Haida Gwaii high school students are starting the year with some new teachers and new courses, too.
Deavlan Bradley, principal at GidGalang Kuuyas Naay, said the school already had success piloting some of B.C.’s newest courses last year, such as Genocide Studies 12. A new curriculum is rolling out province-wide for Grade 10 this year, and for Grades 11 and 12 next year.
Senior students at GidGalang Kuuyas Naay are taking a new English First Peoples 12, rather than a standard English class this year, following a similar switch the school already made for Grade 10.
Bradley, who is an English teacher as well as a principal, said English First Peoples was created over 15 years ago to address what he called the “deplorable” state of education on Indigenous issues.
“I think there has been some success in that,” he said, noting how reading novels such as Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach, Thomas King’s Medicine River, or Richard Wagamese’s Keeper’n Me brings Indigenous writers and contexts to the fore.
At the same time, Bradley said the courses have shown what a challenge remains for a school system with colonial roots.
“Of the thousands and thousands of students eligible for the English First Peoples courses, there has consistently been fewer than 300 registered in the province,” he said.
Also new at the school this year is teacher James Warner, who is teaching English and junior social studies.
Besides new courses, Bradley said the school science program and long-time links with the Laskeek Bay Conservation Society and Mount Moresby Adventure Camp continue to give students chances to learn firsthand from Haida Gwaii, guided by teachers like Rachel Fraser.
“She tries to tie marine biology into a lot of what she does, and getting students out onto the land.”
Also growing in popularity and quality is the school’s foods program, he said.
GidGalang Kuuyas Naay has daily breakfasts, regular lunches, a brand-new greenhouse, and a focus on local foods.
About the only hitch is how little time Sandspit students get for breakfast because of the Kwuna ferry schedule.
“They’re barely making it on time as it is, after we changed our schedule as much as we could to make it so they weren’t late every day.”
At Gudangaay Tlaats’gaay Naay, principal Ian Keir is enjoying his new role after serving as principal of Tahayghen Elementary.
“It feels really good to be on a team where the skills are so varied,” Keir said.
One of the two new teachers, Ren D’Esterre, has a background in outdoor and ecological education, while Jackie Farby has a master’s in special education.
The Masset high school is also moving to the new B.C. curriculum, which Keir said focuses less on content and more on key skills — a more flexible approach for a time when the work world is changing more quickly than in the past.
“We want students to have critical thinking skills, creative thinking skills. We want them to be good communicators,” he said. “And we want them to have a strong sense of personal identity and social responsibility.”
Outside the school, too, students will notice changes as the aging building is due for new siding and windows.
“It will have a totally brand-new look,” Keir said.
Over the summer passersby likely saw archeologists and Council of the Haida Nation observers surveying the school grounds for artefacts before a new retaining wall is built along Collison Avenue — work that turned up evidence of a hearth and midden.
Among the new courses on offer at Gudangaay Tlaats’gaay Naay this year is one that is supercharging the rest — a fitness class run by athletics director Christine Cunningham.
“I would say about a quarter of the school is in her class,” said Keir, noting how many students were still feeling the workout on their first rest day.