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June 28
To our 2015-2016 Grade 7s, Farewell

We had our year-end assembly yesterday to celebrate the school year but this assembly grade 7s is just for you.

Last night, parents spent time making the gym look terrific, your teachers have written speeches for each of you, the whole school and many family members have come to watch.

This ceremony is a statement that this transition in your life is an important one.

I know the transition from elementary to secondary school is significant because I can still remember my transition to high school 25 years ago.


In June of 1991, I was finishing at Caulfield Elementary School and moving on up to Hillside Secondary School.

I remember my first day: after years of walking, biking and being driven to my elementary school, for the first time in my life I rode the school bus.

I was wearing a white Vuarnet France long sleeve t-shirt that had been given to me by an older cousin. I thought she was cool so figured the t-shirt was too. Cool enough that I also wore it to the first dance we had a few months later.


It bothers me that I remember trivial details of dress; it speaks to me being overly concerned about what others thought of me. How I wish I could have gone into high school not worrying so much, rather trusting myself to be myself. If I had some advice for you, it would be to be yourself but I am not here to give you easier said than done advice.

Little I say now is going to affect your attitude in this transitional period so I am simply going to summarize some key themes that I know have been a feature of your experience at BICS, things you've learned already.


Your education is partly about skillset – writing skills, reading skills, being able to make use of numbers to solve problems.

Your education is also about mindset – how you approach change, how you think about new situations, meeting new people and how you greet opportunity.


So I will now share some long-learned lessons, likely begun in Kindergarten and earlier with your family , which have hopefully inspired in you a confident and optimistic mindset for making the most of the many opportunities that lay ahead.


Lesson Number One: You are special but no more special than anyone else.

Yes, that is possible – special doesn't have to mean better or only. The quantity of special people in the wold does not devalue your uniqueness and worth. Soon your teachers will describe your unique strengths and possibly even a quirk or two. Be proud of who you are.


Lesson Number Two: Be confident in yourself. Confidence is believing in yourself – not just your abilities but your potential. You may be good, very good or even exceptional at certain things. But you are also 12 or 13. You very likely have a long way to go until you reach your peak. Your education has been designed for that purpose, for the long haul.

Your experience here at BICS, and I know your next school will be the same, is designed to be a virtuous cycle, one where the more you learn the greater is your capacity to learn more, to be able to do more. This is education inertia – when we learn, we become better learners and more capable people. So I encourage you to be confident, particularly in your potential.

Lesson Number Three, and following from lesson two: set ambitious goals for yourself.

Confidences allows ambition.

Be aware that committing to ambitious goals guarantees hard work and challenging times ahead. Help may be needed. Failure may occur. Fortunately you have the capacity to learn from both so hopefully you will have the modesty and confidence to do so.


You don't need to remember the words I say, I hope these lessons have been learned and earned growing up with your families and attending BICS. I think you are well prepared for what lies ahead.


Whether you have been at BICS for one year or eight, it has been wonderful having you in the school Grade 7s. You will certainly be missed but as you venture East on your future academic endeavours and in all kinds of directions on your many adventures, know that we will be thinking about you, rooting for you and wishing you all the best wherever your passion and purpose takes you.


Good luck.

June 19
Subtle Summer Learning

I recently heard an advertisement on the radio from a tutoring service that in my mind attempted to elicit fears in families that their children would lose their learning over the summer months and that attending the tutoring service would not just prevent that problem but allow a child to "get ahead." I was bothered by the ad because it presented summer holiday as a problem that needed fixing and it played upon the very fears and worries that some students and families might need a break from, such as comparisons to others and the need to "catch up" or "get ahead."

In my view, summer holidays are an exceptional time for learning but they can be framed more positively for children than learning to "catch up" or "get ahead." With two months off, it's a time to travel to new places, meet new people, increase physical fitness by being active outside, develop work ethic by doing chores around the house, and find new interests and hobbies. There is a lot of subtle learning inherent in each of those activities.

And without framing it as "keeping up," "getting ahead," or even worse, "not falling behind," there are some things families can seamlessly do together to help students work on their foundational skills. What follows are some suggestions for subtle summer learning. Teachers will have articulated "Ways to Support Learning" in report cards or "Supporting Student Learning" in Kindergarten reports and for students receiving learning support in reading, our learning support teachers have very carefully shared some suggestions for reading over the summer.



