Shortly after Mount Sentinel Secondary completed their #WeAreReady banner campaign, calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to address growing concerns around climate disruption, the school counsellor overheard some students chatting while in line for the bus.
“They were talking about Donald Trump’s latest comments and how despicable they were, how racist,” principal Glen Campbell told me. “They were saying ‘how can we have leaders like this?’ and we as a staff chuckled, like what have we done to these kids? They’re talking geopolitics on their own time.”
He shouldn’t have been surprised.
Over the course of this past school year Kootenay Lake district students have staged a 24-hour environmental sit-in, lobbied for new gender neutral signage in their schools, replaced hot dog day with a healthier alternative and created a collaborative mural with the Sinixt.
And that’s just the beginning — overall, these students are much more civically engaged, globally minded and socially progressive than their adult counterparts.
And they’re not waiting for teachers to tell them what to do.
Jaxon Zaytsoff and Yuri McCormick (above L-R) learned about nutrition in their South Nelson Elementary School class, as part of their weekly salad bar day program.
She was joined by Sage Cowan and Quinn Barron in asking for the school’s support for their plan to fill the hallways with student bodies for a full 24 hours. And according to them, they weren’t going to be satisfied with a one-day event — they plan to incorporate green-thinking and sustainability into the high school’s daily life.
“We want it to be more than one day of demonstration,” Wiley said. “We want to build on this to create more sustainability in our school and more green initiatives. Overall the value is we’re going to be educating ourselves, the other kids, and there’s nothing more important than that.”
Wiley isn’t the only one thinking this way. Another pair of students looking to educate their peers, as well as the community, are Amelia Martzke and Jasmine Faulkner, who successfully lobbied the school board to create gender-neutral signage for a single-use washroom at L.V. Rogers.
“Especially here in Nelson where so many people don’t identify with set gender norms, this is so important,” Faulkner told me, when I swung by to see a Sharpie version of the symbol they were planning to use.
“Some people might not know it’s a thing or believe it’s a thing. And that means we have an opportunity to talk to them about it and educate them.”
Jasmine Faulkner and Amelia Martzke (above, L-R) lobbied to introduce a gender neutral washroom at L.V. Rogers this year.
This trend of students taking charge of their learning, and their educational environments, is not unexpected —it’s a part of a continuing shift that tasks students with coming up with their own learning objectives, rather than relying solely on their teachers’ direction.
When I swung by the science fair at Trafalgar I was amazed to see the variety of projects the students had come up with, and the practical implications they had. The kids identified real-life problems and were enthusiastically working to solve them.
“I was concerned about house taps,” said student Caleb Peil. “Have you ever thought about all that water pressure moving through your house? Now what if you put something in that could use thatpressure, like a turbine? So I thought I’d make one.”
And sure enough, there was his homemade Tesla generator — alongside innovative new fishing bait, a presentation about the effect of screens on reading perception and a project that looks at how successfully dog poop bags biodegrade.
“You’ll find these kids are incredibly well spoken and are passionate about what they study,” said coordinator Ann McDonnell. “They find interesting topics, build things, try and blow stuff up and do long-term experiments. It’s exciting to see a child 11, 12 and 13 years old get excited.”
As the school board reporter I’m routinely amazed by these students, and the idiosyncratic and beautiful things they create — including Wildflower’s pictograph-themed collaborative mural, which I drive by every day. It incorporates individual symbols created by the students.
“These symbols represent meaning for people and show what we care about,” Keighan Stothers told me, noting that his symbol incorporates a crane building a house covered with an X in one section and a flourishing tree in another. “Nature is really important to me. I love climbing trees and running in the forest.”
Gillian Wiley, Sage Cowan and Quinn Barron (above L-R) met with L.V. Rogers principal Tim Huttemann (above left) to gain support for their environmental sit-in.
And the talent here? When I was invited to check out the production of Tut, Tut put on by Kootenay Home Educators, even though it was a only a dress rehearsal I couldn’t believe the quality of the performances, the charisma and singing chops of the kids, as well as the beautiful intricacy of the sets.
I was a drama nerd in high school, and I’ll remain one for the rest of my life, so it never fails to jazz me when I see kids given the opportunity to strut their stuff.
And have I mentioned Liberation Days?
One of my favourite interviews this year was with local filmmaker Amy Bohigian’s team of high school age students, who were creating a documentary about the World War II-themed Capitol production. They spoke passionately about what they were hoping to accomplish with the project, and about the futility of armed conflict.
One filmmaker, Sebastian Bodine, had a grandfather who served as a fighter pilot on the Japanese front of the war. While describing the experiences of soldiers returning after the conflict, he drilled home a point as relevant in 2016 as it was in 1945.
“They come back and realize nobody wins in war. Everybody loses.”
In this supplement, I’ve compiled some favourite photos and stories from the past year, highlighting the ways Kootenay Lake students are leading the way with their learning. And whether you’re in school, used to be in school, or have a child in school, we hope you’ll listen carefully to the student voices within.
When I interviewed superintendent Jeff Jones about his students earlier this year, he encouraged them to follow the example of Zach Bonner, a US student who started a non-profit to raise awareness and money for homeless children and youth.
Bonner’s life story was eventually adapted into the movie The Red Wagon.
“They still today have what are called Zach-packs, which are backpacks full of teddy bears and food and everything a homeless kid needs to feel normal and loved,” Jones said. “That was the work of just one kid. What would happen if a whole school took up the work together?”
What about a whole district?