It hasn’t been an easy year for graduating students at Whistler and Pemberton Secondary Schools.
By Josh DeHart
Unlike the graduates of last year and the years before, the Whistler Secondary Class of '97, and the Pemberton Secondary Class of '97 are different from any group of graduates to leave the Sea to Sky area in a long time. Many significant changes over the past couple of years have left their mark on this new wave of young people about to break on Future's beach.
In a month, another flock of graduates will leave the nest. Off to brave the adventures of a strange, new world. Hoping to God that all their years of education will have prepared them for the next step. Whether finding a job, or pursuing post-secondary education, they remain a mass of mingled fear and excitement, in wonder at what the future holds.
Sound familiar? Sure, they're just like any other graduating class, or are they...
For years Whistler students have gone to Pemberton for their high school education, but when Whistler Secondary opened last fall the Pemberton and Whistler high school students were split. Although the decision to build a new high school in Whistler was made several years ago, many parents, students and teachers grew increasingly concerned about the split in resources as implementation grew nearer.
But as one person says, "The whole time, ever since the beginning, they had made up their mind." According to a number of representatives at the many information sessions, questions were politely accepted, and just as politely brushed off.
Carly Greenwood, a representative for the two graduating classes of 1997, openly argued against the split, aided by a number of concerned parents and teachers, and was more than a little frustrated at the lack of response to the voiced needs of the students.
"They didn't listen. It was like, we'd go to the meetings because they were asking for people's opinions and stuff, but right from when they first mentioned having a Whistler Secondary, they had already made up their mind," says Carly.
"I think, the bad thing is, that it's our education that got screwed around with," she says.
"Ever since Grade 8 we've been sort of guinea pigs for everything, and this was just another thing. It's our education... it's like they don't care.
"They don't listen to us and what we want for our education. They're just going to make up our minds for us. And it's going to be our future," she says.
"We're going to be the ones that are running the world in 30 years. It's our generation that's going to be doing it. And some people might not be doing the things they could have done if the schools had stayed together."
Broken promises and shattered dreams? Okay, that does sound a bit extreme, but there was definitely something lost when Pemberton Secondary School split up, and Whistler students headed home.
Not that it's a horribly bad idea. A lot of people agree that the move was inevitable, but the general feeling is that timing and procedures left a lot to be desired.
In the last few years, Howe Sound District has undergone a lot of changes and a lot of development. Not two years ago, a brand new $14 million high school was opened in Pemberton. Last September the new high school in Whistler was opened. Given that the resources for one school were divided among two schools this year it should come as no surprise that both of the new schools are suffering considerable losses.
At Whistler Secondary, the effects are a little more obvious than they are at the already established P.S.S.: Grade 7 students walking around with Grade 12 students in the same hallway, an under-nourished library, no senior boys basketball team, an empty and unused wood/metal shop, the list goes on.
Another major issue was the loss of courses, including at Pemberton Literature 12, Writing 12, History 12 and Law 12. As well, at Pemberton certain courses such as Chemistry 12, Biology 12, Geography 12, and Chemistry 12 were offered only once through the year. At Whistler, many courses were similarly limited, while most of the shop and applied skills courses were lost altogether.
Many students, in order to get into university, found it necessary to take courses through correspondence. Others were forced to commute back and forth from Whistler to Pemberton, so that they could get all the courses they required.
Students became concerned about the possibility of losing courses a couple of years ago. Grade 11 students from both Whistler and Pemberton met separately and together last year with the school district administration staff to voice their opinions. In a meeting with Whistler, the students made it very clear that they did not want to make the move unless they were going to have the same course selection that they'd always had. And Pemberton was perhaps even more adamant that they did not want Whistler to move out and leave them with a smaller course selection.
"I was kind of upset that I was graduating the year that we actually got split up," recalls Shane Waters, a graduating student from Whistler Secondary School. For the most part, that was the general response from students at both schools; there was a lot of disappointment.
"I think that we could have fought harder to not get split up. That was the only thing that we probably could do. But as far as I can see, we didn't have much of a choice in the decision," Waters adds.
Educational or political? "It was a political move," says Whistler Secondary Principal Rick Smith. "It was not founded on good educational principles at all. The final analysis... the decision that was made, was made by politicians.
"They put resources after the programs so that none of the students in either school would suffer. How long can those extra resources go to support two small schools? I don't know," says Smith.
And it doesn’t appear to be a one-year, transitional problem. "It's already looking as if programming for next year will be a little less than it was this year. And that's disappointing," says Smith.
But all is not lost. There are actually a lot of good things that have come about due to the split. Both schools seem to be developing a real sense of their community. For Whistler students, they are now in a school that is all their own. They don't have to travel an hour and a half every day to go to school, and it really seems as if they are beginning to realize that it is their school.
But it has taken time. According to Principal Smith, the school year in Whistler got off to a slow start.
"I think that people, the students coming to Whistler expected everything to be, for some reason, perfect and wonderful. Expectations were extremely high.
"So, I think there's been a real reticence among the student body this year to tackle this and make it work," he says.
But things have definitely seemed to pick up at both schools. The students are becoming much more motivated and are really working at making it a good year.
"As a school, there's so much energy," says Mitch Sulkers, a teacher at Whistler Secondary. "Sometimes you walk into the school and it's as if the vibrations from the energy were enough to actually shake the school off the foundation. It's just a hoppin' place."
And the general feeling among staff and students alike is that the split is a thing of the past. The problems are being worked through, and what is done is done.
"As far as I can see, it's over and done with," says Shane Waters.
And according to Sulkers, there's so much going into making this a new year, that last year is becoming just a memory.
"I find that I don't even think about the decision last year, because we're so much into building what we have here this year.
"It's a new school. And we're still building that. We're still dealing with the changes, we're still evolving as a school," he says.
And despite the sudden distance between the students, friendships still stand strong. Most of the graduates from Whistler and Pemberton have been together since Grade 8 and there was some concern they wouldn’t get to graduate together. They will and they won’t.
Separate graduation ceremonies will be held at each high school, but a joint prom will also be held in early June — a decision which a lot of people are quite pleased with.
"I like that a lot. I think it'll be great," says Waters.
"I think it'll be really neat to see how the friendships rekindle," agrees Kevin Titus, counsellor at Whistler Secondary.
The students at both Pemberton and Whistler Secondary have, generally speaking, reacted to the split with a very positive attitude. And there is a lot of focus on the future. They have bid farewell to the past, and are making the best of what they have.
In the words of Waters: "It's a heck of a school. It's got a lot of room for improvement, but if they get on it, and start doing things for it, I think it'll turn out for the best."
Josh DeHart is a Grade 12 student at Pemberton Secondary School who worked at Pique Newsmagazine as part of his Career Education program.