If reading is to be seen by students as a hobby rather than work, students should continue to read throughout the summer and they should see their family members doing the same. Reading can be even more beneficial when you ask your child about what they have read: What happened in the last chapter? Is there something you wished the main character knew about? Would you have made any decisions differently than any of the characters? What do you think is going to happen next? Why? The Bowen Public Island Library's Summer Reading Program is a great motivator and resource for books.


Some students will gladly keep a summer journal that details daily events; for others, certainly for me when I was in elementary school, this was not something I wanted to do. An alternative is to keep a nature journal. A nature journal is something that can be used outside and done in conjunction with activity (i.e. a hike in the woods) rather than as the 

activity itself. A nature journal is a mix of drawings and writings and many students who are not keen to keep a log of their daily events are keen to describe all of the plants and animals they might see over summer. If you are interested in learning more about Nature Journaling, consider this exceptional resource.



Playing Board and Card games often reinforces key math skills such as number recognition, counting, adding and subtracting, and even using fractions to determine odds and games can be seamlessly woven into a summer day. More information on Card Games can be found here. Asking students to estimate value at grocery stores can also be done regularly.



Curiosity may not be a foundational skill but it is a foundational element of learning. I have often encouraged families to visit TEDEd. The site is less about a student researching their existing interests and more about sparking other interests.

​It encourages openness to new ideas by showing that there are many more things to be interested in beyond current interests. TEDEd contains short videos introducing a topic and then links to additional resources to learn more. 


You may also wish to look into how West Vancouver Schools Summer Learning and Bowen Island Community Recreation offer programs to keep students physically and intellectually active over the summer. I wish all students and families a wonderful summer holiday full of fun and exciting adventures, rest and relaxation, and interesting learning.

May 15
Finding Happiness at BIRD

This post, from BICS parent and BICS@BIRD Coordinator Caroline Parker, was originally contributed to the Bowen Island Undercurrent April 29, 2016.

This spring, Bowen Island Community School's Parent Advisory Council (BICS PAC) will once again hold a spot in the line-up of Bowen Island organizations whose volunteers box and stack refundables at the Bowen Island Recycling Depot (BIRD). You may have noticed that some of these volunteers radiate a kind of happiness that you wouldn't ordinarily associate with the handling of stale beer cans.

One way to explore the mystery is to see how volunteering for the BICS PAC's shift at BIRD fits the 10 key steps on the path to happiness identified by Action for Happiness (see actionforhappiness. org) and discussed last fall in BICS principal Scott Slater's blog (here). Summarized as the acronym GREAT DREAM, these 10 key steps to happiness help to unlock the secret of finding bliss as you box empties. Here is just one interpretation: feel free to imagine your own answers.


You are giving your time to raise money for worthwhile projects such as the BICS community playground.



You are connecting with your fellow volunteers and island neighbours in a spontaneous way. Friendly eye contact. Frequent grins. The occasional chat with a new acquaintance or old friend. People leaving their smartphones in the car.



As you set bottles and cans in motion on their journey to a better place than the dump, you are working your major muscle groups.



You are appreciating that in the glorious Bowen springtime, you have a relatively painless way to do your part. No sweltering heat. No plague of wasps around the juice bin.


Trying Out

It's all about innovating and refining your technique as you corral wine bottles of varying girths into a cardboard box. There's no shame in being a novice.



You have a discrete task and two hours to do it. You will never face another more direct and easily achievable goal in your week.



After the first time you realize that you've mistakenly tossed a white-lined juice box into the silver-lined juice box mega bin, you know you will bounce back from wading your hand into the juice slime and will be stronger for it.



Your fellow islanders radiate positive energy as they weave around you and sometimes throw a kind word your way. How can you not soak it in?



Whether you go through your BIRD shift like a Zen master, a chatty bartender, a human sine curve, or Mrs. Tittlemouse, you accept the unique traits that you bring to this noble undertaking.



