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Teacher Newsmagazine  Volume 21, Number 4, January/February 2009 

From an inner-city school to a remote rural school

By Susan Gilbert

This is part 2 of an interview with Susanne Hryboko—the sole staff at Surge Narrows Elementary School on the remote shores of Read Island. Part 1 appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2008 issue of Teacher.

How do you like living in a teacherage, on site?

I like it. We have a four-day workweek; I come over Monday mornings by boat and I go back Thursday evenings. I can really focus on doing all my school things during that time and the weekend is a separate time. Because I am on site here, if someone wants access to the school in the evenings I can open it up. It is part of the process of what you have to do here and at first I wasn’t sure. The teacherage is old; I don’t think there are any new teacherages in the province. I have to deal with the mice, but again that is part of what we do living up here. I have a fridge, but the generator is off at night so keeping ice is difficult. There is no TV or radio so my life is the school and I read a lot.

What is the biggest threat to your job in both schools?

In the inner city, especially teaching behaviour classes, there was always the threat of violence. We were prepared for it by going through training but the underlying threat was always there.

Here, the biggest threat I feel is if families move away and the school population diminishes enough for the school to close. That is about it; it feels like a really safe place here.

Compare parent involvement in both schools.

There are some parents who are here a lot more than other parents and it was the same in the inner-city school. In the city school, there was a separate parent room and we had a full-time staff worker who was the parent counselor. Something I really found interesting coming here is that the parents fight for the same basic issue; the right for their children to be educated in their own catchment area. In the inner-city school, I was in a class that was set up the year before I came and it was set up as a result of parents camping for 44 days on the school board property to demand the right for the kids to attend their home school. These kids were sent to district classes in various schools and yes, the school board bussed them so it wasn’t transportation issues but some parents had kids in two or three school across the city and for them to try and make their way to the schools was impossible. The kids were being shipped out of the neighbourhood. This meant they had teachers who didn’t understand the living situation and what was going on at home.

Coming here, to a school that had become really small before I started, to the point where parents were protesting saying, “Do not shut the school down, we need it.” It is the same issue of kids having the right to be schooled in their own school whether it is inner-city Vancouver or small-town rural Surge Narrows.

How do you justify a school being open for 10 students when schools of 200 plus are being closed down from lack of funds?

It is hard to justify when it comes down to the paper level. For the people who make the decisions, I ask them to come and travel the road and the distance once, not by water taxi, not by float plane, but to actually travel that road by vehicle to see if this experience would differ if it was decided to close Surge School. The only other option the school board could offer is to board the Surge students out and for parents to give up raising their own children in lieu of an education and this is not an option anyone would agree to. It is one of those things of reality verses business world.

How do you teach different grade levels in one classroom?

It is a constant series of mini lessons. There are no big lessons in a subject like math. The kids work out of their textbooks and I go around and make sure each one is on track. With a subject like science, I teach the group together. Right now we are doing “simple machines” which is technically Grade 5. I teach the basics but the observations on what they do during experiments and the expectations of their written work are in accordance with the child’s grade level.

Are you teaching life skill more here at Surge Elementary than you were in Vancouver?

Actually, it is the opposite. I do teach life skills here, specifically emergency preparedness—calling the coast guard and being able to give locations etc.—but what I found in the inner city was that many of the students did not go beyond Grade 8 and therefore, I could be the last teacher they might have. These kids needed to know money; they needed to know how to look up phone numbers, how to cross streets, take buses, etc. Here, life skills are primarily taught by the parents and are reflected in the lifestyle in which they live.

Do you think the lure of working with colleagues in the traditional public school system will ever draw you back?

In a word—no. The only way I would ever return to a traditional school is if this school closes for lack of students. I love it here. I love the life style, I love having the same students year after year and being able to cater to their individuality. I love the lack of stress in my life and, ultimately, I feel that the way these children are experiencing school will be of a much greater benefit to them as adults. This system unequivocally nourishes a sense of self. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be here in such a uniquely wonderful situation.

Susan Gilbert is a parent and freelance writer, Read Island.


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