Public Education Miracles

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I saw a miracle on Thursday at one of our schools.

A young man, about ten years old, who has struggled with significant autism issues throughout his life stood in front of a class of older students and confidently delivered a speech about World Autism Awareness Day (April 2, 2015).

Autism dayThe older students listened respectfully and the teachers watched with tears in their eyes. They know how far he has come.

The miracle isn’t that he was at the front of the classroom delivering his speech, as wonderful as that was.

The miracle is the gift of the people in our schools who work with children and with patience, and never stop until they find the key to each child’s success.

That’s a miracle that happens every day in our schools.


Gender Neutral School Bathrooms

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It can be challenging to ensure student safety in school bathrooms. Supervision is difficult while still maintaining student privacy. Some children are too anxious to go to the bathroom all day to the very real detriment of their physical health. Also, even in elementary schools, not all students are comfortable with their gender identity. This is widely recognized as many school districts have policies and procedures to address safety and gender identity issues for their students and staff. School District No. 46 (Sunshine Coast) recognized an opportunity to address some of these issues directly as we planned and built our new Gibsons Elementary School.

IMG_6395Gender-free bathrooms are common in our lives and always have been. Our household bathrooms have never had male and female signs on them. In our homes we automatically replace signs with respect and reasonable procedures to ensure privacy and comfort. In designing our new school we knew we could replicate this concept for the benefit of students’ physical and mental health.

IMG_6397Students access private, well-constructed toilet stalls and then wash up in a communal circular wash basin that is comfortably visible from the hallway.

The school has been open to students for four months now. Students don’t really talk about their school bathrooms; the bathrooms are not different from home, there is little to talk about.

The district is very pleased that our students are safer and more comfortable.IMG_6396Designing a school bathroom in this way erases any concerns students might experience. Bullying would be very difficult and gender is a non-issue.

When we take proactive measures to ensure our students’ mental and physical health, they are free to focus on their learning and simply enjoy being a student.

*Special thank you to Gibsons Elementary School Principal Deborah Luporini for initiating and following through on this initiative during the building process. Further appreciation is due to our very supportive Board of Education for its endorsement of gender-neutral washrooms.

SPARK! 10: Helping Future Parents Help their Children

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The Sunshine Coast School District has a phenomenal early learning program for the parents of pre-kindergarten children. It’s called SPARK! From birth to school entry parents attend regular sessions to learn about the growth and development of their children. Three workshops per year focus on children at each stage of development: there are classes for the parents of infants, for one year olds, for two year olds and for three year olds. Parents then attend KinderSPARK!, a program for parents whose children will be in kindergarten the following year. This amazing and highly subscribed program developed over a number of years in our district. Parents just keep coming back for more of the expert information, dialogue, sharing, guidance and support. The majority of  parents on the Sunshine Coast attend at least some SPARK! or KinderSPARK! sessions.

It’s easy to find articles from a wide variety of sources that prove investment in early learning pays huge dividends to our children, our society and our economy. Early learning proponents are found in very diverse publications  (see Business week – The Heckman Equation and Huffington Post – Kindergarten is Too Late for two examples)  and support the economic and moral argument for supporting early learning. In support of this, our Ministry of Education provides a comprehensive Early Learning Framework to help guide initiatives in supporting our youngest learners.

As proud as we are of our SPARK! program, however, we still knew that too many of our young students’ parents were not attending SPARK! A segment of our parent population is not benefiting from these amazing, free and incredibly important learning opportunities. Our efforts will continue to reach out to these parents. However, through discussion, we realized that we CAN reach all parents in the future. They are in our schools right now. We recognized that if we could mandate in our district that every high school student has access to these sessions, one way or another,  that our students will have a theoretical framework in their minds for when they eventually have children of their own.  Further, if we go beyond the theoretical and provide an opportunity for our high school students to experience speaking to, interacting with, and supporting  very small children in a practical way, that this could lead to a very dramatic shift for families in the future. We knew we were on to something, and now we’re doing it.


Our Early Learning Coordinator, Kirsten Deasey (@KirstenDeasey) worked with the teachers of Planning 10 courses at the high schools to develop three academic sessions and one practical session. After learning some fundamentals of child development and interaction strategies, grade 10 students will be attending local StrongStart sites to work directly with children. They will help them to find and read books that excite and engage the youngsters in, they will engage the children in dialogue using their new skills and they will reflect on what they have seen and learned in the process.

We fully expect that this will make a difference for all children in our district for many years to come. Our youngest students will be more properly cared for, better nourished, spoken to regularly and read to more often, and provided with more learning and interactive experiences all because now, their parents will know how.

We’re proud of spark 10. It’s an investment in our students that we simply can’t afford to miss.