As a parent volunteer, you are helping your family, your school, your community and the planet. It's hard to pack that much meaning into two hours of volunteer time, but you've done it. Go home, your mission is complete.

April 08
Artists in Residence creatively dig into Earth Day at BICS

This blog post was written by BICS’ Community School Coordinator, Sarah Haxby.​

The BICS Earth Labyrinth is about mindfully thinking about and connecting to place. It is about the clay of Bowen Island and that which connects past to present, and humans to the land and a new way of looking at how we are connected to celebrate Earth Day 2016.

The BICS Earth Labyrinth is a full-scale, whole-school interactive art installation and learning project. Students got their hands into the clay and minds into learning about local history and geography. Sixty-eight acres of clay deposits were discovered on Bowen Island in the 1880s and used to make bricks that built many historic elements of Vancouver and Gastown.

Can you imagine what it would have looked like to have thousands of bricks traveling from Bowen Island to Vancouver and beyond? At least one load of bricks is reported to have tipped over and sunk into the sea. The students would like to know if any local divers have found underwater piles of bricks and also would be keen to see photos of the local water wheel or the brick-yard horses. If anyone has any old Bowen brick photos, please share them with us!

The Project began in February when students learned about local history and Bowen Island geography as well as met local ceramic artist Susann ah Montague and created a small clay sample which inspired students to think about their larger clay art works. Thanks to a generous Bowen Islander who had heard about the project, some local Bowen clay was excavated and the students hand-processed the local clay to incorporate a small amount of local Bowen clay into their artworks. After firing, the purchased grey clay turned white and the dark blue-grey Bowen clay turned red. To enhance the natural colours of the clay the ceramic hemispheres were dipped in a clear glaze and fired.

On April 11th artists, students and volunteers will be sewing and hand painting a 2,500 square foot reusable canvas labyrinth base that will be the base of the ceramic artworks and over 300 candles. The installation of the artwork will take place on the evening of April 19th, with the collaborative art installation being experienced by 330 students, staff and community as they walk the BICS Earth Labyrinth on April 20th.

Students working with sound technicians have recorded the sounds of Bowen Island at each of the cardinal points and so the students will experience and get to think about the answers to their questions as they thoughtfully walk their labyrinth: What does Earth Day look like, sound like and feel like? How do we connect to the earth beneath our feet and know we are connected to the land and our past?

After Earth Day, students will keep their piece of the labyrinth as a take-home memento of the art project and as a reminder of their connections to Bowen Island and Earth Day. The school will keep the re-useable fabric drop-sheet labyrinth for future use by the students and community.

So why do such a project? It is important to build meaningful connections between a sense of place and a sense of self. Experiential hands-on learning with the chance for individual creative self-expression is an in-depth multi-modal way to learn and to build capacity to generate inquiry to desire to learn more. Plus, it is a thought-provoking, engaging and fun new way to creatively celebrate Earth Day.


BICS Earth Labyrinth Project Artists/Credits

Susannah Montague, ceramic artist –main project ceramic artist

Gerald Morrisseau, multi-media First Nations artist –overall project assistant

Additional Project soundscape created by students working with parent volunteer Shawn Cole and music teacher Cynthia Fairbank –sound recordings of the cardinal points of Bowen Island

This project was made possible thanks to funding from ArtStarts, the Community School Association (CSA,) the BICS Parent Advisory Council (PAC) and Opus Art Supplies.

The BICS Earth Day Labyrinth project concept and coordination by Sarah Haxby, Community School Coordinator in collaboration with West Vancouver School District staff, students, community and parent volunteers.

March 06
A Survey of Student Learning

The maxim, "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts,"* holds much truth when it comes to "report cards," but what teachers are mandated to report and also choose to report suggests to parents what many of the priorities are for student learning at each grade. Similar to the way a school's blog reveals what is important to the school, so does the report card reveal key areas for student learning.

What follows then, is both of those things: a blog post surveying some of the learning outcomes found in reports ranging from kindergarten to Grade 7.

Prior to the conclusion of each term, I review each report, something I have done enough times now to be impressed by the extraordinary diversity and depth of learning at BICS but not surprised by it. The reports capture just a little of the remarkable experiences students have in their classrooms and beyond learning about interesting and often complex things and using what they've learned to, among other things, learn more.

