Wickaninnish Community School principal Drew Ryan says he’s excited for the new infrastructure being built over the next couple months to improve student safety and learning. (Drew Penner Photo)

Wickaninnish Community School principal Drew Ryan says he’s excited for the new infrastructure being built over the next couple months to improve student safety and learning. (Drew Penner Photo)

Tofino kids go back to school

WCS getting new roof, portables, and a drop-off loop

DREW PENNER

Special to the Westerly

The roofers are working full tilt on Wickaninnish Community School’s facelift as principal Drew Ryan sits down to chat about where Tofino’s K-7 institution is at with kids heading back to class.

It’s a busy time, something that’s pretty obvious thanks to banging overhead and steam pouring from the tar kettle by the entrance.

“We had our fair share of leaks last year,” Ryan said, moments before administrative assistant Rebecca Tuck announces they just discovered another. “We definitely need a new roof.”

Despite the challenges of living in a rugged West Coast landscape, the population of the school has jumped by 80 per cent in the past few years – from 129 back in 2009-10 to 232 this year.

“Families really appreciate living out on the coast and what it offers,” he said. “More families are doing what it takes to live out here.”

Since Gibson Street is set to be paved, complete with a sidewalk, traffic in front of of the building is forecast to increase further. Add into the mix just six staff parking stalls, and you get a looming safety concern.

“It just creates a jam-packed place,” Ryan said.

“Kids are getting dropped off on the side of the road; they’re walking, riding their bikes.”

Luckily, two portables are on the way to help alleviate the space crunch—although they’re behind schedule as school districts across the province go back to smaller class sizes reinstated by a recent BC Supreme Court decision.

Plus, the school is getting a student drop-off loop and additional parking.

The renos are expected to be completed by October—School District 70 has set an end-date of March 31, 2018.

It’s all in a bid to promote an evolution of learning. As the BC government pushes educators towards teaching what it calls “Core Competencies” such as communication, thinking and social abilities—as opposed to simple by-the-book learning—Wickaninnish Community School is in a unique position to lead the charge.

Surrounded by the wealth of nature, Tofino is the perfect place to develop complete students, Ryan says.

“It’s a very holistic way of learning,” he said. “You’re not only learning, for example, about watersheds; you’re hiking in the environment.”

When students see a Coho smolt or a tree frog for themselves, it cements the lessons taught in class, Ryan explains.

“It creates a little anchor in your brain,” he said, adding this kind of active learning is a key part of building meaningful student capabilities. “When they are outside they’re more in tune to themselves.”

Ms. Melanie Morris’ Grade 5/6 Class even got to tell the school board about their “Learning Outside the Box” curriculum at its April 11 meeting, held in Tofino.

“The trustees themselves said they were blown away by the presentation,” Ryan remembers, adding the students spoke with communications skills “well beyond their years.”

There have been some personnel changes for the 2017-18 season too. Ryan says he’s eager to see how it all plays out.

Dani Shannon, who parents may remember as a kindergarten teacher at the school, was promoted to vice principal. That job came up because Jaime Hansen vacated the office to take a principal gig at Ucluelet Elementary.

“It offers a lot of new opportunities,” Ryan said. “We’re looking forward to an exciting year.”

Tofino,