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By Loreth Beswetherick The boundaries that determine who will be going to the new elementary school slated to open September 2002 have yet to be drawn but already special interest groups want different things out of the Spring Creek school.

By Loreth Beswetherick The boundaries that determine who will be going to the new elementary school slated to open September 2002 have yet to be drawn but already special interest groups want different things out of the Spring Creek school. Last year a group of parents approached school district superintendent Mike Fitzpatrick about the possibility of incorporating a Waldorf-oriented class within the school. There has been talk amongst parents who would like to see the facility run as a middle school so Whistler children can continue to be schooled together and not spilt between ‘up-valley’ and ‘down-valley’ communities. Now, there is a group of parents who would like to see the Spring Creek school run along the lines of the Surrey Traditional School. The one common thread is that many Whistler parents would like to have options when it comes to educating their children. The one obstacle may be that Whistler is not large enough to accommodate alternate models. As Waldorf proponent Michelle Kirkegaard says: "There are a whole lot of people looking at different things. It just means as a community, parents would like some choices available to them." Kirkegaard is a teacher who was introduced to the Waldorf concept in Denver, Colorado. She and a group of parents have opted to home-school their kids this year using a Waldorf-oriented curriculum. The group is, however, registered with Myrtle Philip elementary and lobbying for classroom space within the Spring Creek school. Susan Jernigan is a proponent of the traditional school model, on the other end of the education philosophy spectrum. She and a core group of parents have informed school trustee Andrée Janyk of their intention to explore the possibility of a traditional school in Whistler and Janyk has told the Myrtle Philip Parent Advisory Council of the move. Almost 30 parents turned out for a meeting on Valentine’s Day to discuss the concept and another meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, March 28. Jernigan said she hopes to have the Surrey school principal attend an evening meeting to address the group. Jernigan said Myrtle Philip elementary is great and the administration and staff excellent but the new school provides an opportunity to explore the possibility of having a traditional school as an alternate choice. While the Waldorf philosophy is child-centred, the traditional model is skills-based. Jernigan said under the traditional model classes are teacher-led and not student-centred. "You have more direct instruction and repetition. Instead of introducing a new concept and moving on, you have more practice. You have more reading, writing, grammar and spelling." She said uniforms are a part of the formula. "That way kids focus on their individuality in more significant ways than just what they are wearing," said Jernigan. "And studies seem to show that when kids are in uniform they know what they are in for. They are dressed for academic success. Their little desks are in rows and they don’t share desks. They have responsibility for their own desk and they can concentrate better." Jernigan said she has only received positive response in her lobby for an alternative method of education. "What most parents have asked me, once they learn what a traditional school is, is why can’t both elementary schools be traditional?" She would like to have several hundred parents sign a petition expressing interest in a choice. The next step is to have the school board approve the concept in principal before work begins on ironing out details like curriculum boundaries and transportation. Fitzpatrick thinks the group could have success if they clearly define what they mean by "traditional school" and they manage to muster overwhelming support from parents whose kids will be attending the school. He said the teachers, who have already been hired, will also have to buy into the concept. Fitzpatrick said, however, it is much easier to try alternative models and work around boundary issues in populated areas where there are five elementary schools within two square miles, as there are in Surrey. He said it will be difficult in Whistler. "It would be a tough call." Fitzpatrick said, in his view, B.C. schools are already fairly traditional. "We don’t allow swearing and gambling and pushing and shoving and fighting. Kids say please and thank-you. I like to think most of our schools do not encourage all those awful things that happen in society." Fitzpatrick said if parents are looking for a tougher discipline code and more rigorous academies they can always make their wishes known through the PAC which, in turn, can help drive the school and principal. "That’s the theory behind decentralization," said Fitzpatrick. "Parents can say they want more sports or a higher level of something else. Parents can make their school have more of a look they want." He said secondary schools in the district have already bought into the decentralization concept and are offering courses they normally wouldn’t have been able to. He said a Waldorf class is also possible if the numbers are there. For example, a Grade 7 class would have to have between 20 to 30 students to make it financially feasible for the district, and in Kindergarten there would have to be two classes of 20 to 30 kids. "We already run French immersion here. Once the numbers drop below a certain point it costs the rest of the school system to keep the classes going." Jernigan said the Spring Creek school "provides parents with a fantastic opportunity to have a choice provided in Whistler that will provide many benefits for our children." Kirkegaard, who finds the current system too traditional said she is looking for "a different process of teaching." Anyone interested in attending the traditional school meeting next month can contact Jernigan at 932-0542.