In reviewing reports this term, I've pulled one learning outcome from each grade as well as an outcome from our wonderful music and learning assistance programs. My hope is that it offers the reader a very brief look at the breadth of what is learned at BICS.


Kindergarten – Speaking and Listening

  • use speaking an listening when engaging in imaginative play; such as problem solving and working co-operatively


Grade 1 - Attitudes, Effort, Work Habits, Social Responsibility

  • consistently models respectful behaviour and acceptance of others' differences


Grade 2 - Fine Arts

  • began to use simplification effectively, to create artwork in the styles of Lawren Harris & Ted Harrison


Grade 3 – HACE/Physical and Health Education

  • describes practices contributing to healthy living (e.g. exercise, healthy eating, friendships, sleep)


Grade 4 - Thinking Competency

  • reasons and uses logic to explore, make connections, predict, analyze, generalize and make conclusions


Grade 5 - Language Arts

  • recognizes oral traditions in First Peoples' culture and identifies how story connects people to land


Grade 6 - Socials Studies

  • evaluates how geographic challenges and opportunities affect the development of societies


Grade 7 - Math

  • competently uses mathematical operations to determine a monthly budget


Performing Arts – Music

  • can create, notate, and perform rhythmic solos while following a musical form


Learning Support reports

  • Segmenting, manipulating, and blending vowel and consonant sounds in words



In selecting the learning outcomes above, I tried to pull diverse outcomes – math, language arts, performing arts, etc. In reviewing the reports, however, I looked for some patterns that might reveal how our school is doing with some key priorities identified in our School Growth Plan and Aboriginal Education Plan: inquiry-based learning, self-regulation, critical thinking and aboriginal education. There are far more effective ways of determining how the school is doing in these areas – visiting classrooms and speaking with students being one of them – but what did the general scan of K-7 reports reveal to me about these priorities?

Learning outcomes about timeless and transferable concepts and references to "Fascination Time," "Genius Hour," and "Passion Projects" made it clear that students were pursuing inquiry, whether it be teacher-led or open inquiry, often. In opening comments and in various sections, it was obvious that not only is self-regulation a key feature of each classroom at BICS, it is also being reported on frequently. Whether it be found in socials studies or explicit references to the "Thinking Competencies," it was obvious that developing students' skills as critical thinkers and asking them to uses these skills is a key area of learning. Lastly, students are learning about Indigenous Peoples frequently. Whether it is in Language Arts learning about oral stories teaching about the land, or learning about cultural characteristics and traditional ways of life in Socials Studies, the many references to Aboriginal Education found in BC's new curriculum were also obvious in the K-7 reports.

I am proud of our School's progress. And in reading reports, I can't help but feel a strong sense of satisfaction in knowing that each of the many bullets on a report card, simple words on a page, had some powerful learning experience behind it – perhaps a beautiful work of art, a field experience to a National Historic Site, a memorable visitor, help from a dedicated staff member, or simply a student's persistent effort – and that each of these experiences provided a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of learning.


*This quote is attributed to both Albert Einstein and the sociologist, William Bruce Cameron.

January 31
Action for Happiness Meets the Core Competencies

For several month BICS has shared with students and parents actions that contribute to happiness as part of our Action For Happiness Project.

For several years BICS teachers have been studying and are now transitioning to BC's new Curriculum set to officially take effect September 2016.2016-01-26_2206.png

As BICS Vice-Principal Laura Magrath and I have written about in many blog posts (available here), a foundational part of the new curriculum is the Core Competencies. The competencies articulate "sets of intellectual, personal, and social and emotional proficiencies that all students need to develop in order to engage in deep learning and life-long learning" (BC Ministry of Education).

As the Competencies are essential for success as learners and social beings, the Competencies are also essential for happiness, of self and others. The competencies are more than simply actions to demonstrate, they are proficiencies to develop. Nevertheless, over the next months, to familiarize students with some of the language of the Core Competencies, our chosen actions for happiness will be drawn from the Core Competencies, specifically the Personal and Social Competencies.

