The first two weeks of school at Salish Secondary haven’t been a slow start, principal Sheila Hammond says. (Grace Kennedy photo)

Clayton’s Salish Secondary seeing community spirit in first weeks

The new high school welcomed its first set of students on Sept. 4

It’s only been two weeks since Salish Secondary opened its doors to students for the first time, but the school community has already taken off.

“I couldn’t keep up,” said principal Sheila Hammond. “I was like, goodness people. Two weeks in, slow down.

“But no. They’re not,” she laughed.

Hammond was the principal at Johnston Heights Secondary before taking on the role of heading Cloverdale’s newest high school. She is faced with the task of bringing together a school from scratch, with 850 students coming from Lord Tweedsmuir and Clayton Heights Secondary, and 44 staff.

The $55.2-million school, located at 7278 184 Street, was completed in the spring of this year. It is the area’s new French immersion school, and currently has grades 8 to 11.

The school is only half full, Hammond said. Many classrooms are unused still, and two “pods” (groupings of classrooms and break-out spaces) are completely empty.

The school, which is two storeys on one side of the building and three storeys on the other, has 10 different pods, which are organized loosely by grade and subject area. Students tend to have their lockers near their main pod, to create a “home-base” in the large school.

“You’re not having to travel all over the place and you can really feel like you’re connected,” Hammond explained, noting that the school’s “no bell” system has been working well for students in their pods. “You belong to the school, then you belong to your area really.”

Students are also already starting to belong to clubs and sports teams as well.

The school has volleyball, soccer, cross-country, field hockey and swimming teams up and running — the electronic bulletin board in the school’s library showed the volleyball team had already had its first game on Sept. 16 — as well as extra-curricular drama, music and art programs. The leadership program is also in full gear, with one student going to Edmonton with a leadership conference next week and another who’s involved in the district’s iDEAS 36 club. A fitness club, using the school’s workout equipment on the second floor, is also slated to start.

Of course, it’s not all smooth sailing. The school is still in some final move-in, move-out stages, with cardboard boxes lined up by the front entrance to be delivered from the school, and more cardboard boxes inside the main office.

Getting to school has also taken some education for parents and students, Hammond said.

Salish Secondary was built in an area without many sidewalks and few traffic signals at intersections — it’s located on a two-lane road bordered by large residential lots on all sides. Before the start of the school year, the traffic signal at 73 Avenue (the intersection leading into the school parking lot) was operational, as was the new sidewalk on the east side of 184 Street.

However, the traffic light at 72 Avenue isn’t working and the four-way stop has caused traffic delays for drivers.

“Our students were backing up traffic because we needed them to be on the side that had the sidewalk,” Hammond explained. “The morning’s not bad, but at night it was problematic.”

Students going north up 184 Street from Fraser Highway have to walk on the west side of the street, because there is no sidewalk on the other side. But the school is located on the east side of 184 Street, meaning students have to cross at 72 Avenue.

The school has staff at the four-way stop, as well as staff on Fraser Highway to make sure the students are crossing safely and walking on the right side of the road.

Hammond doesn’t know when the signal at 72 Avenue will be operational, but whenever it is, it’s “not soon enough.”

Transit, also a concern before the start of the school year, has not seemed to be a problem, Hammond said. There are no new bus routes in the area, and the only bus in the area (the 372) turns off 184 Street at 72 Avenue to go into Langley. Other routes pass over 184 Street, but do not get any closer to the school than 64 Avenue.

Hammond said she hasn’t heard of any students who have missed the bus because of connections between routes, and noted that many of the Salish’s students are walking to school.

Despite infrastructure issues and some basic growing pains, Hammond said Salish is off to a good start.

“I think that’s what you’re going to start to see [in the future] is our students owning what we’re doing,” she said. “Right now they’re just settling in.”

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