Grace Hamilton draws out ideas with fellow students Matthew Blackwell

Grace Hamilton draws out ideas with fellow students Matthew Blackwell

Student voices heard at Maple Ridge education forum

Come up with ideas for new Albion elementary school.

Kids brought some good ideas to the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district student forum, including what a proposed new school in Albion should look like.

Josh Nichols, a student leader and Grade 12 at Thomas Haney secondary, said he and fellow forum organizer Courtney Connor wanted to ensure the event did not simply represent the highest achieving students, or leadership students. It brought together 210 young people representing every secondary and elementary school in the district, including students from Environmental School and trades programs.

Because of that, the forum offered a “wide spectrum of ideas in our district,” he said.

He said students appreciate being asked what they think.

“I really like how they asked us for our opinion,” he said. “I always like it when they increase the student voice.”

Nichols said he heard some great ideas during the forum last Wednesday. For example, when talking about features of a new school that they would love, ideas included a forested campus, featuring some covered study areas where students could work outdoors. And they wanted lots of big windows, so they could see outside, and so the school would be bright with natural light.

He also liked the idea of a high school playground.

“Which is awesome – I would be totally cool with that,” he said. “I’ve heard we don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing.”

There were about 30 adults that included school district administrators, trustees, senior staff and other educators.

Groups of students and educators were asked to explore topics such as the perfect school, igniting passion, and caring and belonging.

“It’s important to honour student voice,” said Pitt Meadows vice-principal Cheryl Schwarz, one of the event planners. “And to take that information and use it in our school district.”

School board chair Mike Murray said the forum was a valuable exercise to him.

“It’s worth gold to be able to listen to young people for a whole day.”

With a new school and community centre proposed in the Albion area, and a public feedback process beginning this month, he was particularly interested in what the students thought would be part of their perfect school.

“The elements the kids were describing to me included all of the things that make for a good community that you can live in, and want to be part of,” he said, and those included fine arts and outdoor spaces, active spaces, and “all of those kinds of things that make learning better for kids.

When they spoke about creating a caring environment in schools, a student talked about the home room setup at Thomas Haney secondary, where students have the home room teacher for five years. If their siblings attend, they would go to the same homeroom. So the home room teacher becomes the “go-to” teacher for that student for a number of things over five years, explained Murray.

“The way we build relationships between students and teachers is critical in terms of establishing caring environments. To hear our students talk about that and validate that is really worthwhile.”

District superintendent Sylvia Russell said there are a number of initiatives that will benefit from student feedback, including new curriculum implementation, developing the Albion school, and new system of board accountability.

“At the root of it all, the question is, ‘How are we serving students,’” said Russell.

“Hopefully out of today we will be able to distill some of the themes kids have brought forward, and make sure they are included as we move along.”

She said it was interesting to hear students talk about Westview new flex program, which allows kids some choice of which teacher they will be with for a small period of the day.

“That was seen by kids to be something really positive, and gave them a measure of flexibility,” said Russell. “So I heard that theme of, ‘give me more flexibility in a whole number of ways.’”

She said some students could be brought back into the dialogue at a later date.