Good Things are Happening: 2021-22 in review
In their end of year letter, Chair Gurveen Dhaliwal and Superintendent Karim Hachlaf shared their admiration and gratitude for all that we were able to achieve together in the 2021-22 school year … a year that was marked by continued shifts as we responded to the pandemic, by our growth and, most importantly, by really exciting learning opportunities.
The year started under continued measures that helped support keeping students and staff as safe as possible. While we diligently applied protocols and prepared for the worst, we were so thankful for the way the community, students and staff worked together to follow recommendations and keep each other as healthy as possible – staving off functional closures and challenges faced in some other communities.
We were able to formally celebrate the opening and first full year of the New Westminster Secondary School, we finished and moved into the new Skwo:wech Elementary, and we were given approval for an over $20 million dollar, 13 classroom expansion to Queen Elizabeth Elementary!
Enrolment has continued to surpass all previous projections, and we have worked hard to increase staffing and address the complex demands that our growth is putting on our district, on our schools and staff, and on families. It’s groundwork we’ll continue to be working on through much of this coming year, on many fronts.
And while these structural and capital needs continue to be both monumental and urgent, the most exciting moments happened in our classrooms and other learning spaces.
There were learning collaborations across multiple schools, and individual classes of young kids who got to go on their first field trips. There was a return to school-wide cultural celebrations, and individual moments where students and staff were recognized for their hard work and achievements. There were exciting changes that will support the health and wellbeing of our community and so much more.
The achievements of the 2021-22 school year were impressive, and they are laying groundwork for years ahead. Here are some of the highlights …
What we’ve built
Opening of the Welcome and Wellness Centres
In the fall of 2021 we celebrated the formal opening of the Welcome Centre: home to our Central Registration team, a city funded Community Navigator, the Qayqayt First Nation office, settlement services offered by MOSAIC, and additional space that’s available to host events from a wide range our partner organizations. This community hub serves and supports everyone who is new or wanting to feel better connected in New Westminster.
Find out more about the services and activities at The Welcome Centre: https://newwestschools.ca/programs-services/family-and-community/welcome-centre/
In the spring we then celebrated the formal opening of the neighbouring Wellness Centre: a community hub that is allowing us to support and promote healthy living, in a way that’s centred around connection and care for students and families in New Westminster. Students, staff and the community can all access a range of mental health services and bereavement care, and targeted workshops and sessions to support health and well being. In the Fall of 2022 we’re excited to be extending the services available at The Wellness Centre, as a partnership with Fraser Health, with the addition of access primary care and community health supports.
Find out more about our partners and the growing list of supports at The Wellness Centre: https://newwestschools.ca/programs-services/family-and-community/wellness-centre/
Seamless Day child care
The Seamless Day child care pilot program opened at Qayqayt Elementary this year: offering before and after school care, with the collaboration of two ECE (Early Childhood Education) trained staff, who stayed through the day to also support kids in their classroom. The three year pilot program is offering child care spaces for 12 kindergarten and grade 1 students … part of the over 100 new spaces we helped create over the 2021-22 school year. Read more about the Seamless Day pilot here: https://newwestschools.ca/seamless-day-child-care-in-new-westminster-schools/
The open of the new Skwo:wech Elementary
We were so proud to open the replacement school for Skwo:wech Elementary this Spring. The beautiful new school showcases collaborative learning spaces, is filled with glass and light that helps make learning more visible, and also showcases some of the best views in New Westminster!
Queen Elizabeth expansion project
With formal approval from the Ministry to develop concept plans, our capital teams have been working hard to push the proposed 13 classroom expansion to Queen Elizabeth Elementary School forward. With school and community consultations hosted in June, we’re excited to continue to work toward developing the plan and securing the final funding approval needed to build this required expansion that will support the Queensborough community.
What we’ve learned
The Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) report
As a continuation of work that had started the previous year, late in 2021 Bakau Consulting presented the results of the review we engaged them to do. Informed by internal and external surveys, focus groups and a review of key internal documents and tools, the final document, a gap analysis, provides insights of the opportunities we can build from, challenges that need addressing, and includes a list of key recommendations to support the anti-racism work we’ve committed to take on.
We’ve created a short summary of the key findings and of the path ahead that you can find here: https://newwestschools.ca/understanding-and-opportunities-the-diversity-and-inclusion-review/
Internally, we’ve started the process of acting on the recommendations, and you’ll see much more to come as our new District Vice-Principal for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion steps in to help lead this work.
According to a 2020 ParticipACTION report card, only 39% of Canadian kids (5-17) are getting the 60 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity they need each day to be healthy. To help combat that, our District has launched a new program to support teachers in getting kids moving through the day: our Physical Literacy program that is run by a small group of our District and school-based staff. With tool boxes of supplies, two facilitators have been travelling school to school to get kids moving in all kinds of new ways: https://newwestschools.ca/physical-literacy-getting-kids-moving/
Orange Shirt Week
In September of 2021 we honoured the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, within the larger honouring of Orange Shirt Week (an extension of Orange Shirt Day that was brought in by our Board of Education to create more space for learning).
At every level of the district, and at every single school there were powerful lessons and moments shared – from art projects that taught about the legacy of residential schools (particular projects that honoured the 215 children who died and were found in a mass grave burial site at Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School), to important and very local learnings as Chief Rhonda Larrabee talked to middle school students about the history and current work of the Qayqayt First Nation.
