Student Maddy Reilly

Student Maddy Reilly

Celebrating Kootenay students

The introductory column for our Education Week supplement, on newsstands Friday.

This column will appear in a special Education Week supplement in the Friday issue of the Nelson Star.

Last June I met a Grade 7 student from Trafalgar Middle School named Maddy Reilly. Standing in solidarity with her striking teachers, she was holding up a homemade sign that said: Education is not a business. It was one of the first examples I saw of exemplary students taking their learning into their own hands.

This week at the Star, we’re celebrating and highlighting some of our Kootenay students’ most impressive accomplishments. In these pages you’ll find pictures and stories from the last year about kids who are routinely making their parents and their community proud.

I took over the school board beat in October last year, and when my editor told me we were putting out a special supplement illustrated by the students of St. Joseph’s (coming out in print this Friday), the hardest part was deciding which inspiring stories would make the cut.

One of my favourite stories this year was the Rosemont Elementary School pink shirt flash mob, which performed in front of city hall on Feb. 25. During that event I connected with Grade 5 student Abby Sparrow, who was leading the kindergarteners in the front row.

“I was really nervous because there were so many people,” she said. She told me she’s experienced bullying personally and has strong feelings about it. “It’s mean and if you do it, you should apologize to that person.”

She asserted that her entire school was committed to creating an inclusive environment in which no one is picked on or victimized.

“Our whole school wants that.”

Since then, I’ve been wearing my own Star-provided Bully-Free Zone pink shirt. (I get lots of compliments on it.)

And when the school board announced the passage of Policy 215 in March, which enshrines the right for students not to be bullied due to their gender identity or sexual orientation, it was Abby’s photo that we ran with the piece.

Another student who made an impression on me was L.V. Rogers’ Michael Marsland, who had been recruited to appear in the Capitol Theatre performance of Almost, Maine.

Marsland was cast after teacher Robyn Sheppard stopped him in the hall to inquire about his singing voice.

“We were singing Christmas carols in the halls, as the cool kids do, and Robyn came up and said ‘you have a voice of someone who does drama.’ I’d never known her, but she asked me to come audition after school, randomly. She pulled me in and said ‘you’re amazing’.”

As it turned out, he made a great lead and the show drew rave reactions.

Same goes for the recent performance of The Tempest, put on by Kootenay Home Educators.

Featuring a female incarnation of the wizard Prospera, played by 13-year-old Hannah Wiedrick, the show also included a trumpet-playing hobgoblin and was directed by local thespian Michael Calladine.

One of the most unique stories came from Mt. Sentinel, when a Law 12 class took it upon themselves to retry the controversial Ferguson case in the Nelson courthouse, an endeavour that involved 42 students.

Johnny Johnson, who played officer Darren Smith in the mock trial, told me the experience was both fun and informative.

“It was pretty cool being on the stand and answering questions. There’s the pressure, the excitement. It makes a big difference being in a real courtroom.”

Another example of outside-the-classroom curriculum is the work being done by photojournalist Anandi Brownstein, who was working with kids to teach them both photography and filmmaking skills.

Just recently I received a freelance photo from student Tenne Andersen, who is already working on breaking into the journalism world.

(Good luck!)

She sent me a great stand-alone that you can check out below, and we’ve invited her into the Star to talk about her photography ambitions.

She’s just another example of the wealth of talent in our community.

Recently Nelson’s first youth film festival was held, and the event was co-organized by recent graduate James Tucker. The event gave kids opportunities to work with local artists such as Brownstein, Amy Bohigian and Nelson cultural ambassador Bessie Wapp.

“This is only the beginning,” Tucker told me. “We’d really like to see the festival grow bigger, and ultimately our objective is to not only enhance the Kootenays artistically but also create a forum for local youth — youth being 13 to 30, so there’s a broad range — and give them an opportunity to share their piece with the community.”

I’ll say this much: I wish this had existed when I was a teenager.

Two students who have made multiple headlines over the past year are L.V. Rogers’ Grade 12ers Galen Boulanger and Dunavan Morris-Janzen. The pair were ubiquitous, organizing not only the Keep the Beat fundraiser but also the Youth Talent Slam at Oxygen Art Centre.

Both were featured in the pages of the Star, Boulanger for a $100,000 Loran scholarship and Morris-Janzen for achieving a provincial gold standard in singing. Not only that, Boulanger made the front page while performing with his band Swing Theory and Morris-Janzen appeared in Almost, Maine.

These two are often seen at community events and are involved in a number of extracurricular activities, including the Corazón choir.

I think both deserve all the recognition they get.

Some stories I wrote were about routine parts of school life, like the recent science fair where Neve Hamilton taught me the best way to protect an egg while dropping it from a height.

(Answer: Cheerios are more effective than peanut butter.)

And when I ran into her to take the cover photo for this supplement, she taught me how to do a monkey-bar flip on the playground. She did three, but I could only do one before clunking down into the gravel humiliated.

My point? These kids are awesome.

As we look to the future, I would love for school administrators, parents or students to feel free to contact me about the exciting stuff going on in your schools. I promise to show up as often as I can, with my camera and ready to learn.

I encourage you to get in touch with me by email at or follow me on Twitter @KootenayGoon.

And I hope you enjoy this tribute to our area’s special Kootenay students.

For more stories and photos, see the Friday issue of the Star.