It’s the start of a new year at Saanich Peninsula schools and teachers are hard at work welcoming new and returning students.
On the first day of school, teachers at KELSET Elementary in North Saanich wrote welcoming messages in chalk outside the school, an idea initiated by the principal, Cathy Crocket-Moore, who wanted to “keep the buzz of the first day of school.”
“We wanted them to come in and read those positive messages and a lot of the language on the sidewalk is what we use with the students every day,” she said.
While some kids might lament the end of summer, some students were excited to return.
“I was looking forward to coming back to school,” said Grade 4 student Tyson Schamehorn, “but I like summer at the same time.”
Crocket-Moore complimented Schamehorn on his blue basketball shoes, which matched his shirt. Asked if he had any goals this year, Schamehorn said he said he wanted to improve his drawing, particularly of eagles.
“I like to draw animals. That’s what I’m good at.”
Caressa Church, also in Grade 4, wanted to write more, building on the poem she wrote last year. Crocket-Moore said students can attend whatever school clubs they choose, ranging from chess to drawing.
It is also a fresh start for KELSET’s newest vice-principal, Leila Sinclair-Wise, who has spent about 20 years working in the Saanich district. She said she’s had a warm welcome from the children and the community.
“The kids are so excited to be back,” she said, “And they’re very welcoming, like it’s ‘Oh, hi who are you?’ and there’s a real warm community feel to this school.”
Due to last year’s Supreme Court ruling, which reduced classroom sizes to 2002 levels, KELSET, like many schools, has new teachers for general teaching as well as music and French. Since more classes require more space, their computer lab has been converted into a classroom but there is now a cart with 60 laptops. Now, multiple classes can use the computers simultaneously and computers can be better integrated into other subjects instead of having to book space once a week for a single activity.
Tom Vickers, principal at Sidney Elementary School, has also seen an increase in students at his school, but Vickers did not expect it.
“Rising rent is not conducive to young families, which draws families to Sooke or Langford,” he said, adding he credits the programs at his school for the increase.
Over the past six years, Vickers and his staff have introduced many new programs designed to take care of the emotional and physical well being of children in addition to academics.
“Of course literacy and numeracy are of utmost importance,” said Vickers, “but we’ve changed our focus a little bit and we believe if kids are able to be socially, emotionally, and physically well, learning will occur. If they’re coming to us without that skill set, without the ability to be socially, emotionally, and physically well, then they’ll struggle with learning.”
Vickers said that because Sidney Elementary’s population includes some of the most vulnerable children in the district, they needed to “rethink how we deliver our academic program to meet the needs of the kids where they’re at.”
Vickers was interrupted frequently by teachers for the tetherballs or an extra whistle. A child sent to the office was asked whether he was in the green zone or not. Vickers showed him a laminated sheet of emotional states and asked him where he felt, and the student acknowledged that when he came to the office he was feeling a little in the red zone, for frustration and anger, but that he felt calmer now.
Healthy living is a key part of Sidney Elementary’s philosophy. Half an hour before school, children can do a physical activity like aerobics or yoga because according to Vickers, the best learning happens half an hour after physical activity. Sidney Elementary asks parents to only send water to school with their children, but Vickers says they “don’t have a juice police or anything.” Last year, they received a donation of $12,000 from Holmes Reality to build a kitchen and serve healthy breakfasts to children who need it, and $14,500 this year which went in part to an irrigation system for their garden.
Ella Mcnee and Hailey Day, both Grade 5 students, said that each division has its own plot with a variety of plants, including potatoes, peas, lettuce, pumpkin, raspberries, loganberries, sunflowers, corn and more. Like other classes, Mcnee, Day and the rest of their class spent some of the morning doing maintenance work.
“We picked out all the weeds from the peas and we picked out all the rhubarb and we put everything in the compost,” said Mcnee.
With the garden, the new kitchen and the programs put in place by the staff at Sidney Elementary, Vickers believes the school has overcome its past reputation.
“I’m getting goosebumps because we’ve really turned that around.”