Good Things are Happening: 2022-23 in review
The 2022-23 school year was another big one for students, staff and the whole New Westminster Schools community … with continued stories about our district’s growth, and one full of the celebrations centred around student successes and the rich examples of staff going the extra mile.
In their end of year letter, Board Chair Maya Russell and Superintendent Karim Hachlaf offered us all a highlight of some of the amazing learning opportunities that students and staff have participated in – highlights that spanned from some of our youngest learners to examples of what educators have been engaged in learning.
Here, in our annual “Good things are happening” review, we’ll delve deeper into those stories and more, as we look at how this district is continuing to work towards the goals laid out in our 5-year strategic plan: Our Learning Journey (Strategic Plan for 2019-2024).
We encourage you to take a scroll through this page to get a sense of the breadth of work and learning that’s happening in New Westminster Schools!
(You can also click these links to jump straight into the sections below …)
- Early learning
- Bringing lessons to life … stories from our classrooms
- Student success stories
- Staff learning and recognition
We’re continuing to grow our supports for our youngest learners. Early in 2023 we launched a pilot Just B4 Preschool program, out of StrongStart Centre in Queensborough. This program is designed to support kids in the year leading into kindergarten … setting them up for success as they get used to the structures and social skills that will help them transition more smoothly into their start at school. They even had a few chances to do activities alongside their “big buddies” (Queen Elizabeth Elementary’s kindergarten students) to help that transition along!
We were also able to double the size of our Seamless Day Pilot Program in 2022-23. Now supporting 24 kids at Qayqayt Elementary, this before-and-after school care program is helping ensure there’s a smoother transition through each day by having Early Childhood Educator staff in the morning stay to be an extra sets of hands in a kindergarten classroom, with other ECE staff coming in for the afternoon sessions and after-school care portions.
And while the Board of Education made some very challenging decisions, needed to prioritize the creation of new classroom spaces in two of our schools that are facing critical capacity restraints, we were successful in our work to attain the funding and approval needed to relocate the two day care centres to new sites with more room … ensuring we will continued to support New Westminster families through our partnerships with our local child care providers, while creating vital classroom space in neighbourhood schools that new enrolling families can count on. The newly designed and relocated 0-5 child care centres will open at Lord Tweedsmuir and FW Howay in Spring 2024.
Families can expect to see more from us in this coming year as we continue to pursue innovative new solutions that support our youngest learners and the families in our schools.
Bringing lessons to life
Learning happens every day, in every school, in a wide range of ways. Some of that involves the tried and true lessons that support the fundamentals: those literacy and numeracy goals we’re constantly evaluating and tracking. But some learning opportunities fall outside of those more traditional lessons.
Beebots create a buzz
Challenge accepted….can you get your Beebot to the small, green circle? #challengeaccepted #success #jrprogramers #beebots #coding #nevertooyoung #sd40learns #kelvinkindies @LKCougars pic.twitter.com/YbkMqUUprd
— Stephanie Musgrove (@smusgrove2) January 19, 2023
Take Beebots for example. These cute little robotic bees have created a real buzz in our kindergarten classrooms. They get kids excited about learning basic coding skills and students learn how to program them to move about the classroom. In fact, when Lord Kelvin’s Stephanie Musgrove posted the above video to her Twitter account, it sparked a local reporter to delve into how the deeper story: the joy and lessons of these little bots, and the way they feed into our district’s larger strategies around engaging kids in scaled lessons around technology.
(That full story can be read here if you have a free subscription to The New West Anchor: https://newwestanchor.com/p/new-westminster-schools-lord-kelvin-elementary-beebots)
Salmonids bring learning to life
Lord Tweedsmuir teacher Jasper Liu was recognized this year for his long-standing work to bring learning (and salmon) to life … in particular, for his 15 year commitment to raising salmon in his classroom. It’s a little bit science, a little bit ecology and environmental studies, a little bit of a language lesson (as he uses the project to expand the vocabulary of his French-Immersion students), and a lot of fun for students who get to watch and care for their salmon buddies, before they say goodbye and release them.
You can learn more about how Jasper’s students benefit from this annual project here: https://newwestschools.ca/salmonids-bringing-learning-to-life-a-teacher-shoutout/
Green learning in the great outdoors
At Connaught Elementary, a commitment to outdoor and nature-based learning is a central part of their school learning plan. On Earth Day this year that took the shape of a school-wide “outdoor day of learning.” Kids rotated through stations that engaged them in stories, art, nature scavenger hunts and more.
These lessons built on months of similar work, and were also connected to a Eco-Fair the school hosted in the Spring. Jennifer Scorda, the principal of Connaught Heights Elementary, stressed that each of these pieces are part of a larger, ongoing process of building a relationship to nature and to the land. They are lessons inspired by the Indigenous Ways of Knowing, and driven by a passion in the community to take Climate Action seriously. And, they are lessons aimed at making sure each and every student knows that they have a role in helping shape the kind of present and future they want.
