...and an apple for teacher
Principal Rick Smith shows how to squeeze the most from limited resources on a walking tour of Whistler’s new high school
by Christopher Woodall
It's like Christmas in August.
Every week day in this the last month before the first day of Whistler's first high school, principal Rick Smith has been studying his lists and checking them twice as truckloads of everything a modern high school requires is trundled into classroom nooks and crannies.
A freshly sharpened pencil is tucked behind Smith's ear when he rises to greet Pique newsmagazine for a quick tour of the joint. Despite the crush of too much to do in too little time, Whistler's inaugural high school principal looks remarkably unharried.
But you have to figure that any guy who has a multi-coloured Slinky on his desk can't be flummoxed by much.
"We have all kinds of stuff to come in," Smith tells his guest two weeks before the Sept. 3 opening day. "Deliveries traditionally happen in schools at the tail-end of August. We had hopes to stage things to come in a little earlier, but that's okay."
The main office area guards the front door to Whistler Secondary — A Community School. Until equipment for this area arrived, Aug. 17, Smith and administrative assistant Jacqui Tyler had abutting desks in a back room, to facilitate constant communication between them.
When you come in the main entrance, if you don't turn left or right you end up in the multi-purpose room. "This room I am quite pleased about. A school built for 200 — we're at about 319 now — does not get a cafeteria in its budget, but we're going to use this room as a lunchroom. We'll also run our music classes in here," Smith says.
Music and drama were originally slated for a room next to the lunchroom, but they aren't compatible. Drama needs open space, for example, while music needs instruments such as kettle drums and a piano occupying permanent floor space.
The lunchroom will have vending machines outside the room, but attached to the room will be a tuck shop, where future entrepreneurs can learn their craft.
"The marketing class will run it," Smith says, "although in the first year, the tuck shop will be given to various school groups for fund-raising.
"The volleyball team, for example, will run the tuck shop for six weeks to raise money for school uniforms," Smith says.
It wouldn't be a high school without that important personal space — the student locker. Clean and unmarked for the first and perhaps only time in their tin lives, they line the hallways. Grade 7 students will share lockers so that the rest of the student campus can claim a locker a person.
Around the corner from the lunchroom is the library, where Mark Fletcher is crouched before a shelf, stacking books.
"We have a budget for our books, but we are open to donations from the community," Fletcher says. "I noticed that at the public library the magazines have been donated and have stickers on them recognizing the donor. I'd be happy to do that, too."
Donors have already been generous. The library's first donation — a dozen bags of chemistry and physics books — came from a Whistler woman who had finished her senior science degree. The books lie waiting for Fletcher's deft sorting skills.
"We may give them to our teachers to use as reference books, or Mark may decide to keep them in the library," Smith explains.
Parents have also been on hand, donating their time to help Fletcher convert boxes of books into shelves of books.
"We have an excellent Parent Advisory Committee. They've been a big help, both on the physical side of things, but also scouring the community for a variety of donations," Smith explains.
Next to the library is the counselling area. "We have our traditional career area, but we have another office for Mark Leverton, a work experience counsellor. I'm quite excited about building this program," Smith says. "While there has been a good work experience program out of the north end of the school district, now that we have two schools (including Pemberton) I really want to see that program enhanced."
Work experience programs pair students as "employees in training" with businesses or companies. The Grade 11 or 12 student doesn't get paid, but rather earns scholastic credit for his or her learning experience on a job site.
Smith wants to see a construction career prep program underway. "With Whistler's building boom, kids should get an opportunity to learn about the building trades."
The hospitality and tourism industry should also be fertile ground for budding talents, Smith says.
The computer centre's home is a glass-enclosed room beside the library where 20 terminals sit — turned on and ready. The school will be linked to the Internet, and in conjunction with Whistler's public library, hooked into computerized collection searches.
"This will help someone in the public library look into our collection, or vice versa, to see what books are available for the topic of moment," Fletcher explains.
"We'll start with a small collection," Smith says. "It'll take years before we grow our collection to where it needs to be."
"It's a great collection so far," Fletcher adds. "But I really need plants!"
As for the computers, no games. Not even at lunch hour.
"I don't consider a pure game to have an educational value. These computers are meant to be educational tools. If somebody wants to use a computer to play games, let them do it on their own machine," Smith says.
Having said that, Smith wants to emphasize that learning should be fun. "The educational resources available now by computer are phenomenal, compared to five or 10 years ago in terms of enjoyment level," Smith explains. "You're dealing with educational purposes first. The enjoyment and fun factor is second. But why not join them together?
"We want to hook kids onto being interested in something. If it's the graphic or the sound that's hooking them into getting information, great."
The good news and bad news of computer programs is that (good news) there are scads of programs out there with multiple-scads coming available. The challenge (bad news) is sorting through them all to determine what educational value a program really has.
"We have four teachers who will evaluate those things," Smith says.
The second challenge is to determine what software programs will be best for what grades. "The Grade 12s, for example, are far more intense and have needs that are far more specific. Grade 7s aren't interested in Lotus One-Two-Three, but we sure need it for Grade 12s," Smith says.
