Stuck in the Middle: The NSMS Rollercoaster
The last week of school this year was a rollercoaster of emotions for our staff and students. The week started with our staff coming to grips with the reality that we would have to abandon our successful multi-age philosophy. This was due to the reinstated collective bargaining language which requires there to be less students in split classes than in straight classes and the fact that the government was not willing to fund our district the extra money to hire the one extra teacher required to be in compliance with the contract.
Our staff was visibly upset. We had poured our hearts and souls into making multi-age work. With our multi-age philosophy, we were creating amazing relationships while at the same time adjusting our teaching styles to meet the diverse learning needs of all our students. Our students were engaged and moving forward with their learning. It was working and we were proud of our accomplishments.
I knew our staff would be upset, but I was surprised at how upset our students were when they received the news. As I walked around classrooms I saw sad faces, tears, and withdrawnness that I had not seen all year. A half-dozen parents told me that their children had not slept the night after finding out. I hadn’t slept since finding out either, so I knew how they felt.
For the next couple of days I reluctantly spent my time holed up in my office redoing the timetable and making adjustments for next school year, all the while wondering if all the work to go multi-age had been worth it. And then magic came out of nowhere. I received news that the ministry had changed their mind and was giving us the extra funding. I would later find out that they had been inundated with emails of support for multi-age classes from North Saanich parents and students. Those passionate letters had been the nudge they had needed to agree to support our model. We were keeping multi-age classrooms for the 2017-18 school year.
The week would end with a celebration. Thursday was a shortened day where students come into school to clear out their lockers and pack up for the summer. We end the day with an assembly. Everyone gathers in the gym. This year, the NSMS Morning News Crew had created a video showcasing the trends that had happened over the past year, and then our public speakers teased our teachers with a game called, “What's in the Box.” Teachers were asked to shake a box and guess what was inside. Students had selected items that brought back memories from their three years at North Saanich. We all laughed and cheered as sheep eyeballs, stilts and humans came out of the various boxes. The game ended with a little lighthearted payback as Mr. Mark had to do push-ups after giving them out all year. It was fun and light and it felt like a great way to close the year.
But it was the last piece that was truly magical. Ms. Wheatley, who is moving next year to another school, came up to present the song of the week. A grade 8 boy sitting near me turned to a friend and said, “I hope she plays Don’t You Forget about Me by Simple Minds.” I smiled. Ms. Wheatley chose something a little more upbeat; Guns N’ Roses Paradise City. Also appropriate in a strange kind of way. We usually walk back to class as the song of the week plays. Our MC’s asked the students in the front rows to lead us out to summer vacation. In every school movie I have ever seen about the last day of school, at the earliest possible moment, the kids run out of the building to the sounds of Alice Cooper’s School's Out for Summer. But not on this day at NSMS.
Nobody moved. Not a single student or staff.
I looked over at Mr. Mark and we both raised our eyebrows and smiled. It was like a Hollywood movie. The students started stamping their feet to the music. Nobody wanted to leave and nobody left their seat. It was truly magical.
The last week of school was a rollercoaster of ups and downs. The bad news from earlier in the week had in the end truly brought us closer together as a school community. Our students and parents clearly voiced their support of our school. I only wish that our parents had been there to witness the end of the assembly. Seriously. Nobody wanted to leave the gym.
At North Saanich Middle School, school’s out for summer. I know we will all have a great break. And when we come together again in the fall, we are ready for another successful year; thanks to our parents and students.