Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thank you to my students: Part 3: Academic Skills

There were only eight students in the grade 8/9 Academic Skills class, but their "free spirit" personalities made them seem like a larger group.  I enjoyed them for their sense of fun, their spontaneity, their willingness to try just about anything, and for the way they embraced the opportunities offered by an international environment.  As with my other classes, I found there was much to learn from them.  Warm memories come flooding back as I look at the picture below.  From left to right, I am happy to introduce you to Andy, Mike, Michael, Emily, Girardo, Nikolay, Lee and Tommy.  
One day, I glanced out the classroom window and noticed the sun shining on Mount Baker. Everyone quickly got into the spirit of the moment.  (Much better than doing grammar!)  After a quick trip outside to see the mountain a little bit closer and to take in the fresh air, we came back inside, where we did some research on active volcanoes.   This site was a surprise for me.  I had no idea those of us in British Columbia should at least be aware that we could be affected if Mount Baker erupts. Below is Mount Baker as it appeared to us that day. 
Gerardo (below) introduced me to two active volcanoes near Mexico City.  
They are Popocatepetl (Smoking Mountain) and Iztacc√≠huatl (The Woman in White). I was happy that day to learn a little bit about the area around Gerardo's home. The picture below is taken from the Nasa site and shows how those volcanoes look from outer space. If you look really closely at Smoking Mountain on the left, you can see that there is a plume of steam coming from its centre.  
I took the next set of pictures one day when the students were working on their posters for presentations on the novel Walkabout.  We used a Penguin Reader version of this novel, one that takes into consideration that the students were learning a new language as well as studying literary themes.  Below, Michael works so hard, I don't think he even notices my camera. 
He is determined to do a good job.  This is what 100% effort looks like.
Nikolay returned to Russia at the end of the semester.  He learned a lot in Canada, but in the end, decided there is no place like home.  Your English came a long way, Nikolay. I hope you are enjoying life back with your family and that your studies are going well.
Lee seemed to be having fun with his project. A straightforward guy, quick-minded and bright, he was a "say it like it is" person.  
He and Girardo worked really well together, and I wish I had taken a picture of their poster. It had little doorways that opened to reveal some of their ideas about the characters and themes in the novel.
Tommy, you also came a long way this semester. Writing about the characters wasn't your favourite activity, but I think you really understood their feelings and emotions. You often analyzed the people around you.  I will always remember your warm heart and your thoughtful questions.  
Mike (on the left) and Andy were great buddies.  They played on sports teams together, sat together in class, and worked cooperatively and efficiently on this project.
Andy looks so serious in this photo, but if you check his other photos, you will see lots of smiles. He knew how to focus when necessary, but once his work was finished, he put equal energy into having fun.
Emily was another of those people who found a great balance between work and play.  Here, she uses her time well, writing prolifically about the conflicts in the novel.  
Although she had many passions like Justin Bieber, shopping, Facebook, and friends, she always made time for her schoolwork.  Kind, good-humoured, and conscientious, Emily really was fun to have in the class.  She taught me several things, but one will stay with me for a very long time.  I confess, I used to sort of laugh at Justin Bieber, but truthfully I hadn't listened to any of his songs.  She showed me this youtube version of a song of his called Pray, and it really opened my eyes to another side of him.  If you have three and a half minutes to spare, watch how much pleasure Justin gives when he visits children around the world.
Here is another example of Michael putting his whole heart into everything he did. He is at the school picnic, but found some time to practice his drum skills for music class. 
 He identified with Peter in the novel, Walkabout.  As he told me, he is a happy, friendly, outgoing boy who just wants to enjoy life, just like Peter was in the story. 
 Below, he puts equal energy into the Terry Fox run.
Mike (below) also put his heart into everything he did, but maybe a little extra if it involved a sport.  Here, he plays baseball at the school picnic in September, while Mr. Smith looks on.  
Below, he starts out with a burst of speed during the Terry Fox run.
As he nears the finish line, 
he is still running strong.
The next three pictures were taken on Halloween Day, when we did our "scary story" activity.  From the left, you can see Emily, Mike and Andy (under the table), Michael, Girardo, Lee, Nikolay, and Tommy.  Tommy was especially good at making his voice spooky and keeping us all in suspense. 
I love the expressions on Mike and Andy's faces.. 
