What’s new when school’s back next week

  • Aug. 29, 2007 8:00 a.m.

By Alex Rinfret–Islands schools are getting ready to welcome students back to the classroom next week with a few new teachers, new programs and some schedule changes. One of the most significant innovations is the StrongStart program at Tahayghen Elementary in Masset, which, with other schools on the islands will open its doors Thursday Sept. 6. This program is open to all children under kindergarten age and their caregivers, and will take place every morning in a classroom that has been completely refurnished for younger children. StrongStart coordinator Mary Disney said the program will run from 9 until 11:30 am five days a week, and will be a comfortable place for parents or caregivers to be with their children. There will be stories, healthy snacks, gym time and circle time. Some of the activities will be targeted to three and four year olds, she said, but all preschool-aged children are welcome, from babies on up. The program is completely flexible, so parents can come every once in a while, or every day, whatever they like. Ms Disney was able to visit a couple of other StrongStart centres in Prince Rupert and Comox to see how they work, and said parents really like them. “I heard very, very positive feedback,” she said. The StrongStart centre will be open Sept. 6 for registration, and will start up the next Monday, Sept. 11.Tahayghen Elementary Meanwhile, Tahayghen principal Steve Bentley said he’s got lots of new programs ready for students. For children in kindergarten to grade 3, the school will be implementing the “four blocks” reading program. This program, which the school used for some students last year, has been enormously successful in other districts at improving literacy skills. “I was very happy with it,” Mr. Bentley said. “We saw a marked difference in literacy rates.” For the older students, the school is introducing “smart reading”, a series of strategies to help students read. Tahayghen is also focusing on math skills. Mr. Bentley said teacher Monica Houseman will be doing a numeracy program for students, as well as English skills development and working with special ed students. Tahayghen will have a full-time counsellor in the school and Mr. Bentley said she will be going into classrooms regularly to talk about issues like bullying, positive values and cultural self-esteem. Research shows there’s a direct relationship between school success and self-esteem, Mr. Bentley said, and that will be focus for the school this year. There will be two new teachers at Tahayghen. Ian Kier, who has just moved here from Ontario, will be teaching grade 6/7. Mr. Bentley said Mr. Kier has a degree in outdoor education and lots of experience in this field, and is looking forward to exploring the outdoor ed opportunities on Haida Gwaii. James Reid, a graduate of SFU, will be teaching grade 5/6, and brings a ton of knowledge about the internet and web page design, Mr. Bentley said. Students last year were excited about the school’s new digital imaging station, which allows them to make their own movies and burn copies, and Mr. Bentley said this activity will continue in a big way. “And we’ll have as many different programs as we can for after-school clubs,” he added. “It’s going to be an exciting year.”Port Clements Elementary At Port Clements elementary, principal Claudette Lavoie said this will be a special year for the community, as it will be the last year for the school building, which has served the town since the 1950s. Next September, the school will become part of the brand-new multi-purpose building which will start construction on the school field in the next few months. Ms Lavoie said the school will be organizing something to mark the transition from the old building to the new one. Port will be welcoming a new part-time teacher, Lynne Hunter, who will be doing a music program at the school. Secretary Lyn McAlpine is returning after a year’s absence, and Colleen Beachy will be the new noon-hour supervisor. At Agnes L. Mathers school in Sandspit, where Ms Lavoie is also principal, the focus will continue to be on outdoor education, with lots of time outside and daily PE or physical activities for all students. The school will be trying something new with the lunch hour, Ms Lavoie said. Instead of wolfing down their lunches then running out to play, students will get 40 minutes of playtime, then come in and eat their lunch before starting afternoon classes. “We’re going to try it and see how it works,” she said. “When they want to go out and play, they don’t eat very well.” Drawing on research that shows teens tend to stay up and sleep in a bit later than the rest of us, Ms Lavoie is changing the secondary students’ start time to 9 am instead of 8:30 am. The school day will now run until 3:25 pm. The change was made after consulting with students and parents, who liked the idea, she said. The later start and later end time also accommodates students who travel to Sandspit from Graham Island to attend ALM, she said. There is one teacher at ALM, Ceitlyn Epners. Ms Epners previously taught at the Living and Learning school in Queen Charlotte, and will be teaching both elementary and secondary programs at ALM.Sk’aadgaa Naay ElementarySk’aadgaa Naay elementary school in Skidegate has a new principal, Vonnie Hutchingson, formerly the district’s Haida education leader. Sk’aadgaa Naay will be starting up the district’s first French Immersion program this fall, with students in grades1, 2 and 3.Queen Charlotte Secondary At Queen Charlotte Secondary, students in grades 9 and 10 will have the option of taking alternative PE instead of the regular PE class, said principal Angus Wilson. Alternative PE has never been offered here before. “What’s really exciting about this is it was proposed by one of our students,” he said. “It will be less team sport-oriented, less competitive, with activities like hiking and yoga.” Also new this year is that grade 8 PE will be separated into a boys’ class and a girls’ class, and that means that grade 8 science classes will also be divided by gender. Some research shows girls are more willing to take chances when there aren’t boys around, Mr. Wilson said, so the school is trying out this new system. New staff members are QCSS include teacher Heidi Bevington, First Nations support worker Tyler Crosby, and special ed assistants Kris Olsen and Gerry Whittle. Also new this September is a vice-principal. The school hasn’t had a vice-principal for the past few years, but longtime teacher Stephanie Hedley-Smith is now filling that position. QCSS will start the school year with an assembly in the gym, where Mr. Crosby will lead everyone in some drumming, Mr. Wilson said.George M. Dawson In Masset, G.M. Dawson secondary has had a lot of maintenance work and painting done over the summer and principal Lorrie Joron said it’s looking fantastic. The school is welcoming five new teachers, including shop instructor Richard Vickers, career and information technology teacher Tammy Gates, and PE teacher Mike Austin. The school is starting off the year with a community dinner in Old Massett Sept. 5, and opening ceremonies the morning of Sept. 6, with nonnies and grandmas invited to speak to the students, Ms Joron said. This year’s school year starts off with two professional development days at Tahayghen school on Sept. 4 and 5 for all district staff. Schools open for students on Thursday, Sept. 6.