For more on this story: https://newwestschools.ca/green-learning-in-the-great-outdoors/
Glenbrook Middle’s Magical Mural
Art is so often at the heart of learning. A new mural at Glenbrook Middle is a great example of that. The mural is an interpretation of the newly updated logo, and it is called Xʷəsq̓eq̓íp (which is a Halkomelem word that means “Unity”). Not only does it add touches of creativity and colour to the building, but it is also a reflection of the effort to Indigenize the space, as the artwork combines colours, symbols, and motifs from different Indigenous people and cultures from across Canada. A visual representation of the land acknowledgement and the school community as a whole, it was important to the creation team that almost every student saw themselves reflected in it. That’s why almost all 6th and 7th grade students got to stencil their own passions into the mural.
Find out more about why students so proudly stop in front of this bit of magic here: https://newwestschools.ca/glenbrook-middles-magic-mural/
Connections across continents and culinary explorations
Learning through our schools happens outside of typical school hours too. Just ask Andrea, an International Education student from Italy who was here learning at NWSS. While other International Education students volunteered in the community by doing things like teaching elementary students origami, Andrea shared his passion for cooking by volunteering to support the Super Cooks program at Fraser River Middle: a six week after-school program run in partnership with Family Services of Greater Vancouver.
Bonding while making dishes like a Korean Lentil Stir-fry, kids in this community partnership program reminded us that there’s lots to learn when you can connect cultures and people around food: https://newwestschools.ca/connections-across-continents-and-culinary-explorations/
Student successes and stories
Our data story
We are constantly tracking student data: from test scores, to measures of well-being, and on to student completion rates. This data is analyzed internally, compared to provincial trends, and reviewed for where statistical changes or outside events (e.g. small sample sizes in particular years, shifts to online learning, etc) may impact the data being reviewed. All of this information helps us understand how well we’re doing and where we need to do more work, including where we may need to invest in new tools or training. This information is gathered and presented annually. Our most recent* reports can be found linked near the top of this page: https://newwestschools.ca/about-us/learner-success/
*Due to data collection and analysis timelines, the collected reports reflect previous years’ data
Two New West schools shine at Reading Link Challenge
The Reading Link Challenge is an annual partnership between local public libraries and the schools around them, designed to promote an excitement for reading in kids. This year New West students swept two of the top three spots in this annual competition!
Skwo:wech Elementary’s Team Turtles slid into second, with Herbert Spencer’s Team Hurricane holding on to the third place in this hot competition! The grade 4 and 5 students spent months reading 6 novels, 2 or 3 times over to prepare, before competing against 950 teams (5,700 students from 5 districts)!
We’re exceptionally proud of all the students and staff who gave this reading competition their all, with some extra cheers being sent out to members of the two winning teams!
Rebel Monkeys promote local climate action initiatives
The Monkey Rebels are a social justice club at École Glenbrook Middle School: a group of students who care deeply about connecting community and making the world around them just a little bit better. And are they ever making a name for themselves!
In particular, they’ve done some high-profile promotion of the urban planning concept of a “15-minute city.” What is a 15-minute city? Essentially, it’s a city that’s designed to ensure that everything you would typically need to live is within a 15 minute walk or bike ride from your home … like grocery stores, places to work, access to health care or education, leisure spaces, etc. This model of urban planning is designed to help reduce people’s reliance on cars, by increasing the ability to live healthier, more walkable or bikeable, and more sustainable lives.
This Spring, after a lot of work (and a big dose of support from engaged community members around them), they successfully created, presented and got their motion passed through the City of New Westminster, calling on council to increase green spaces, improve sidewalks, add more bike racks and more.
Learn more about what inspired them and what they want to do next here: https://newwestschools.ca/glenbrooks-monkey-rebels-fighting-for-15-minute-cities/
The return of in-person events and celebrations
With the easing back of COVID related restrictions in the 2022-23 school year, that enabled us all to return to more rich learning experiences that inspired students and connected communities. Whether it was a production of Shrek the Musical (performed both by the students at Queensborough Middle, and as the Spring headliner at the Massey Theatre when NWSS students took over the stage with style), school-wide assemblies and cultural celebrations, the return of more tournaments and athletic events, or the Student Symposium to discuss educational experiences and budget priorities for the coming year … all of these in-person events helped enrich the experiences for students in our schools.
Staff learning and recognition
Award winning teaching, en français
Every year we have teachers and other educators recognized for the contributions they are making to student learning and the wider educational community around them. This year, that has included NWSS’s French Immersion teacher and languages Department Head, Rome Lavrencic, receiving the 2022 Robert Roy Award from the Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers, in recognition of his significant contributions to the advancement of the second language education field. Félicitations Rome!