See more about what those lessons looked like at every school here: https://newwestschools.ca/learning-at-the-centre-of-orange-shirt-week/
Climate action in action
The journey towards sustainability can be measured by a range of climate action initiatives. We’re exceptionally proud of the steps our capital and maintenance teams have played a role in that: from new builds that are LEED compliant, to the proactive work to upgrade schools in ways that help reduce emissions. (Some of this work was recently featured in The Record: “Going green in New Westminster: How one small B.C. school district is fighting climate action.”)
At every school in our district there are many amazing examples of how educators are working hard to get kids learning about and engaged in Climate Action initiatives: from the community gardens kids are tending at our schools to the bees hives atop NWSS, or on to initiatives like the Turn Down the Heat Challenge … there’s a lot happening through the Green Teams at each school.
In 2021-22 we went to Connaught Heights Elementary to see how Mrs. Wong’s excited kindies were partnering with Ms. Amy’s grade 5 “big buddies” to do good together. We encourage you to take a few minutes to read about how the wild flower gardens, squiggling worms of the compost buckets and joint clean up efforts are inspiring kids to care and feel empowered to help make climate change happen: https://newwestschools.ca/climate-action-in-action/
As COVID related restrictions eased with the changing conditions in the Spring, we saw an exciting return to fieldtrips. And for some young learners, it even meant they had the opportunity to experience their first ever school field trips!
Students from FW Howay took to Hume Park to release the young salmon fry they had been caring for in their classroom. Rotating through various nature based stations, students eagerly awaited their turn to venture into the shallow sections of the Brunette River and release the fry, one cup at a time, into the water (assisted by their teacher, with Ms. Roz drumming and singing along as each salmon was released).
It started with the collective reading of “When We Play Our Drums” … every student, at each of the three middle schools, read and discussed this same book together. It featured a young boy who was angry about losing his culture, but through deep conversations with an elder he found that understanding the past was the best way to help change the future.
From there this cross-school project then offered Indigenous identifying students the opportunity to extended the culture teachings through the experience of learning to build their own drums. This powerful cultural lesson also included a beautiful and moving drum birthing ceremony. To learn more about the process and see the stages of the birthing, you can read more here: https://newwestschools.ca/the-beat-and-birth-of-a-drum/
What we’ve celebrated
Inclusive Education art show
A first of its kind, this year NWSS students participated in a cross-district art show, crafting and displaying their creations alongside their peers from both the Vancouver and Burnaby school districts. The event, “Celebrating the Student Artists: Building A Better Tomorrow Through Art,” took place at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre in Yaletown, including a semi-formal evening showcase to accompany the week-long show.
Three staff stand outs
There are a million ways to measure the incredible contributions of our staff. Awards is only one of those ways. This year we had three members of our staff community recognized in various ways … a teacher-librarian, an education assistant and a youth worker: https://newwestschools.ca/three-staff-standouts/
Receiving our Living Wage Employer certification
An idea that was proposed in a 2019 Board of Education meeting became a reality in the spring of 2022: New Westminster Schools has officially been certified as a Living Wage Employer! This means that every employee in our district is earning a minimum of a living wage, which in Metro Vancouver is currently set at $20.52/hour.
As Executive Director of HR Robert Weston noted during the process, this designation does not affect our budgets or contracts, as the bulk of our employees earn well above that amount. But as Trustee Mark Gifford commented on, “It’s a great signal for the district to be sending. It recognizes the importance of a living wage for families.”
Historic agreement supports Indigenous staff
In a move pre-approved by the BC Human Rights Commission, New Westminster Schools and the New Westminster Teachers’ Union (NWTU) have entered into an exciting new agreement: one aimed at hiring and supporting staff who self-identify as Indigenous. This agreement between the two bodies will allow the District to give preference to Indigenous teachers when hiring and promoting our staff, as we work together to ensure our employees are more representative of the students and families we support in this community.
On June 2nd we invited district staff, students and parents to join our Innovation Fair … the final celebration and showcasing of 20 projects that were pitched by groups of educators at the beginning of the school year. Each group received a portion of the $50,000 pot, with allocations based on the project needs and priority alignment. The results ranged in innovative new learning opportunities that engaged learners at every one of our schools – from comicstrip design software that let students turn social studies lessons into political cartoons, to funding that supported the “Between the lines” NWSS Literary Festival and so much more. You can read more about the Innovation Grants and projects here: https://newwestschools.ca/innovation-fair-funding-new-learning-ideas/
Return of the Qayqayt Rite of Passage Ceremony
After a few years of COVID related cancellations, we welcomed the opportunity in the spring to return to year end celebrations to honour students and staff – from graduation ceremonies to retirement dinners.
The return of the Qayqayt Honouring and Rite of Passage Ceremony was a powerful example of why celebrating together is so important.
The evening laced together traditional teachings and local cultural practices, it honoured the real challenges the students had faced and it celebrated the path forward that their hard work has made possible.
A special congratulations goes to the 21 graduating Indigenous students who were honoured in this ceremony (20 from NWSS and one from POWER) … with thanks to Chief Rhonda Larrabee for her leadership, the Indigenous Education Team for all their work, the elders and other community leaders who participated, and to all those who stood as witness to the achievements of these young adults who are transitioning into the next part of their journey.
You can read more about the event in the story that was done in The Record: “New West Indigenous grads honoured at Rite of Passage Ceremony.”