What follows is a summary of the actions drawn from the competencies which are chosen to align with elder visits and our Aboriginal Education Plan (February 15-16th), Pink Shirt Day (February 24th) and Earth Day (April 22nd).


February 1-5

February 8-12


February 15-19


February 22-26

  • Action: Do a random act of kindness for class and schoolmates each day. Keep it a secret.
  • School event: Pink Shirt Day


February 29 - March 4


March 7-11


March 29-April 4


April 7-11


April 14-18

  • Action: Find something about the natural world each day this week, big or small, that is beautiful. Visit it, draw it or share it with someone else.


April 21-25

  • Action: Help clean up the school grounds or another area you care about.


Thank you for reading and please consider participating in the Happiness Project including some of the actions above!

January 11
Who’s The Boss?

With the title, "The collapse of parenting: Why it's time for parents to grow up," it is no surprise that this Maclean's article is getting a lot of attention. In it, the author Cathy Gulli, often citing the works of psychologists Dr. Leonard Sax and Dr. Gordon Neufeld, argues that while guided by the best of intentions, many parenting styles are doing children no favors.

The article is worth reading but I will do my best to summarize it as follows:

(Common) Parenting beliefs and interests

Parents want…

  • the best for their children.
  • their children to feel listened to and respected.
  • their children to be independent and think freely.
  • to avoid conflict and be liked by their children.
  • their children to be assertive and able to stand up for themselves and others.

Parenting behaviour

Guided by the beliefs above, parents…

  • ask their children to make decisions over major and often seemingly minor things (to finish eating green beans) which become significant things (parent's control, child's nourishment).
  • negotiate with their children; e.g., "If you finish your green beans, you can have dessert."

Response of children to parenting behaviour above

The result of this parenting behaviour is role confusion: children question whether the parent is going to make decisions and as a result take on this responsibility. Children begin to see themselves as the decision maker and take on the "alpha" role in the family hierarchy.

Consequence of role confusion

  • Children will make decisions on important matters such as food choices and thus, despite often having limited experience or information, have control over their nutrition and physical development.
  • Children control access to technology and may, due to lack of understanding and/or discipline, not prioritize sleep over screen-time.
  • Same age peers will become more important and influential to children than their parents and other adults.

The crux of the argument is that the world is becoming less hierarchical but hierarchy is still needed in families, and classrooms too, where the relationships involve people with vast differences in knowledge and experience.


I feel quite lucky as a teacher and now principal that prior to becoming a parent myself I have seen a tremendous amount of remarkable parenting. I have also seen that sometimes small moments – a child throwing his backpack at his parent as he runs to the playground whilst barely acknowledging them – are really big things but could quite easily be overlooked by the parent who has just been at work all day and wants nothing more than to see his son play on the swings rather than telling his son to take care of his own backpack. In that instance, who is in control?

And issues of hierarchy are not exclusive to parenting. An example in schools: Self-regulation has been a major focus of BICS and many schools for several years. Self-regulation differs from regulation in that the goal in self-regulation is for the student to take control. Parents regulate a child with a scraped knee with a kiss on the cheek or a hand on the shoulder. Self-regulation involves the student identifying their emotions and self-regulating so that their behaviour matches their environment and/or activity. Dependence is therefore a key element of regulation while independence is the key for self-regulation. This is a worthy goal: parents and the school have an interest in students becoming independent and self-regulation is about self-control, not control of others.

But how about when self-regulation includes taking a break from the classroom and learning activity? Most schools have self-regulation spaces in classrooms or rooms where the student can take a break from the busyness of a classroom. The spaces are great: they are usually quiet, with subtle lighting and comfortable furniture. As classrooms are potentially the most stimulating learning or working environment most people will ever be in, it makes sense that students might need a change of environment at times other than scheduled (and often stimulating) recess and lunch times.

However, like a child avoiding their greens with the result of malnourishment, too many breaks from the classroom may come at the cost of learning. One might argue that the dysregulated student who feels they need a break won't be learning anyway, but what happens when student decisions take precedent over reasonable expectations from the teacher. If the student feels the expectations of the teacher take precedence over their decisions to need a break, might that student be more likely to rise to the occasion? Balancing authority and control with honouring student/child voice and independence is not easy but is important.