Science Ninjas: a not-so-secret guide to exciting learning
Who are the Science Ninjas? You know them as Darren Ng (NWSS), Samantha Dowdell (FRMS) and Victoria Yung (GMS). Together, they created and produced a three part video series that showcases their knowledge, talents, and passions (through the countless hours they’ve contributed to create these).
The video series is aimed at supporting their colleagues in bringing science alive in their classrooms. But a couple of their experiments might even be workable for those of you looking to add in some fun science at home on a slow weekend. And don’t forget to dance or sing along to the music videos that reinforce key science lessons for each experiment! More evidence to support the theory that arts and sciences can work together beautifully.
For a bit of explosive learning that could be tried by some brave Science Ninjas-in-training:
Bottle rocket experiment (above): https://youtu.be/2I963ciVpTk
Bottle rock-it song: https://youtu.be/SfnMJsF_1G0
Now, don’t try this one at home … but it might still be fun to watch with your science inclined kids:
Flame bubbles experiment: https://youtu.be/q3bm5Jz_EOQ
Water is a real good friend song: https://youtu.be/xFxnqgnZ8Jw
If you want to read more about the people and ideas behind this series, take a few minutes to check out this feature story in the New West Record: https://www.newwestrecord.ca/local-news/a-passion-for-learning-meet-new-westminsters-science-ninjas-6833585
Skwo:wech Mural: honouring the land and bringing hope to students
Not being seen IS a barrier. And that’s something we’re trying to change.
When it comes to supporting Indigenous Education and the Indigenous students and families in our community, it’s vital that we invest time and effort into Indigenizing our spaces. That’s why we were so proud to see the unveiling of a new mural at Skwo:wech Elementary – a colourful and beautiful piece by local artist Elinor Atkins – as one of the projects that took place in the district.
Given the name of the school, the sturgeon was a central part of the design. It is an animal that represents wisdom of the ancestors … and an animal Elinor has a number of connections to through her mother, through childhood memories with her family, and through her own artistic career (as the illustrator of the book “A magical sturgeon”). But at the celebration event for the new piece, Elinor also spoke to students and staff about the individual details of the new mural: the use of the Salish eye representing past and future generations, the importance of the river representing her home of Kwantlen, the flowers as symbols of happiness and hope, and the importance of the movement in the fish that speaks to how alive both the art and the land are.
For more on how the inspired students have been welcoming and reflecting on this beautiful new artwork, we invite you to read the full story here: https://newwestschools.ca/new-skwowech-mural-honouring-the-land-and-bringing-hope-to-students/
(And hot tip for the 2023-24 school year: watch for a beautiful new Skwo:wech school logo coming that Elinor also helped create!)
In response to rapid inflation and cost of living challenges, the provincial government recognized families (especially those with young or school-aged children) were facing financial challenges. They created a one time Student and Family Affordability Fund, distributing almost $700,000 to our district, intended to directly support students and help take the pressure off of families.
At New Westminster Schools we created a plan to ensure the money was equitably distributed and invested in ways that benefited all families, while also taking into consideration where some families in our community needed more support than others.
Our approach, and the allocated funding, was broken into three main categories of funding:
- Universal Fees and Fundraising (benefiting all families, determined school-by-school)
Every family has been affected by inflation. That’s why each school consulted with their individual stakeholders as they determined how to allocate this portion of the funds at a school-based level. Some schools used it to cover school fees, some for field trips or annual activities that normally had fees attached, and others decided to distribute gift cards to support parents in purchasing student necessities.
- Nutrition (benefiting some families)
We invested in our lunch and breakfast programs at our schools, to ensure that no student started or ended their school day feeling hungry and unprepared to learn.
- Local customized supports (benefiting individual families, determined on an as-needed basis)
Each school was allocated funding to support the targeted needs of the individual students and families. Parents and guardians who felt pressured by recent spikes in inflation were encouraged to connect with their school principal to determine if there were supports that could benefit each child’s basic needs and well-being, as we worked to remove barriers and make sure every student feels ready and able to learn.
Indigenous Focused Professional Development
We can not teach what we do not understand. And understanding is as much a personal commitment as it is a professional one.
That’s why in the 2022-23 school year we saw teachers, CUPE staff members, administrators and district staff all fill the gym and hallways of NWSS … there to participate in the Indigenous Focused Professional Development Day.
The morning included a powerful lineup of local Indigenous leaders, who shared raw and poignant reflections on what it means to be Indigenous and living in systems that sometimes don’t see or support you. Later NWSS students swept attention of the full gym, as they participated in a Red Dress Fashion show that was designed by Linda Kay Peters, to honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The afternoon workshops spanned from cultural teachings that could be incorporated into classroom activities, to discussions of the some of the structural changes required to address anti-Indigenous racism.
