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REPORTING · 21st April 2014
Walter McFarlane
On Wednesday, April 16th, I paid a visit to Kitimat City High (KCH) to find out what the students think of their being moved to Mount Elizabeth Middle and Secondary School (MESS). Approximately 15-20 students took an hour out of their educational day to express their displeasure with the move.

Their primary concern is they all left MESS for reasons and do not wish to return to a school which they found had a negative impact on their lives. Some students had problems with the way the education system does not take their educational needs into account, some students did not feel adequately safe from bullying at MESS and some students had problems with the staff and faculty members.

Several students explained how MESS did not meet their academic needs. Sometimes, they did not feel safe in the school and ended up skipping classes. Other students, who did not understand the lessons, were directed back to the book to re-examine the instructions they did not understand by their teachers.

At KCH, the teachers make time for the students and ensure they understand the work before passing them. Thus a number of students have seen their grades improve from I’s, F’s and C’s to B’s and even A’s.

“The reason KCH does so well is our academic courses, we can get 1 on 1 help. Our non-academic, our electives, we can socialize with each other and its way more like a family,” said Quenton Parsons.

“The way our education system works, we could also work at our own pace which helps a lot,” said Jayme Dawn Clifton. The students are given independence, responsibility and trust.

Bullying is one of the bigger issues and we were told it is not being handled competently by the administration at the high school, even when it is being reported to them. There are some students who have come to KCH because it is far more welcoming and handles problems between students rather than letting them fester. The school itself is bully free.

When a new student comes to the school, they are welcomed, applauded and made to feel at home by their peers.

“If we go to MESS, we’re not going to be able to do that. They don’t do that there. That’s a big reason why no one wants to be there, is that they can’t support you. They treat you like s***, and that’s how they make you feel. There are some people in this school that the Principal [of MESS] has literally told them, ‘they are a piece of crap,’” said Brittany Hall.

One of the problems at MESS which was reported to us by the KCH students is the addition of the Middle School, which has thrown off the delicate balance already at the high school. The younger kids do not show any respect to the older kids and the Grade 12s are getting angry about being threatened by the smaller children. On the other hand, some of the smaller children are being bullied as well.

Academically, students at KCH can attend alternative courses at Mount Elizabeth. “We can go into other courses in MESS, but a lot of the students have [issues] so only some, certain students will be going to MESS for certain classes. Here, if you are a student and you want to go to MESS for some courses, you just walk there from here,” said D’andra Galaske.

However, some students cannot set foot on MESS property. In some cases, it was because they were kicked out of the school for one reason or another. These students expressed concern that the remedy for being kicked out of school is simply to walk up the stairs to an alternative program.

Other students cannot return to school property because they do not feel safe there.

“We don’t want to be away from MESS because of all of their programs. We’d love their programs if we had them here but the fact is, the students there and the way they run their school, doesn’t work properly for our needs. KCH works for our needs and it fits right,” said Hall

There are students who attend Mount Elizabeth who want to be in the KCH program, but cannot because the school is full at the moment. One student told us one way MESS solves the problems with bullying or low grades is to tell students to go to KCH. However, one student applied recently, found out the school was moving, and then changed their mind.

The students are looking at a number of lucrative careers. Some are talking about trades, culinary arts, some are looking at college to finish their education. There are companies coming to the students and offering them special training so they can get good jobs right out of high school.

The students agreed there were more than 15 students who attended Kitimat City High regularly. On average, there are 30 students out of the 45 who attend school each day.

KCH is flexible to their students work schedules and life schedules. Some students have to look after younger siblings and in some cases, children. Other students are taking courses outside the school, at MESS and at the College. The day care is an asset for students with children so they can continue their education.

If the students’ skipped school without letting the school know why, they would be kicked out. The students have come to the conclusion the school representatives visited on Friday when students who have finished their work have a day off.

One of the problems the students see is that MESS is receiving a lot of improvements while KCH is seeing things taken away. MESS has recently received new equipment including flat screen tvs, IPads and 30-40 computers. They have a full library.

KCH, on the other hand, has seen staff cut back. One full time teacher has had her hours cut back by half, a Councillor has been removed and so has a rehab worker. The students were going to have a sewing program at KCH, but budget cuts ended it. KCH has a shelf of books as a library and just got a couple of new computers and wireless internet last year.

At the time we talked to them, the students did not know where in the high school they would be placed. They were certainly worried about getting put in a smaller section of the school which will not be able to accommodate their program.

The students have told administration if they were put anywhere in MESS, it would have to have its own entrance and be sealed off so only KCH students can be there.

More importantly, they feel the School Board did not consult them and their families before determining the move. The school board did not come to the school, instead, they sent a letter home telling the parents that this is what they (the parents) want.

However, the students expressed most of the parents of students in the school are against this move. These parents care about their children’s education and know that if the children are moved from the school that education will suffer.

“They’re not even going to be interested in listening; they are not willing to compromise with us. We’re just a signature school. All we want is our opinions to be heard and what we have to say matter to them and be taken into consideration. It is all we are asking,” said one student near the back of the room.

“They need to put our statements that we want into a program that will work right,” said Galaske.

The students have told the board they do not want their school closed. They accused the school board of making it seem that everybody wants this when the reality is, none of the students do. They would sooner move into Alexander School or Roy Wilcox School where they could have a larger set up. However these schools have been turned into training facilities for industrial projects. The students fear this is why the school board wants to close their school.

“We go to an Alternative High School because we don’t fit in at MESS, if we get put back in MESS, what’s the point?” said Guillaume Simard.

“This school is literally life changing,” said Dawn Clifton.

Most importantly, the students expressed their school is a school and not a program. It is a school they look forward to attending every day and do not want to leave.