Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

Education- Small but mighty learning November 24, 2018

The following article was originally published in The Gateway newspaper, Sicamous, BC, June 2014.  I no longer teach at ERS, but the school continues to engage in innovative programs with some of the most skilled teachers in SD 83.  When I left, half the teachers had Masters degrees and a third of them were published authors!

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SMALL BUT MIGHTY LEARNING AT ERS.

© Shawn L. Bird 2014

Eagle River Secondary (ERS) has been the educational heart of Sicamous since students began learning on the property nearly a century ago. In recent years, declining enrolment has required the school to become creative in order to offer programs that keep students in town. These successful innovations are causing a stir throughout the province.

The changes have included offering grade specific Core classes (English, Social Studies, Math, and Science) in the mornings and multigrade electives in the afternoons. The electives have embraced the teachers’ varied passions, allowing students to learn through classes in geo-caching, horticulture, international cuisine, cake decorating, hockey, outdoor education and guitar as well as more traditional classes like volleyball, biology and art. Of special note is the Social Justice class, which has students in the community helping at the thrift store and Meals on Wheels, harvesting vegetables for the food bank, gardening, and collecting for various charities.

A new focus on flexible learning by the Ministry of Education became the key to Eagle River’s innovations. The school has been given freedom to develop unconventional approaches to timetabling and course offerings. As a result of the success of these efforts, ERS has been recognized by the provincial government as a flagship school of the BC Ed Plan. Grade eight and nine students have had the opportunity to learn together in their choice of six mixed Science/ Socials classes throughout the school year; grade ten will be added in 2014-15. These courses have provided hands on, project based learning exploring local plants, controversial issues, water, astronomy, sound, electricity, revolutions, world religions, and cultural fashions among other offerings.

ERS is also very active in Career Education initiatives. Students are able to earn credits for their work experience in their jobs outside of school. There are two ERS students working in the community as Secondary School Apprentices, collecting hours with BC’s Industry Training Authority and gaining high school credit while they work as a marine mechanic or electrician. ERS works with School District 83 to provide two other students with dual credits (both college and high school) for career training as an automotive repair technician or a hair dresser. These students do a semester or year of training at another SD83 school, and will return to ERS tograduate with their friends.

Students also have the opportunity to parlay their own interests into Independent Directed Study (IDS) blocks. Students develop a set of learning goals, based on existing Ministry courses, and then leave the building to explore. Presently a pair of students is doing an IDS in fly fishing, learning about insect and fish life cycles, creating flies, fishing, and recording their findings. This is science and physical education for real life! Other students have created IDS courses in music, mountain biking, fitness, and long boarding. ERS partnered with UBC’s Okanagan campus to offer Maker Day. This was a chance to explore creative thinking and problem solving by students and community members working in small, multi-age groups to create prototypes of inventions. Maker Day is a movement dedicated to inquiry learning. Three ERS teachers are working on Masters degrees at UBCO, and the university is keen to have greater involvement with the school.

Eagle River’s innovations are making waves. Schools from all over the province are calling or coming to see what is happening within the walls. With only 150 students in grades eight to twelve, ERS may be small, but it’s mighty. Great things are happening for Sicamous’s kids, and the province is taking

You can find the original article in situ here on page 8. GatewayJun2014-SmallMightp8.

Shawn L. Bird BA, MEd.

 

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poem-smoke August 1, 2017

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 8:56 pm
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Summer here,

choking heat

forests fill the sky

as ash.

 

poem- fire again August 5, 2015

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 1:04 pm
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Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, they say

and all around me is grey.

The hills are obscured by haze

the acrid scent of it bites my nostrils

creates an ache in my throat, until

I want to go anywhere but here, where

there is fear of fires leaping valleys

razing the city.  July in BC, seems to mean

burning bushes, without any sign of divinity.

 

poem-snow day January 6, 2015

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 9:52 am
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It snowed

and snowed

and snows

and snows.

The radio announces

the school districts are cancelling school.

The radio announcers laugh

at how happy the kids are to have extended vacation.

Meanwhile the teachers

text one another messages that always end,

“YAY!”

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ShuswapSnowJan5-2015-2100hrsLiving in Canada, we’re used to snow.  We have the equipment and infrastructure to clear it.  As a result, neither as student nor teacher had I experienced a “snow day” before.  Sometimes when we lived north in Prince George, BC if it was below -40 C (or F they’re the same at that temperature) the buses wouldn’t run, but schools were still open and teachers were expected to be there.  It started snowing Saturday, January 3rd and then it kept snowing Sunday and Monday.  Yesterday (Monday) at 9 pm 20 inches (51 cm) had accumulated on our back deck.  The snow clearing machinery couldn’t keep up.  The side roads were plugged.  Cars were stuck all over the place.  Because plows were clearing roads, they couldn’t clear school parking lots.  So school was cancelled!  Yesterday and today!

Yesterday I used the time to do some reading I didn’t get to over the holiday, because I was finishing work on my latest novel project, While I Was Out.  Last night, just when the second closure was announced, I got the syllabus and links for my latest Masters class in my email.  This class is delivered online.  So!  Lucky me, I get five bonus hours to work on my course.  That makes today a professional development day for me.  🙂

 

 

poem-soul rain September 18, 2014

Filed under: Commentary,Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:34 am
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It’s grey and misty out

like our future

Vote yes?

