School trustees need to get back into classroom

Thursday, November 26, 2009

There was a moment during the school board’s meeting with the Beattie School of the Arts community this week that encapsulated so many realities.

Students had started off the presentation to the trustees who are considering changes to the school by performing a play they wrote about how welcoming the school is to others.

Superintendent Terry Sullivan thanked them at the end, noting how unique the scene had been.

Later on, a dad stood up to clarify something for the people sitting at the front of the gym, charged with making difficult decisions about our schools.

He noted that what Sullivan had found unique is a reality that is commonplace for the parents and students who make up this school of choice.

We’re used to seeing kids dancing and singing in the hallways.

We’ve watched our kids learn about the digestive system by creating and acting out a play that follows the travels of a burger from mouth to — well, you know where it ends up.

But it points to a reality I’m sure the trustees are having difficulty grappling with — they really don’t know what actually happens in our schools.

Sure, they know teachers teach, students learn, administrators do whatever it is they do.

They see reports showing percentages of students who graduate, drop out, get suspended or expelled.

They calculate how much it costs to keep the lights on, the floors clean, the shelves filled and the parking lots shovelled.

They may even remember what it was like when they were in school.

But they don’t really know what its like now.

They don’t get to see the magic that happens in a school like Beattie, where everyone is accepted because they are unique.

Where teachers are truly engaged in the learning process because they’re not limited to working strictly from the textbook.

Where the high school band gets to play the theme from 007 movies instead of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Trustees have mentioned after other meetings they’ve had with schools that they’ve learned a lot about what goes on in those classrooms, too, so our experience at Beattie is not unique.

You can see the same sort of disconnect with who they represent in the decision earlier this week by city councillors to not hold evening meetings.

The reasons given ranged from ridiculous — Coun. Marg Spina asserting that if someone wanted to be at council, they’d find a way — to insulting — gee, we can watch it later on cable TV.

But the reality is council is supposed to be easily accessible to the public and that simply doesn’t happen when it meets in the afternoon.

Perhaps this disconnect comes format the fact our council is made up of only one true 9-to-5 working stiff — Nancy Bepple — with the others business owners or retirees.

While the process the school board has been going through is onerous — by the time the reconfiguration is complete, there will have been about 30 public meetings — it has perhaps been good because it not only gave parents a chance to spotlight their schools, it gave the board the chance to truly see what it is that is accomplished every day.

At Beattie, that means students whose learning is infused with the arts.

Who learn in a way that is different from the other secondary schools.

Who mentor the younger students and don’t think twice about sharing a stage with them.

The presentation from the Beattie community — the majority of whom want to see the board follow through on its original commitment to create a K-12 school of the arts in one building — was well-orchestrated.

Parents took the microphone and extolled the virtues of the school and its learning style.

But, in the end, it was the students who made the true point through song and dance (based on how a virus attacks a cell), visual art (an interpretation of an Irish poem) and the play that started it all off.

And that’s so appropriate because, when they sit around the horseshoe in December and early next year, trustees need to remember just who they really represent.

Music must still make meals

Monday, November 23, 2009

The generosity of Kamloops residents continues to amaze me.

Last year, at the suggestion of Joey Jack and encouraged by Danie Pouliotte, some of us got together to create Music Makes Meals (MMM), a fundraiser for the Kamloops Food Bank.

Teri Willey, one of the owners of the Blue Grotto, lent us her place for the night.

Danie, Joey, Kira Gosselin, Paul Filek, Henry Small and Perry Tucker, among others — all amazing entertainers who have graced plenty of stages in Kamloops — donated their services and a couple hundred people helped raise money and stock the shelves at the agency.

We did it again earlier this year, moving it to the Colombo Lodge — and now we’re headed back to the Grotto for our third MMM.

Putting it together was beyond easy, simply because this is a community of incredible, caring people.

Teri offered the Grotto before we could ask for it and she’s working with us now to finalize a date next spring for our fourth one.

The first one contacted was Dodie Goldney of Scully and the Mulders. Our December MMM was this band’s first gig together and, as someone who has only known Dodie as an incredible woman and social activist, it was stunning to see what a talented singer and guitarist she is.

Roxanne Hall has agreed to open the show — largely because she’s taking a break from her own job at Grinders that night in order to kick our evening off on an incredible note.

It’s been a while since I’ve heard Roxanne sing and her agreement to do this — no offence to the rest of you, please — just made my day.

Art Pruce didn’t even hesitate when he was asked to join us that night. He was asked and he’s in, bringing the stage presence and musicianship that has led to his nomination for several B.C. Country Music Association awards, including album and songwriter of the year, roots artist of the year and male vocalist of the year.

There were plenty of other bands that were keen on joining our little gig — Blackdog Blue, Bombshella, Devin and Kevin, even triple B.C. Interior Music Award winner Andrew Allen — but the date conflicted with other shows they were doing.

That’s why we’re trying to firm up a spring date, to give these guys a chance to put us into their books now.

Danie Cade, who performed at our MMM earlier this year, responded to her invitation by offering her services as a volunteer.

We’re busy lining up some raffle or silent auction items, like we had at the last two MMMs and, in short order, it’s all come together.

So now it’s just a matter of filling the place on Nov. 26 — and that’s where the rest of you come in.

There’s something inherently wrong with having to go out and raise money and food just to ensure people get enough to eat.

It’s a common refrain from me these days, but it’s just as true now — it’s 2009, people, so why is this still happening?

In October, our food bank helped 3,131 of our own people.

Eighty of those were younger than one year of age, 179 aren’t even in school yet, 485 are between the ages of six and 18 and 120 of them are seniors, those folks who have given their time and are supposed to be enjoying their golden years.

We’re heading into Christmas, the time of year when those dozens of volunteers who help keep the food bank running, along with the staff there, are even more determined than ever to ensure everyone has a decent meal on the table.

You might remember it was about this time last year that the agency was actually wondering if it would have to shut down because the shelves were basically bare.

Since then, the food bank’s lost the support of Canada Post in its annual citywide food drive — which the various Rotary clubs thankfully took on.

It’s now lost the support of the B.C. Lottery Corporation for the CP Holiday Train that helps fill the shelves this season.

MMM is just one of many small fundraisers people hold throughout the year for the food bank and, like the others, we try to keep the cost and request for food donations as reasonable as possible.

So, for $10 and three cans of beans or three boxes of Kraft Dinner, you can spend the night listening to some of the best homegrown music in town — and maybe help us all move one day closer to the time when food banks are irrelevant in society