Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Grade 8 Retreat

J.N. Burnett's Grade 8 class just returned from three days at Cultus Lake's Camp Stillwood, on a retreat designed to bring the grad class of 2016 together.  The weather cooperated and students had a memorable time, bonding with one another, working with the fantastic Leadership 11 and 12 students who were guided by Ms. Cain, and making memories that will last the duration of their time in high school and beyond.

Here as guest bloggers, writing about the experience is  one of the Leadership students who played such a huge role in making the camp happen (Jeevan Sandhu), as well as a series of Grade 8's who wrote about their experiences at camp.

After months of hard work and preparation from both staff and students, the annual grade 8 retreat has come and gone. Ms. Cain, Ms. Meralli, and Mr. Blair worked alongside the leadership classes to ensure the trip was perfectly planned and executed. What seems like a short three day vacation for most onlookers is actually lots of work considering the fact all information has to be gathered, organized, and then used to make activities for the grade 8’s to enjoy. 

Nonetheless, the day arrived and by 7 am the gym was full with nervy yet excited grade 8‘s. This would be the first trip away from parents for a lot of the grade 8’s so lots of tension was expected. The teams were organized with there group leaders ready to get going onto the cozy charter buses. Once Mr. Blair gave the green light everyone including the half asleep teachers boarded the buses to start a long and eventful day.

The bus ride was about 2 hours long but in no time at all we were pulling into the gates of Camp Stillwood. After everyone got out and gathered their belongings we had a first meeting in the main room. By now all teams had received their colourful t-shirts and we had just met the camp supervisors. Mr. Blair had a few words to say about expectations and within minutes everyone had been to their rooms and grade 8 students were all over the place enjoying the campground facilities. 

The first official event of the day was lunch. This was the first of many delicous meals we were provided with by the kitchen staff at Camp Stillwood. The meals were unique because it forced students to go and sit with lots of people they have never met before. This provided a great bonding time for leaders, teachers, and especially the grade 8’s.

The first activity that we had planned for the students was a campground wide scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt had leaders taking their individual groups around to each station. At each station was located a teacher who provided the group with a task to do. If the task was completed successfully the group would receive the next clue. In the end not all teams finished the race but the message of the scavenger hunt ‘Don’t stop believing" was evident.

The first night was finished off with mini games in the big dome and a movie in the maple lodge. The games in the dome were enjoyed by all participants and suprisingly energy levels were excellent up until bedtime. After two hours of either watching The Blindside or running around in the dome, the students were treated to chocolate chip cookies with sugar loaded hot chocolate as their late night snack. As guessed many students were anything but sleepy after that snack. Nonetheless everyone was put to sleep.

The second day was just as jam packed as the first. Activities were planned all day requiring students to sing, dance, draw, paint, run, play, and watch. The four stations were: drama games with Tombert, Mr. Leslie and Mrs. Macdonald in the ampitheatre, sports challenges with Mr. Gomes, Mr. Ghuag, and Mr. Blair in the fields, watching Glee with Ms. Davis, Ms Meralli, and Ms. White in the maple lodge, and lastly making photo frames with Ms. Takada, Ms. Schneebelli, and Mr. Almas in the arts and crafts room. These activities took up all the way until after dinner.

The last event of the day was the charades marathon in the dome. At first their were games including the 13 grade 8 teams and the one dreaded teacher team. The teachers were reigning champions for the past 3 years. After 5 rounds of that it was the teacher team that came out victorious. However the teachers were challenged to a rapid fire round by the leadership group. It was a hotly contested game but in the end the  more equipped and superior team came out on top. The leadership students were now champions after a close 5-4 victory. After all the tears were shed and jokes were made, it was time to sleep.

The night was short but not boring, to say the least. Mr. Ghaug, Mr. Gomes, Mr. Blair, and Tombert tried there best to scare the downstairs boys cabin, however to much shock not a single soul was awoken by these attempts.

Morning came fast and the day was going to be much shorter than the last two. After breakfast, cleanup was done in all rooms. After cleaning up the grade 8s were given their last bit of free time at the campsite. It was time for them to meet at the maple  lodge in no time. The maple lodge is where we sat and watched the amazing video that Mrs. Johal spent hours to make. The video was followed by Mr. Ghaug saying a couple words on the past three days.

Upon leaving the maple lodge we took our great big group picture. The picture was taken in order from colour to colour in our groups. After the big picture we headed into the cafeteria for our last meal as a big group. We left the cafeteria saying out thank-you’s and good-bye’s and headed towards our buses. 

Whether it was beating teachers in charades, getting pranked by Mr. Gomes and Mr. Ghaug, or just enjoying the meals with the group, I know the leadership group cherished every moment of the trip and I am confident that all teachers and grade 8’s would agree with this statement. 

Special thanks to Mrs. Johal for putting together the amazing video above.....

