By Marie Birkbeck
“Let the Mountains School You” is a tag line Dan Kenkel, Principal of Valemount Secondary School (VSS) would like to attach to his Mountain School concept being introduced into the Valemount school system this fall. About 20 people crowded into the meeting room in the Community Services Building on Thursday, July 26 to listen to Kenkel talk about how and why this new concept came about and what his vision is for the future of VSS.
Kenkel explained, demographics are changing drastically; today’s generations are having fewer children, many families are moving out of the school district for economic reasons. A significant decline in school enrollment from 150 in 2006 to barely 75 in 2012-13 has necessitated changes to the programming. Low enrollment makes it impossible to maintain full service education levels that we have come to expect.
Kenkel believes by doing nothing about the crisis situation and allowing it to slide even further VSS will see a loss of staff, and a loss of student options. It is much more difficult to rebuild or recreate the system than it is to maintain, even if on a smaller scale. Kenkel and his team have decided to turn a potential crisis situation into an opportunity. The past year, has been a season of discovery as they explored possible ways of attracting students to VSS with hockey school, baseball, International Baccalaureate program, and trades to name a few. While remaining effervescently optimistic, they asked “What do we have that no one else has? What do we do better than anyone else? Why do people come here? What do we have to offer? What skills are available within the community that we can tap into? Learn from the past. What is the opportunity? What reflects who we are? What skills do the kids lack?” Repeatedly, VSS staff came back to Valemount having proximity to phenomenal world-class resource outdoor space and opportunity, pioneer heritage, tons of resources. We need to capitalize on what is already on our doorstep.
According to Kenkel, the trend within the British Columbia Education Plan is future thinking; getting kids to learn what they want to learn, so a mountain school appeared to be a logical choice. A lot of thought and planning has gone into the development of this program; in addition to the basic core academics – math, social studies and sciences – which the students will need, there will be a number of mountain themed electives offered.
Outdoor education – hunting, fishing, outdoor survival skills
Folk arts – dancing, crafts, carving, whittling, storytelling, native lore
Pioneer construction – John Baker will be leading the senior students in Log Cabin building
Gardening – integrate community garden – constructed and ran by students but open to the general public, with room to expand
Tourism – 11 & 12 resort community
Outdoor Adventure – for grades 11 & 12 – similar to what NORE once offered
Resource Management – understanding local resources led by Brian Hanson
Biology –lots of bio-diversity in the valley including the Starratt Wildlife Sanctuary
Geography – let’s talk about where we are
French, Drama, Home Economics ( canning, preserving, recipes for local products)
Woodwork- for the seniors it will be home building; for the juniors it will be furniture construction with the focus on the use of local wood product
What does the school need from the Community?
Support from local businesses- there is already much support but it needs to continue
Community ideas, input, and feedback - this is OUR school
Communications – “Quell the Rumors. We have an excellent school. We are going from good to great. School is NOT closing. School is going to thrive and the community will thrive with it!”
Spread the word about what the school is doing, encourage others to look at Valemount’s Mountain School as an opportunity for further learning.
Kenkel is leaning towards creating an international program for 2013-14. His focus is currently on how to attract a minimum of 15-20 students to start. VSS is currently working with Shecana, an international organization that places students in exchange programs, but would like to bring the ownership back to a local level. Several options are currently being considered to give the international students an enhanced program that will really round out their experience.
A vision for the future:
In years to come he can see a climbing wall in the foyer and murals showing who we are as we try to attract more people to the school and raise pride in school
Community garden and greenhouse on adjacent property
Opportunities to showcase the projects and accomplishments of the students – concerts, art displays, log cabins for sale, showcase wood products
Kids out of the school and into nature
Partner with Palisades Stewardship Education Centre in Jasper
Mentorship –Kids working with & partnering with folks in the community skills inventory
Traditional careers and skills
Rural community integration of community and school
Summer programs to take advantage of outdoor experiences
TRU Thompson River University partnership with outdoor program
Seeing graduating students of this program return as teachers
Getting the word out:
The biggest challenge facing VSS at the moment is the marketing of this new program. A website is being fast tracked through the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George. In the interim, anyone who is interested in learning more about Valemount Mountain School and how you can participate and support is encouraged to contact Dan Kenkel at VSS (250) 566 4431 during regular school operating hours.