This week

COLUMN: Trafalgar: Thriving students in happy halls

The Kootenay Lake school board heard from parents from Redfish elementary school who haven’t let go of their concerns about Trafalgar.

As soon as my children were of school age I became privy to parental fears surrounding Trafalgar middle school. It came up at coffee confabs, was playgroup parley and worry seemed to dominate discussion.

But last year as my son neared the end of Grade 5 at Rosemont elementary filled with excitement about starting at a new school. I let his enthusiasm rule and let go of any of those almost urban myths I’d heard about middle school.

Earlier this month, Kootenay Lake school board heard from parents from Redfish elementary school who haven’t let go of their concerns about Trafalgar middle school.

They were against a reconfiguration of schools that saw Grade 6 students leave the elementary school environment one year earlier to be educated alongside Grade 7 and 8 students. Grade 9s headed to high school.

Today, those parents remain strong in their opinion that those kids belong back among the young. They let the board know in a letter sent by Redfish Parent Advisory Council that outlined worries about transitioning to a new school at a critical age, too much freedom/not enough supervision and kids’ health in a school in badly need of replacement.

I come to this discussion with six months experience with middle school — all vicarious.

I didn’t grow up attending middle school, or high school for that matter. My rural Alberta school went from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

With a total of 100 students, my class generally had about 10 to 12 kids. The school environment had a family-like atmosphere, allowed for one-on-one learning and provided a stable educational experience.

Then, I transitioned. I left my home on the farm, moved to the city and started university. I was just 18-years-old, surrounded by strangers where once everyone intimately knew me. I had my own apartment, a thirst for beer and clung to the handful of friends that made that transition with me.

It was a steep learning curve. By Christmas I had shingles, saw my high school A-grades dip to mediocre and I had yet to meet many new friends in that student sea of thousands.

Parents concerned about their students “transitioning” into Trafalgar school at a critical time in their development forget the value of learning to make transitions.

Sure puberty provides a critical piece to the shift from elementary to junior high school. Entering middle school is largely about socialization and peer development and those things can be incredibly challenging — at any age, even as I found, at 18.

But educators at Trafalgar know that. They’re continuously aware of the duality of their job — they teach their respective subjects and they act as a social barometer.

And as a parent, I am a barometer on my son’s transition. Not only is my 11-year-old surviving the Trafalgar environment, he is thriving.

He hasn’t been hurt in the halls, hasn’t been offered drugs and hasn’t been pressured into sex.

I asked him.

He has met a slew of new friends, had new learning opportunities through options on offer, and enjoyed a new-found freedom. With that freedom, he has taken on a greater role in making sure he is academically on task. His confidence has grown. The idea of students being kept in elementary school for longer was horrifying to him. He wants to be allowed to grow up.

He does, however, have access to Wi-Fi at school where he doesn’t at home. Redfish parents were alarmed at a lack of restriction on devices. I think this is a societal problem and Trafalgar shouldn’t bare the brunt.

I find it a daily challenge to keep my kids from burying their faces in some kind of screen.

I don’t envy the job of today’s teacher. I used to pass notes, stare out the window and ask to go to the washroom when I lost focus on lessons. Today’s student can whip out an electronic wizard offering instant entertainment. I think we, as parents, should insist these devices stay in lockers or better yet, at home.

And finally, my random ramblings reach the point of a building in desperate need of repair or better yet, replacement. The province has no money for capital projects and Trafalgar stays as it is.

Funds for education are a constant struggle and should we want a better facility for our children, we need to lobby the province.

Three years after I graduated, my little rural school lost its high school like many other Alberta institutions not benefitting from oil riches.

And last year, that school was closed completely not having the numbers to justify keeping it open. I cried. It wasn’t the perfect school. Some lessons were missed. Some were painful. But it was my school and I had pride in it just like my son prides himself in his school — Trafalgar.

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