It was the people made Grade 8 retreat so epic, awesome, exhilarating and amazing.  The people that I got to know, the people who inspired, the people who I ate with, and even the people I annoyed when I was rustling at night.  I couldn’t forget the leaders.  The leaders who pointed us to the right destination when we were lost, who offered a helping hand, who forced us to go to sleep and who beat the teachers at Charades.
 -Hui Zhang  
After and during the grade 8 retreat, the grade 8’s were more comfortable and united with each other than before.
 - Ann Gee 
Camp definitely affected my grade 8 year.  At camp we made memories that will last a lifetime.  I wish we never had to leave the retreat, I really miss being there.  Waking up every morning surrounded by friends, staying up late talking, playing games around a campfire and especially getting to spend time with and getting to know our classmates was just amazing.  The camp leaders really made it all the more fun, and when I’m in grade 12 I hope to get the opportunity to come back to camp and do what they did for us.
 - Joceline Savoie
The grade 8 retreat was amazing, fun and changed my life.  It was the experience of a lifetime.  At first I was scared of being in high school with all the big kids and changing classes, but the grade 8 retreat has changed my mind.  I made tons of new friends, and I learned that grade 12’s are not as scary as they seem.  The retreat taught me to believe in myself and never give up.  I think this lesson will be very useful and important in my high school life.  The leadership students were great, amazing, awesome, indescribable! They helped me and taught me life lessons through the retreat  that is why in the future, I want to be a leadership student.  I want to do what they did for me, to the future grade 8’s.
 -Elaine Leung 
After the retreat, high school doesn’t seem such a bad and scary place as it did before.  I really hope that the next year’s grade 8’s will go on the retreat because it is a thing to help us get used to high school.
-Mizu Lee 
The grade 8 retreat was a great experience for me to have fun with my peers and meet new friends.  Besides having fun, it was also a time to show some leadership and responsibility.  This camp experience has affected me greatly because I learned how to take care of myself, be independent, and putting aside my own shyness and say hi to people I don’t know yet.
 -Michelle Chan 

Congratulations and thank-you's to all the people who worked so hard to make the camp a success. It surely was!!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remember to Breathe....

As a new Principal, I am going to try and reflect every week or so on the experiences I have enjoyed as I continue to learn on the job.  The first couple of weeks have been bumpy and challenging, but at the same time exhilarating, exciting and enjoyable.

Every year start-up seems to be frenetic as we get things settled in.  This year is especially challenging since I am new to this role and there exist some complicating factors including; Phase 1 of BC teacher job action, our office staff losing its head secretary to retirement, our day custodian having to take an extended leave, our senior afternoon custodian also retiring and our brand new Administrative team learning the structures of the school, meeting the staff and assuming new roles.  It has been a little harried to say the least.

As in every year start up, counsellors are working frantically with students to adjust timetables and balance classes.  We attempt to prepare for the upcoming Grade 8 retreat (a 3 day camp in Cultus Lake's Camp Stillwood), we have begun our Bill 33 preparations, and we continue to rework the timetable to serve our ever-expanding ESL population.  To the students, thank you for your patience and understanding, and I remind you to slow down and enjoy time with your family and friends and allow the staff at school to work to get you all the things you need.  We do have your best interests at heart, and will do all that we can to give you what you have asked for.

Despite being busy and feeling a little overwhelmed at times, the first couple of weeks have gone quite well and I am now starting to find my feet.  I do, however, need to remind myself of the same things I have asked the students to remember.  In a conversation with my wife this weekend and recounting several of the issues we have faced in the first week with students, I found myself speaking incredibly fast, and she told me that I seemed more "wound up" than normal.  She was right, and I think many of my conversations with people in this first week have been a little too high-paced.  I need to slow down, listen and remember that "this, too, shall pass".  The staff at Burnett is extremely professional, caring and hard-working, and they will do all that needs to be done to support the students in our care.  I need to be able to listen to them and provide them the supports to do their jobs properly.  This needs to be done on all levels, including staff working with students and each other, and students working with their peers, their teachers and their counsellors.
I can not thank the people around me enough for their patience, support and hard work.  There are too many to list, but you know who you are...  Within the next week or so, most things should be resolved and the normal pace of life in high-school should resume.  In the meantime, take care of yourselves, slow down, and for all of us (especially me)...Remember to breathe!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Welcome back!!

Every Labour day long weekend, students and education professionals all around North America nervously anticipate the start of a new school year.  For many of them, this is the REAL New Year (not January 1st-see Chris Kennedy's blog post "Happy New Year").  For as long as I can remember, I also eagerly looked forward to the start of school, often times with great trepidation.  Who will be my teacher(s)?  What did my friends do during the summer?  Are there any new students to the school?  Who will be coaching or trying out for the basketball team?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Like most years, I was in the school over the weekend, putting together some last minute preparations for Tuesday morning.  While there I saw scores of students showing up at the front window, checking to see which homeroom they had been assigned.  All of them seemed genuinely excited, and a little bit nervous (especially the Grade 8's).  I spoke with several of them, tried to ease their anxiety, and welcomed them back for another year of school.

A great deal has been written and discussed about the need for reform in education today, and I agree with much of it.  I have always felt, however, that the strongest reason for schools existing in the form they continue to is the social element.  Students need to be able to come together, share stories and ideas, learn from one another and engage in the most human of activities, interacting with others.  Seeing students gather to share their excitement and support one another, I was reminded that school is the ideal place for this.  While we do have many issues we need to address and improve within public education, our strengths, including providing a safe place for human interaction, have never been more important or better offered.

Like the students, I get excited and anxious with the start of every year.  This year, I may feel this way even more than usual.  As I have written previously, I am beginning a new role and have assumed the responsibility of Principal of Burnett Secondary.  The unfamiliarity I have with the role, the greater responsibility and the additional complicating factor of job action facing the BC education system this year as teachers enter contract negotiations, add to my anxiety.  But despite all the uncertainties, I am extremely excited and very much looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.  I think that most students feel the same way.  They are unsure of what the future will bring, worried about making the right impressions on their friends and teachers and feeling the pressure that seems to escalate with every year of school.  This anxiousness can be overwhelming, but is not necessarily a negative.  It signifies a chance to start again, to recreate one's reputation or image and a little discomfort reminds us that we are growing and challenging ourselves.  I relish that feeling and hope that our students appreciate it for the same reasons I do.

Of course, no one describes the experience of the first day of school better than the folks at "Sesame Street"...

So, to the students and staff of J.N. Burnett,
"Welcome back".

Have a great year!!!