Student Voice

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“Students have a right to a say in their education. “

This is a simple and respectful phrase, but there are usually few opportunities for trustees and senior staff to hear directly from their students on an ongoing, consistent, committed basis.

With this in mind the Board of Education of School District No. 46 (Sunshine Coast) has gone far beyond having “student voice” as a strategic plan motto. They will be swearing in, permanently, the role of student trustee at the board table during their November 12th public meeting. The voice of students will be heard at each public meeting and students, in return, will hear from one of their own, about what is happening at the policy level.

 To support the student trustee, the newly formed District Student Leadership Team (DSLT) met for the second time on October 17th. Two senior students from each of our high schools came together to develop effective communication strategies amongst schools, to share significant successes and challenges that they and their fellow students experience, and to determine who would be their student trustee representative.

Through a thoughtful consensus process, the team agreed that one of their number will be the Student Trustee for the 2013/ 2014 school year. They selected another student to be their Chair.

The energy, passion and enthusiasm of this student team is awe inspiring. They want the best opportunities for themselves and for their fellow students. They are creative, articulate and thoughtful. Their expertise as students will enrich and strengthen the educational dialogue for us all. 

Students deserve a voice in their education. That’s not a motto, that’s a fact.



Everyone is welcome

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IMG_3181The beautiful black and red button blanket banner boldly welcomed me to Kinnikinnick Elementary School in my language, and in the language of other members of the school community. As I enjoyed my school visit  and marveled at the depth of education that Kinnikinnick students share with their teachers, I asked their principal about the obvious presence of aboriginal culture in her school.IMG_3178

With a sparkle in her eye, Cathy McCubbin spoke of  welcoming everyone to the school to learn and to be together.

“It is so important that children see themselves clearly in the school to create the sense of belonging that we all need. [Respecting everyone’s culture] is what we do.”

As we toured the classrooms and hallwaysIMG_3176 it was crystal clear that the spirit of the school is about respect and support. Cathy told me that the assemblies have regular cultural traditions, developed in partnership with cultural advisors from the Sechelt Indian Band and the SD 46 Aboriginal Team, that include welcoming and honouring songs.

As I left the school later in the afternoon, I glanced back at the banner.



It felt good to have visited Kinnikinnick Elementary School.

IMG_3177It felt wonderful to know that the kids and their families feel that, too.


A Community Reading!

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Something very exciting is happening this week.


Everyone is talking about reading.


Everyone is acting and dressing like characters they have read about.

Everyone is loving reading!


Everyone wants to read more!

Students, parents, teachers, principals, support staff are modelling and teaching great reading strategies.

Thanks to the leadership of our teacher-librarians and community partners we have Coast Reads engaging the entire community in a discussion about great Canadian literature.

We have authors visiting our schools to share their passion for writing books with students.

We can be proud of a culture in Canada that embraces reading from birth to old age with parents and schools in close partnership for children’s literacy.


Happy Literacy Week!


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Well, for once, I’m not writing about education. Today, I want to write about wiring, which is odd since I don’t know much about it.

I was inspired by a conversation with one of our district electricians this morning. Bob’s expertise is remarkable in itself. This is an area where my total technical knowledge is from a one-semester electricity/wood work/ metal work course in grade 8, about 35 years ago over at Handsworth High School in North Vancouver.  As we chatted, Bob explained some of the challenges and opportunities in our district clearly and succinctly and in a way that I had no trouble understanding, even thought it was above my head technically. He talked about a variety of projects that need attention in our district and others that he has dealt with in the past. He was excited to be explaining how some solutions were arrived at in creative ways, and with a team of highly trained maintenance trades people. Technically, he and his colleagues are brilliant.

But that’s not what impressed me the most.

I was impressed with the way that he talked about our district in the context of the work of educating students in a safe, comfortable and efficient environment. He talked about working with our custodians to insure their safety and efficiency. He referred to working with principals, administrative assistants, teachers and students to make working, teaching and learning easier, safer and better. He related stories of situations that could be unsafe or inefficient, and what he and his team mates did to remedy the issues.

Bob also talked about his interactions with colleagues in the maintenance and technical department. With the support of our facilities manager, they work as a multi-disciplinary team to creatively address district infrastructure, develop a plan for each project, and each uses his expertise to make the project a success. Each of our schools has many examples of such projects successfully brought to completion. There is simply no way that  we could function as an educational institution without their contribution to learning.

The Ministry of Education describes 21st Century Learning as knowing how to, “apply knowledge to new situations, analyze information, collaborate, solve problems, and make decisions.”

Our maintenance department epitomizes the best of 21st Century Learning and has done so for many years!

And I thought I was just going to write about wiring.

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