when they saw my camera zooming in on them.
The photos below were taken during our trip to the Gulf of Georgia Cannery in Steveston. Emily enjoyed spending some time with her friends from one of the other classes. She got along really well as the only girl in her class, but sometimes, it was good to be able to talk about "girl stuff."
Below, they check out the cannery gift shop.
The next photo makes me smile.  Just a bunch of guys (Mike, Michael, Tommy, and Gavin) hanging out together, happy to spend a school day outside of the classroom. Gavin, on the right, was not in my class that semester, but I felt like he was an old friend, after teaching him in music and English classes in previous semesters.
In this next shot, you can also see Lee (4th from left), Andy (white jacket) and one other student from a different class.
The tour guide was absolutely excellent.  They have developed strong programs to teach young people and adults about B.C's early history.  Since we had booked well in advance, they were prepared for our "English as a Second Language" students.
The students had studied a vocabulary list and other material that had been sent to the school.  During the presentation, the guide had the students identify the various parts of the demo salmon.  I have to admit being proud of our students.  They were quick to respond, friendly and fun to watch as they called out their answers. There were many dangers for the workers during the early history of the cannery, and the guide did not hold back.  If you read this poster about the Singing Knives, I'm sure you can imagine some of the horrific accidents.  
Just one more example of Andy's great smile.  I really enjoyed his positive attitude to everything he did.
After touring the cannery, we walked along the boardwalk of the Britannia Ship Yard to the Chinese Bunkhouse.  This was the place where most of the Chinese workers lived.  It had been recently renovated, and was a warm, attractive place to visit.  However, we learned that there would have been many more beds crowded together.
The Chinese boys quickly found the Mahjong game.  Wait a minute, the boy in the right hand corner is Girardo.  He's from Mexico.  I don't know if he already knew the game, or if he was learning it on the spot.  Just one of many advantages to going to a school with so many countries of the world represented.
There were many framed stories and photographs on the walls of the bunkhouse.  I didn't have time to read every one, but the one below has stayed with me.  It describes the life of the Chinese workers when the season ended.  Sometimes, if they were really lucky, they might have saved enough money to go back to China to visit with their families.  For most, that wasn't possible.  They couldn't even afford a small room downtown, so many of them stayed in the bunkhouse.  They had little heat and less food, and the only way they could conserve enough energy to stay alive was to spend a good portion of their days in bed.  
The final two pictures for this post represent the children of the workers and bosses during those early days at the cannery.  The toy box and the doll's house were in the home of one of the supervisors.  These were clearly the privileged ones of that society. 
The children in the picture below appeared to be unsupervised and I'm assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that their parents would have been working in the cannery. 
Those two pictures speak to me about the power of imagination and creativity in young people.  Rich or poor, children will find a way to put fun into their day.  The students in my class did that, but they did more, without even realizing it. Thank you, each one of you, for your smiles, your laughter, your conversations, your games and your positive energy.  You will go far in life, I believe, but wherever you land, I hope your sense of fun stays right there beside you. 


  1. What a luxury to have only eight students in the class. It’s clear that all these youngster are gems that have been enriched by their experiences in BC. They all seem fun loving but also studious. Emily is to be admired for how comfortably she handled being the only girl in the group. Wonderful captures of the kids, Carol, and also of Mount Baker. It’s so easy to forget there is something brewing beneath that seemingly peaceful snowcapped mountain. Hope you’re enjoying these early days of your retirement. Thanks as always for sharing your world. :)

  2. As you demonstrated in your photos and descriptions of the other classes, these young people are very special! They are going to miss you terribly!!! You were obviously able to capture the moment... a real volcano and then research on volcanoes! Everyone learned! Fondly, Phyllis

  3. I've so enjoyed meeting your students through your blog posts, Carol, and wish them every success in the future.

    As for Mt. Baker, I grew up in White Rock, with a very clear view of Baker from our house. It was not until after my dad was transfered to Montreal, and the news reported some volcanic rumblings in Baker, that we learned it was an active volcano. I still remember my dad saying he would not have slept a wink had he known that when we lived so close to it!