In a room down the hall from the library, Smith talks excitedly of a special program for student skiers that will eventually be open to every student in the school: the independent learning class.
"All of our ski racers know about it. Many of them are away two or four days a week, so they need to get their schooling in some other way," Smith explains. Independent packages of classroom work are prepared for each student so they can keep up by studying at their own pace and time. The independent learning classroom gives them some school space to do this.
"It's not set up for a teacher stand-and-deliver-type course. But when they need help, a teacher is available."
For students in the independent study program, the school year will be broken into quarters, with a specialist teacher — science, say — on hand to assist all grade levels of science instruction.
Second, third and fourth quarters will focus on maths, English and social studies. A little bit of French will also be available in the second quarter.
"We have 63 students in the program," Smith says. "It offers a neat opportunity for them to do something positive, like skiing, for four days a week and still get their schooling in."
Hockey and figure skating programs will be included, too.
"So many kids suffer when they spend two or three years in a hockey program. Maybe their sport falls by the wayside because they got injured or didn't make it to the big time. If they've let their schooling go during that time, they're hooped," Smith explains.
"To go back when you're a year or two older than all the other students in a grade is so humiliating," Smith says. "We have examples in our national ski team who are in their 20s, who are suddenly saying, 'well, my ski career is pretty much over now — what do I do now?'"
Classrooms at the high school have TV monitors hanging from the ceiling. Once again, generous donations played an important part. "David Roberts from Chateau Whistler arranged for his supplier to donate 10 TVs," Smith says.
Most new schools are built with a television system that allows all classrooms to be hooked onto the same program, but Smith says financial constraints dictated chopping that from the budget. But he's not giving up.
"That was a huge chunk that was pulled out, but I hope to get it put back in," says Smith.
Corporate donations are much sought after. The school can write up charity receipts for anyone making a donation of cash or equipment. "We're also going to be recognizing everyone who donated to the school and are determining ways to do that," Smith adds. Possibilities include etching donor names on bricks for a walk way or listing donors on the walls of the school cupola.
"Forgive me for sounding schmaltzy, but a corporation making a donation toward education is participating in one of the noblest causes in the world," Smith says. "What better thing would you want to contribute to?"
The science lab will have all the usual gas, water and bench facilities to accommodate chemistry and biology. "When the school expands in three to five years we'll have another science lab. Physics will operate out of another classroom because it doesn't need the gas and water outlets in the lab."
And yes, all the critters needed for dissection will have a place in the school, presumably away from the lunchroom.
Whistler's environment will provide an outdoor learning experience, too. "It's pretty easy to interact with the environment when you walk outdoors and bang, there it is," Smith says. "It's more difficult to interact with physics concepts because they require big chunks of equipment only available at universities."
This is where the computer age steps in. "There are simulations available, but even they are fairly pricey," the principal says. "That will develop over the years."
People in the community can become walking, talking science labs, too. "The (job skill) resources in this community are phenomenal," Smith says. "I have a file on the go and am encouraging staff to constantly look for volunteers who'll come into a classroom to share their work expertise with students.
"Anybody who has a degree of interest or knowledge in a specific area, I want to encourage them all to give me a ring and we'll get them into our school talking to our kids," Smith says.
Upstairs is the special education room. "For the most part, our special ed. students are fully integrated into our classrooms, spending most of their day there," Smith explains. "But they need more than that. They need to learn basic skills like how to work in a kitchen, how to do washing and drying of clothes. Our classroom is well equipped for that, although we still need a clothes dryer."
The special education room is also set up as a learning centre for those kids who need extra help in a subject.
The business education room is down the hall. "There is a subtle change happening in business education," Smith reveals. "Where it used to be that students were taught a smattering of things in a wide range of subjects, the emphasis in the last few years has been on career preparation.
"Business students will do a case study that would involve some marketing, some management, some accounting, some word processing, and they will carry that project through all of their business courses," Smith explains.
"We're starting in our schools to say let's not just educate our kids in a liberal arts sense with a well-rounded smattering of skills — which has to be there — but let's also give them some specific skills that might be marketable," Smith says.
Hats off, by the way, to Mountainside Lodge, who donated all the fridges and stoves to the school. "They were renovating some of their rooms," Smith says. "Because appliances see so little use in hotel rooms, they came to us. It's very much appreciated."
Also on the second floor are the classrooms for Grade 7s. Teachers Sandra Epplett and Kathleen Laczina have travelled across from Myrtle Philip Elementary School to attend to their charges.
"The Grade 7s and 8s will be in kind of like a school within a school, Smith explains. "They'll have one teacher for most of their subjects throughout the year. That way the teacher is the constant contact the students need at that Grade level."
Downstairs again and near the front entranceway, Smith points out the community co-ordinator's office. The official community school designation won't happen until October, but the co-ordinator will run evening programs in the school such as classes in art, wood carving, and dance. The gymnasium and computer areas will be available, too.
"We'll build the programs as the years go on as to what things the community wants to have in the evenings," Smith says.
The art room, for example, has five potting wheels and a kiln — all donated by the municipality.
"We have more facilities here than just a straight building, so why not take advantage of them?" says principal Smith, before returning to his war room to marshal preparations for the first day of school.