Vote no?

Rain on our

hopes.

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(This is actually about the BC Teachers’ ratification vote, but since Scotland is also in the midst of its independence vote, I dedicate it to the Scots as well!)

 

commentary- Dear Parents of BC

Filed under: Teaching — Shawn L. Bird @ 10:40 am
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The following is my own opinion.  After discussions with many friends and colleagues, I feel secure in using a collective ‘we’ rather than the singular ‘I’.  We’re voting to ratify a negotiated contract, and the vote is in no way guaranteed.  However it goes, here’s what many of us are feeling.

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Dear Parents of BC:

Every year at the end of the school year, teachers with continuing contracts wave off the students, worn out from a long year and a longer month (June is always that way), bid farewell to the growing ranks of our colleagues on temporary contracts, and lock up our class rooms.

We leave the building pondering the challenges of the year.  We analyze our successes and failures.  Which lessons or units worked well?  Which students had unimagined gains?  Which strategies will we try again?  How will we modify them?  Perhaps we record our thoughts.  Perhaps we let it go.  We breathe.

We walk through our front doors, and introduce ourselves to our spouses and children.  For about three weeks we focus on them.  We relax.  We recharge.

Somewhere around BC Day, we start thinking about the next year.  We consider units.  We research.  We file ideas.   By the middle of the month we may be back in our rooms, hanging borders, photo copying, making posters, preparing for a new year.  We are enthused by our plans, by the potential of the year to come.  We are invigorated and enthused to face the kids, the challenges, the meetings, the classes that get switched up at the last moment.

By Labour Day, we’re ready.    We are energized and ready for the year.

Not this year.

This year we face our class rooms with a weariness that weighs down our bones.  We have been vilified, lied to, and lied about by our employer, the Provincial Government.  We, who have sacrificed our time to other people’s kids, who have shored up years of under-funding with our own money purchasing supplies for our class rooms, have been fined 10% of our wages because we were no longer volunteering our time, and called greedy, to boot.  We have stood up for our rights, and faced jeers.  We have explained about our Charter Rights and Supreme Court decisions.  We have argued with strangers, friends, and loved ones about different definitions of ‘benefits.’  We have discussed massages and propaganda.  We have educated with a passion and effort that rivals our most challenging classes.  We have learned that ignorance is a special need, requiring a skilled approach.  We have given up thousands of dollars of salary to stand up for public education in BC.

We have been embattled.

We have been besieged.

We have been drained.

We have sacrificed our emotional, mental, financial, and physical health in this fight.

We don’t have anything more to give.

We need you.

We need you to continue to fight for public education.

We need you to keep pressure on this government.

We may have a contract, but it is not the contract that will provide the best services for your kids.  It may be the best we could have gotten from this government, but it is not good enough for BC’s kids.

So we are passing the baton.

We will teach.  We will give our very best.  But this year, our best is not going to be our all.  We don’t have anything left in us.

When your child is not going to receive the testing he should have, we’ll tell you.  You can phone our MLA, Mr. Fassbender, and Ms. Clark and demand to know why your child isn’t getting the support she needs.  When we don’t have tissue paper during flu season, or enough textbooks, or are using the same textbook you wrote your name in twenty years ago, please write the Ministry of Education and demand that they fund schools properly.

When no one is available to coach the basketball team, please step up.  When a dance needs supervision, please volunteer.  You’ll see why we love doing these things.  You’ll understand why after a work day, they are an exhausting add on!

The government can dismiss teachers as greedy whiners, but it can’t dismiss an army of enraged, engaged parents.

Your kids deserve better than what they’ve been getting for the last twelve years.

We can’t fight alone any longer.

We’re weary.

We need you.

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(c) Shawn L. Bird.

http://www.shawnbird.com/commentary-dear-parents

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(Feel free to reprint and redistribute this as you like, but please respect my copyright, and leave my name and the link on it).

Proper citation: Bird, Shawn L.  “Commentary-Dear Parents of BC” http://www.shawnbird.com/commentary-dear-parents-of-BC collected (insert date).

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Sept 19/2014

NB-  This is my blog.  

I am a teacher.  I am declaring how I feel after a bitter fight against an unreasonable government with its own agenda.  This is MY reality, and the reality of 40,000 of my colleagues.  We’re entitled to our feelings. 

If you think that  I don’t work hard enough, I don’t care enough about my job, or I am whining, feel free to leave your opinions inside your own head.  I will not reprint them.  We’ve been fighting against such ignorance all summer. I have no patience with it now.

The Supreme Court said twice that this government bargained in bad faith, and they used all the same tactics this time.  If they had been willing to negotiate last June, this would have been settled last June.  They have lied to you, and  they’re laughing at how easily you are manipulated.  

I am thankful for the parents (and perhaps the Chinese ambassador) who put pressure on this government to finally come to the table.  I don’t think the government anticipated your fury being turned on them; their expensive spin doctors are likely losing their jobs.

Be thankful for those who are willing to stand up for public education.  If you’re a parent, please keep up the fight, because this government is not done yet.  We’ll be beside you once we’ve recovered.

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poem-torn September 17, 2014

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 1:43 am
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The fabric

of my complacency

is torn.

 

 
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