Meanwhile another group of staff spent the day touring the former St. Mary’s Residential School in Mission … absorbing the reality of the stark contrast of the kindergarten “classrooms” they saw, as they listened to the rich stories shared by their guide, Naxaxalhts’i Albert “Sonny” Jules McHalsie, the Cultural Advisor / Sxweyxwiyam (Historian) for the Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre.
For more details on the day, the tour, and a look at the red dresses: https://newwestschools.ca/centred-in-unlearning-and-learning-indigenous-focused-pro-d/
Growing and adapting with our community
The Capital Work
As one of the fastest growing districts in both Metro-Vancouver and across BC, it’s no surprise that our district-based staff and our Board of Education have spent years heavily engaged in conversations about how to support growth in our community. Unlike some of the other faster growing districts, New Westminster also faces particularly challenging scenarios with the diversity of our geography and limited space available to support expansions and additions. But creativity, hard work and continued consultations with all our stakeholders saw important steps for us in the 2022-23 school year, as we look to the long-term solutions needed to support kids and families in our community.
Queen Elizabeth Elementary Expansion
This project is in what is called the “development permit application stage” … as we work alongside all our partners to address the multiple challenges of this complex site, as the expansion is designed to fit into what is a relatively small site, with geo-technical challenges that include its location within the Fraser River flood plain. While the district has been approved for the 13-classroom addition, we have requested a further addition of 8 classrooms due to the growing student population in Queensborough and are awaiting approval to this request.
This vital work that’s being done to support the Queensborough community is continuing to move forward, as we’re engaged in various studies and surveys that are required before we can achieve the final funding approval from the Ministry of Education and Child Care.
A new Fraser River Zone elementary school, at the Simcoe Campus
After much work to evaluate all options for a new elementary school in New Westminster, we were excited in the 2022-23 year to share our initial plans to have that school be placed on the Simcoe Park Campus (which currently also supports both Fraser River Middle School and the School Board Office). This project is currently in the Project Definition Report phases. If this ongoing work is successful, it will lead to the Ministry funding approval needed to build a new school. We’re excited about this project, as the proposed urban-style 600 seat elementary school will play a critical role in addressing the current significant capacity issues that are now impacting most of our elementary schools in the district.
Land acquisition, funding for a new middle school
Our projections and current enrolment numbers continue to show us that the growth we’re experiencing, most significantly at lower grades, is also being experienced at our middle schools. Currently both Fraser River Middle and Ecole Glenbrook Middle are already facing capacity issues that we’re working hard to create short-term solutions for. But we need longer-term solutions too.
In the 22-23 school year we were approved to move forward on land acquisition to support a new middle school. The District is targeting the West End to geographically spread middle schools to support neighbourhood school learning environments. This is an important step forward as we do the critical work to establish long term solutions to support the expanding needs of students and families who are moving into our city and up through our schools.
The Long-Range Facilities Plan (LRFP)
While historically revised on a 5 year schedule, we have been refreshing our LRFP every 18-24 months to ensure we are capturing the continued growth in our community, putting forward requests to the ministry that keep pace with ongoing development. In collaboration with consultants, industry experts, and local stakeholders, this plan has been revised through the Spring and will be presented in the Fall of 2023 to inform the community of our future plans.
Interested in understanding all that goes into this work? Watch for links to the document to be shared, and an invitation to attend information sessions that will follow soon.
Programs of Choice Review
One of the many projects our district engaged in through the 2022-23 school year was a review of some of our Programs of Choice, specifically the French Immersion (early, late and secondary), Montessori and the Home Learners programs. The educational review will allow us to gain insight into the strengths, the gaps and the future opportunities, as we look to best serve the current and future needs of this growing and evolving community.
In Fall 2023 the consultant, who has led this work, will provide the district a report that will be focused on improving practice, guided by research and multiple levels of stakeholder engagement. From there senior Learning Team members will present informed recommendations that build on the programs’ strengths, and recommendations to capitalize on where there are opportunities for improvements.
Goodbye old friend
Creation and destruction come hand in hand. Following the move from the old New Westminster Secondary School into the new building, there was then over a year of very careful removal of equipment, remediation processes and other preparation for demolition. The work to deconstruct, recycle and remove the old buildings will continue through the coming year, as we slowly say goodbye to this old New Westminster landmark.
(Click through to our Instagram account below to view more photos of the demolition.)
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Every year we build a path that’s founded on each year and each effort before. As we look to 2023-24 we know there is a lot of work ahead of us, but, there’s opportunity in that work and we’re excited to take that on … alongside students, staff, families and all the members of our wider community.