The key element in who should have most control of decision making is whether the decision is best informed by personal preference or life experience. For example, if it is a matter of a child wearing a red or blue sweater to school on Thursday, it is a matter of personal preference. If, however, the question is about wearing a sweater at all, the parent's life experience, knowing that the child has soccer after school at 4:00 PM and that the temperature outside will drop when the sun goes down, trumps. Clarity and comfort as to who is in charge and why is essential for parents, educators and of course children/students. A child's trust that the parent or educator has their best interest in mind when applying their life experiences to a decision is essential.

This balancing act is not easy and the article concludes with the idea that it is OK to make mistakes; in fact, it has to be OK as mistakes will be made. Ideally, awareness of who is making decisions and why will be helpful in the relationships so that students/children feel heard and so that adults can look out for the long-term interests of students.

December 04
Competence Brings Confidence


This blog post was written by BICS vice-principal Laura Magrath.

“Every choice is a career choice.”

 According to Dave Redekoff, who shared this idea during TedXWestVancouverEd, we should not assume that career choices are made during a course in high school or a when applying to a post-secondary program. Career choices are made as a culmination of every choice we have already made and will continue to make as we move toward fulfillment and acceptance. This could also be extended to recognize that every choice we make, every opportunity we choose to take, and every challenge we accept or reject adds another element to the ever-evolving and changing personality and skillset we offer to ourselves and the world. 

Wow. Every choice matters. Is this liberating or paralyzing?

In our fast paced world, decisions are made quickly, items are crossed off to-do lists, and reflection is a process that occurs long after the task... if at all. I know that I make decisions with the larger picture in mind: What is the moral compass that guides me? How will this decision or action impact the lives of those around me? Am I bringing my full attention and skills to the situation?

But I also find myself excited when my to-do list decreases; excited because the task is done and I can move on to the next one, not excited about the professional, personal, or social growth that comes from these decisions. Am I any different than some of my students who can see the big picture but want to complete the assignment just to “get it done” and move on to the next task, or students who view task completion as a burden that has been lifted – an action disconnected from real life-- and an opportunity to do something more meaningful?

So how do we make tasks more meaningful and relevant? How can we see that every choice we make has the power to lead us to a better, confident, compassionate, and more fulfilled self? Perhaps this isn’t possible or even desired. Focussing on every aspect of our lives in every moment can be exhausting or even eliminate the joy of being in the moment - that state of flow that comes from losing yourself in an activity.

However, not focussing on specifics can lead to disappointment at the end of a task or when the report card comes at the end of the term - a feeling that I’m doing my best yet I’m not satisfied with the outcome. Or I might not even know what my ‘best’ is. I know that I can do better – I just don’t know why I feel this way or how I can change the result. Confidence decreases. Tasks seem overwhelming; the purpose is lost or ignored, becoming a to-do list with completion as the guiding force.


Competence brings confidence.


The Core Competencies in the new BC curriculum provide a framework to use – adults and children alike – to build our confidence in key areas that apply to each and every task we face in life: Communication Skills, Thinking Skills, and Personal and Social Skills. If we use this framework, we can make any opportunity – and the choices within this opportunity - more meaningful and relevant. We can focus on “what are the best skills for this task?” rather than an unknown and ever elusive “being our best selves.”

A focus on competencies can ground us and help us determine the importance of and value in our decisions. But we can’t focus on all aspects of the competencies all of the time. Choosing a competency and clearly articulating the area we are focusing on ahead of the task can provide a sense of confidence prior to beginning, and a specific area to reflect upon and to document our progress.

 For example: Prior to presenting a new idea at a staff meeting, I decide to focus on the following aspects of the Communication Competency profile:

I communicate confidently and effectively, understand and control the forms and technologies I use to communicate, and ask clarifying and extending questions.”

Now I have clear areas of focus as I prepare and deliver my presentation, as well as key areas for reflection: Was I confident in my knowledge of the material? Did the technology I use help or hinder my communication? Did others understand what I was trying to communicate? What kinds of questions did I ask others to ensure their understanding and to extend my own?

