stuff of our stories and the stories of our students down the road.  The promise of summertime relaxation is within our grasp.

The Faces of Truth and Reconciliation 

Learning our own history and the racism and miscarriages of basic human rights and justice is important.  The United States has long grappled with the existence of slavery in its past and the tumultuous path of moving forward. Canada as a country has needed to step off its moral high ground and reframe our understanding of ourselves.  As we grapple with the existence of the Chinese head tax, Japanese internment camps, and now residential schools that existed for the purpose of cultural genocide, how can we move forward to a place of respect and appreciation?

The final presentation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa was met with skepticism or hope, depending on who you are.  I am a “cup is half full  kind of girl” and firmly in the hope camp.  I believe there is a path forward.  I attended the multi-faith service that brought United, Presbyterian and Anglican leaders and congregations together at St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church.  Jen was leading the children’s program and explained to the children that when Europeans first came to North America, they weren’t able to see the beauty in the people already living here.  Doug White, an inspirational and articulate former Snuneymuxw chief and Nanaimo lawyer, spoke passionately about how he wanted his grandchildren to be loved unconditionally not just tolerated.  Owning the tragedy and moving forward without bitterness is one face of truth and reconciliation.  Another face is learning about and embracing our collective history and celebrating what Aboriginal people bring to the table or as Jen would frame it, “seeing the beauty in the people who were here first”.

Our playground opening ceremony was a sight to behold.  Our dignitaries including student leaders, parents, community build volunteers from Overwaitea, our Habitat cheerleader and preschool families took their seats.  Primary students processed from the school carrying class paper chains and made a huge ring around the new primary playground ready for the honorary “paperchain cutting” by the PAC chairperson. Grade 5-7 students took their places on the field. The grade three and four students in divisions 9, 10, and 11 were the final students to process in.

Student led morning announcements include the acknowledgement and gratitude that we work and play on the ancestral lands of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh people. We are fortunate to work with Dena Galay, the Aboriginal School Support Worker, assigned to Tecumseh.  She has worked with students, facilitated programs and even shared 

stories, information and artifacts made by her mom with our students as they studied the contribution and experiences of Aboriginal people in Canada. For the opening ceremony, she brought cedar boughs for the playground and led three student drummers and the students of the three final divisions in a grand procession to make another circle around the playground and primary students. They chanted the words “hosiem” and “hatchka” from the Musqueam Haikomelen dialect, honoring and providing thanks for the space.  More than half of Aboriginal languages in the country reside in B.C., according to a 2010 report from the First Peoples’ Heritage, Languages and Culture Council.  There are only 278 fluent speakers of all three Halkomelem dialects.

 Ms. Galay also spoke the words she always uses when she finishes off a sessions with our students in Dene, Cree, Ojibway and Iroquois, languages from her childhood home in Saskatchewan.  The children responded with the English version: “All our relations”. Ben followed up with the familiar and well loved poem called “And My Heart Soars”, by Chief Dan George.   “The beauty of the trees…the softness of the air…the fragrance of the grass…the (view of the) summit of mountains…”  did speak to us.  And our hearts soared.  And yes, my hope for continued truth, understanding and meaningful reconciliation grows.

 

“It Takes An Entire Village to Raise a Child”

This has long been a favorite quote of mine that is beautifully depicted by George E. Miller II in my office. In my early years as an underemployed teacher, I worked in an out-of-school care centre in the basement of a school in Vancouver. This is where I first learned the importance of community in the life of a child and it took a firm place in my educational philosophy.   Hillary Clinton popularized this old African teaching into mainstream consciousness.  It is assumed in many aspects of school but not always overtly.  On Thursday, June 4th, it was positively radiant during the community build of our long-awaited playground. Our school in on the South Slope of East Vancouver. Many new Canadians have made their home here and demonstrate a work ethos and commitment to ensuring their children have the opportunities for a better life with all of the advantages we have in Canada.  Money is hard-earned and expenditures are carefully considered.

In September, our rapidly decomposing wooden playground structure finally had to be removed from the school grounds due to safety concerns.   This was not a surprise but a huge concern.   The quest to replace the playground took on a renewed intensity because it left a huge gap in during and after school hours activity. Our playground has always been a place where families gravitate to before and after school. Groups came together to dance, participate in Tai-Chi and exercise while the kids play on the playground.  Almost 500 children attend elementary school, Cantonese and Mandarin after school classes and preschool programs on site.  Teachers used the playground as one way to ensure students are getting the minimum requirement of 30 minutes of daily physical activity.  The parents and students in our community have been our main funders of the playground.  Most of the money has come from hot lunch sales spearheaded and organized by PAC president, Sirtaj Ali, and two walk-a-thons organized and facilitated by PAC member, Susan Biln.  Student leaders organized a Movie Night and raised over $600.00. Casino funds, small grants, an RBC work party by volunteers and direct donations from neighbours and staff provided the additional funds required.

PAC and school administration chose Habitat to supply the playground equipment due to their reputation for service and durability of the product. Jeff Musson from Habitat stepped forward to provide options within our price range and planning considerations. Murray Stewart and the VSB grounds crew stepped up with the background of all of the logistical knowledge, support required to make the project happen. Overwaitea stepped forward to provide the people power required for a community build.

On our build day, the weather cooperated and over 36 Overwaitea volunteers, the PAC president, VSB staff and the Habitat staff converged on the school grounds to make this playground a reality. Before school, kids were stomping on cardboard packaging and putting it in the cardboard recycling bin. By recess, they watched in amazement as the poles were placed in holes and the structure started to appear before their eyes. By 2:30 pm, they were watching as the cement truck was dumping cement into a convoy line of wheelbarrows. As the cement was shoveled in the holes, I heard one little girl summarize the situation for her peers: “The cement means that we get to keep it.”

   

The school coming together with the community to make the playground a reality was one part of the equation. The most significant sense of community came from the actual people involved in the project. They were up early and doing tough manual labour in the heat of the day. There were no complaints or begrudging the work. There was pure joy in doing something that mattered so much. The fascination and excitement of the kids was paralleled by the delight of Overwaitea volunteers and Habitat staff.   They talked to the kids, responded to cheers and expressions of thanks from kids and adults alike with smiles, laughter and enthusiasm. At the end of the day, we were all exhausted but also filled with a sense of euphoria that comes with making a big different in your little part of the world. The VSB grounds crew continued to bring the playground project to completion with surfacing and final touches. We are now ready for our safety check and we are getting ready to celebrate and play.

Special heartfelt thanks to all of PAC members, Overwaitea volunteers, VSB staff, Habitat staff and business community supporters who put their heart and soul into making the playground a reality and showing all of us “IT TAKES AN ENTIRE VILLAGE  TO RAISE A CHILD.”