Starting in the fall, Stawamus Elementary School will no longer be a traditional elementary school.
The Sea to Sky school board voted March 11 to discontinue the school in its current configuration and to try to grow enrolment by offering two programs of choice: Cultural Journeys and Learning Expeditions.
The parents of current Stawamus students have two options, according to superintendent of schools Lisa McCullough. “Your options are to register for the program of choice or go to a new catchment school or transfer to a different school, and we are going to help you with that,” said McCullough. “We really want to help the families get what they are hoping for.”
About 50 parents came to a school district held meeting Monday night at Howe Sound Secondary’s Eagle Eye theatre to learn more about the program and to have the opportunity to register.
The board had already approved the Squamish Nation-inspired Cultural Journeys for students in kindergarten to Grade 6, and at the March 11 meeting, it selected the Stawamus building as the location. The outdoors-based, academically rigorous program is open to all students regardless of their cultural background and aims to reinvigorate First Nations culture, said McCullough.
Students will get outside every day and go on field trips about twice a week, Susan Leslie, district principal of aboriginal education at School District 48, told parents Monday night.
The program, like all public education programs, will not cost parents anything extra beyond the odd additional longer field trip fee, McCullough said.
The district is currently in talks with the Squamish Nation in regards to a busing agreement for students to get to and from field trips. The Nation has offered its resources, including its longhouse and equipment at the longhouse, such as paddle boards, for the program to use, for free, according to Leslie.
Squamish Nation Chief Ian Campbell told The Squamish Chief he was moved by the Squamish district’s adoption of the program. “I just think, wow, what a long way we’ve come in a couple of generations,” he said. “I am the first generation to not come out of residential school… and as we go through truth and reconciliation in this country we have to ask ourselves, where do we go with this… and seeing the action that is occurring here in [Stawamus], that to me is reconciliation.”
Enrolment at Stawamus Elementary has been declining for years. This year there are only 76 students total; the capacity of the school is about 195. With the new programs of choice, “we are really hoping we can build something there that makes it a sustainable kind of school,” said McCullough.
According to a report to the district, 64 students had been expected to enrol at Stawamus for next year. About 65 parents surveyed showed interest in attending the Cultural Journeys program in the fall.
The district predicts 73 to 106 students will be enrolled in the program by 2016. The Learning Expeditions program is predicted to attract about 48 students by 2016.
There will be a separate meeting about Learning Expeditions, for students in Grades 7 to 12, in the coming weeks, according to the school district.
District staff will complete an enrolment review of both programs in February 2018.