And by focussing on competencies rather than content, I can readily practise these skills again in a new task—something that isn’t always possible in a classroom when we focus exclusively on content. Students may demonstrate an understanding of weather patterns in one year and then have to wait until revisiting the science of weather in later grades to demonstrate further mastery.

Sharing a common language of core competencies allows learners of all ages to use the same terminology when discussing their learning, to connect with one another to share strategies and successes, and to seek feedback and encouragement with understanding and empathy.

I encourage you to explore the Core Competencies, use the language of the profiles in your own professional and personal life, and engage in conversations with students who are exploring their own learning in these areas. Together we can focus on building our collective competencies, and subsequently build our confidence to face whatever challenges, opportunities, and choices may come our way.


November 21
Aboriginal Education Plan

My family chose the same summer vacation spot for 25 straight years. It was right on Okanagan Lake and for two weeks we would rent a tiny cabin along with fifteen other families. During this time, it would not be inaccurate to describe my twin brother and I as amphibious: We spent many hours of each day swimming, windsurfing, waterskiing, paddling and snorkelling. Okanagan Lake is known for many things but snorkelling is not one of them; there was little to see beyond a muddy bottom and the odd carp which would immediately dart away when approached. But each day, we spent hours snorkelling usually in search of the golf balls our friends would drive into the water. Sometimes, we were contracted to find a lost pair of sunglasses.

Despite a delusional fear of sharks, I developed an extraordinary comfort with water. It may be that my dad was an Olympic swimmer or it may be that my brothers and I grew up on Okanagen Lake and within reach of Howe Sound, my experiences as a child have had a profound influence on how I live my life: where I have chosen to live, who I choose to spend time with, and my understanding of my interests and abilities.

I share this because my experiences as a youth have shaped my identity. The stories of my childhood that I tell myself, and others, help me understand who I am and what I believe in. Our experiences become the stories we tell and our stories shape our identity.

For several years now, BICS, along with all other BC public schools, has created an Aboriginal Education School Plan. The plan's purpose is to ensure our school, including each of our classrooms and the culture of our school generally, is a welcoming space for aboriginal students and also provides programming – both in content and approach to learning – that teaches students about the First Peoples of Canada. As West Vancouver Schools are on the traditional territory of the Skwxwú7mesh stelmexw (Squamish People), there is a particular emphasis on learning about the Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation).


Our plans have often focused on storytelling and that is the case again this year. One of the First People's Principles of Learning is that, "learning is embedded in memory, history and story," so this seems like a natural focus. Another principle of learning is that "learning involves exploration of one's identity," and so, our focus for our 2015-2016 Aboriginal Education Plan is for students to create and share stories with others that relate to their identity.


It is our hope that through composing personal stories, in the form of writings, illustrations, dances, or some other medium, students will come to understand three key ideas.


First, that our experiences become the stories we tell ourselves. Second, that our stories, along with our sense of belonging and place, shape our identity. And finally, that some people have the courage to share their stories with others while other people have the courage to carry their stories alone.


Students will likely have little difficulty pulling events from their past that they think are likely to affect the rest of their lives: witnessing a Sea Lion off the coast of Tunstall Bay is likely to encourage a student to look for something similar each time they look into the ocean. When a moment like that happens, a nature lover is "born" or transformed. A student may wish to create a story about their experience performing in our school's upcoming Winter concert, and perhaps developing an identity as a performer.


And of course personal stories of experience often connect with something bigger. The opportunities we are privileged with often relate to the cultures we belong to. This aligns with the new curriculum's Personal and Social Competency. The Competency notes, "Students who have a positive personal and cultural identity value their personal and cultural narratives, and understand how these shape their identity." A goal of this Competency is therefore that students understand how personal and cultural narratives shape their identity.


The last understanding I noted, "That some people have the courage to share their stories with others and other people have courage to hold their stories alone," relates in particular to the residential school system. For decades, many survivors of residential schools carried their stories alone, or shared them with just a few people. Others tried to share but often found unwelcome audiences. In recent years, more and more people are willing to share their stories – with families, with friends, and even publicly. It is truly a remarkable act of courage to do so.


