Maple Ridge students getting work done

Grade 12s are anxious to get back to school as they look to future

Brian Dongalen and Zach Stuive are in their senior year at Thomas Haney secondary and don’t want to fall behind private school students in their bids for scholarships and university applications.

Brian Dongalen and Zach Stuive are in their senior year at Thomas Haney secondary and don’t want to fall behind private school students in their bids for scholarships and university applications.

Some parents picture their teens home in bed, in a vampire’s daytime sleep, dreaming of another day off school. But local students say that’s not how it is, and by showing up at school on Wednesday morning, a few are walking the talk.

Two young men, Zach Stuive and Brian Dongalen, were in the uncharacteristically empty rotunda at Thomas Haney secondary at 9 a.m., planning for the coming school year, and eager to get on with it.

“We’re Grade 12 students this year and that’s a bid deal. We graduate. We need to plan the rest of our lives,” said Stuive. “With the whole teachers strike, we’re taking away from our year, and we need to pick an occupation, we need to pick schools, we need to apply for scholarships, and we have only so much time to do that.”

There was supposed to be a third friend, joining them, but he slept in.

Still, they expect the study group could grow. They sent out a Snapchat, with a photo of them cracking books and laptops, with the line “Getting work done.”

“I’ve already had three or four people that are like ‘Hey, what are you doing at school, do you think we can come?’” said Stuive.

It’s not the stereotypical view of teenagers, but the pair say their peers know this is a big year, and they want the labour unrest to finally end.

“It sucks, because we want to be in school, we want to be learning and we want to be getting ready for the rest of our lives,” he said.

He has calculated his grades at 93 per cent for high school so far, and his goal is a good university, and hopefully a scholarship. But in achieving those goals, he is in competition with private school students who are already hitting the books.

“All these people that go to private schools – you’ve got Meadowridge, Pacific Academy and MEI – these kids are going to school and they’re receiving the education they are supposed to be receiving. I feel that they have the upper hand.”

They lament the loss of the grad transitions person at the school, whose position was cut during the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District’s last round of budget cuts.

“She was a super sweet lady and super helpful for all the grads,” said Stuive. “This year we’re not going to have that asset. Private schools are going to have that.”

Wednesday morning Stuive and Dongalen were doing some of the future planning that would have been facilitated by the grad transitions staff member.

They could have done the work at home, but Stuive wanted to go to Haney.

“I just like the school atmosphere. It kind of gets you in a zone. It’s a place where you get things done.”

The stricken two weeks at the end of last year were frustrating, but the Grade 11s didn’t feel it as sharply.

“At the end of the year, at Thomas Haney, you do a lot of crunching, you do a lot of getting all the courses done, you do a lot of finalizing,” Stuive explained.

It is a school where students generally work at their own pace, in a self-directed learning model, in which teachers help students as they are needed.

“With the last two weeks being gone, stripped away from us, lots of students who had to finish exams, finish big tests, they weren’t able to do that, and now their transcripts for university are looking pretty bad,” said Stuive. “And this year they need to make up for that. The more time they’re on strike, the less time we have to do that.”

The self-directed learning model is good for kids who like to sprint ahead in their schoolwork, and it also allows students who need extra help in a subject to take their time. The danger there is slipping behind, and those students are more at risk as the missed school days add up, said the boys.

“Once you get too far behind, you feel almost trapped, and you feel like, ‘What am I going to do,’” said Stuive. “And this is our Grade 12 year. We don’t have next year to fix it all.”

Dongalen is a basketball point guard at Haney, and last year his focus on sports saw him procrastinate on some school work. His grades aren’t where he wants them.

“Last year, I knew I had Grade 12 to fix everything, but now I’ve got to step my game up, and do all this work.”

Stuive has followed the strike in the media, and is most frustrated by the amount of time that the two sides have spent posturing rather than negotiating.

“I was always taught if there’s a problem, you’ve got to address the problem. You can’t just wait and make it go away. But I see [BCTF president] Jim Iker and [Education Minister] Peter Fassbender, and they’re not even in negotiations. That’s not going to fix any of the problems.

“I don’t know what they’re waiting for, but they need to go in there, and just get the work done. Get this deal signed. I want to go back to school.”