Our hope is that through developing sensitivity to the difficulties in telling personal stories, our students become a receptive audience to learning more, when developmentally ready, about the residential school system. As young children, they are ready to learn a little of the experiences that children of the same age experienced not so long ago. But learning about residential schools will be a long journey and our goal is for students to become reflective members in that journey.

And all of us, storytellers and story receivers, have been shaped through the years, subtly but profoundly, by what we have not experienced. I personally have never experienced hunger, or disconnection from my family or my culture. I will continue to reflect on how this has shaped who I am and how I think of myself in the world. Storytelling – writing my own stories and listening to others– will help. We are grateful to work with members of the Squamish Nation and members of the community of Bowen Island in doing so.

The BICS Aboriginal Education Plan is here​.

November 10

BICS held it's Remembrance Day Ceremony on November 10th. Students did a wonderful job leading the ceremony and our choir performed wonderfully. I shared the following thoughts with students at the Ceremony.

The brain is always trying to determine the significance of everything we sense.

Is what we see important enough to process, think about and respond to? Or is it unimportant and an unnecessary distraction?

In the mountains, we try to determine how big and far away the peaks are. Closer to home, people wonder, or immediately panic, when considering the significance of a spider lurking in the sink. Is it a threat? And if so, how big a threat?

In World War One, 1914-1918, many historians suggest that Canadians who were thinking of joining the war effort in Europe underestimated the significance of this war. They knew it was important but didn't know how long the fighting would last, or how vicious the fighting would be: increasingly vicious on land in the form of trenches, tanks and machine guns; on sea in the form of well-armed ships; and for the first time in history, the sky with airplanes and poisonous gases.

After the experience of World War One, people had a greater understanding of the significance of the terrifying and vicious forms of fighting. But soldiers still volunteered to join the effort of World War II, fighting in many regions of the world, risking injury, death and the fear of being treated most cruelly if captured.Poppy.jpg

And today, more than 100 years since the start of World War One, all of us in this ceremony try to understand the significance of these events. All across our country, Canadians take time and make the effort to remember those from the World Wars, and wars and conflicts since, who have joined the Canadian Military and risked their lives to defend the rights and freedoms which Canada considers fundamental to all human beings: freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.

I feel it is the duty of all Canadians to learn about and try to understand the sacrifices and efforts of Canadian soldiers. If they lived it, surely the least the rest of us can do is to learn about their efforts, to try to understand the significance of what people went through to defend freedom.

This is no easy task. It is challenging to comprehend the significance of the wars; the enormity of it all is truly hard to grasp.

Historians estimate that over sixty million people were killed in World War Two. Sixty million people. That was 3% of the world's population at that time, meaning three out of every one hundred people died.

While our brains can do the math, I'm not sure our hearts have the capacity to truly understand that number. When you read of stories, and the Diary of Anne Frank is one many students will read in high school, and learn about an individual, their hopes and dreams, who they loved and who loved them, it is obvious the loss of one person is immense. It is truly staggering then to think of the 60 million people as individuals; individuals who had brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and children who loved them.

The two world wars are of course sinking deeper into history. There are fewer storytellers to keep the history alive, but there is an incredible amount of literature on the world wars that has been written and continues to be written as well as some very powerful films. So while there may be fewer storytellers, there need not be fewer readers, listeners and viewers.

So let our ceremony of remembrance, and day of remembrance tomorrow, be purposeful in remembering the sacrifices of those who have served in Canada's military and also a celebration of our country. Canada, like all countries, is not without faults, but we are incredibly privileged to live in a country where our freedoms are recognized and protected. They are valued so dearly that many Canadians have the courage and commitment needed to risk and sacrifice all to defend these values for their fellow Canadians and others around the world.

Take some time to remember and think of the significance of what was fought for that we now as Canadians benefit from: Freedoms of conscience and of religion, and that all Canadians are equal before and under the law, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age or mental or physical disability. We must not underestimate the significance of these freedoms and rights and the immense sacrifices that have secured them.

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 About this blog

This blog is authored by BICS Principal Scott Slater, Vice-Principal Laura Magrath and Community School Coordinator Sarah Haxby. Its purpose is to share school goals and strategies to achieve them.  We welcome your input.  Please comment on the posts ​and carry on the conversation. Thank you for reading!