It was, and it wasn’t, a routine assembly Wednesday morning for students at Millside elementary school.
Principal Rob McFaul regularly calls the 120 students into the school’s sunny atrium for get-togethers to boost school spirit. But Wednesday, it was the strength of that spirit that caused some teachers to shed tears and prompted students to ask, “What happens next?”
“Last night, there was a special meeting held,” McFaul said as he explained to the kindergarten to Grade 5 students that several schools will be closed in School District 43. “One of those schools happens to be our little home.”
Several students raised their hands when McFaul asked who didn’t know they would attend a different school next year but most indicated they were told by their parents that morning that Millside, celebrating its 100th birthday this year, will close its doors June 30 and its students will be redirected to Rochester, Alderson or Cape Horn elementary schools.
Four others in the district will also shut their doors after school trustees decided Tuesday night that closures were warranted to help ease declining enrolment’s impact on district coffers.
The news was a big hit to the school’s administration, teachers and parents but McFaul stressed to students that change is okay and that, until June 30, life at Millside will continue as usual.
The school’s centennial celebration will still happen, he said, as will a field trip to the Vancouver Children’s Festival; Grade 4 and 5 students will still go to Alderson’s basketball tournament; and Grade 4 students will still write their Foundation Skills Assessment exams.
“All of those things that we always do at Millside will continue until June 30,” he told the children.
But the wheels were turning inside the heads of youngsters. Will Grade 5 students still get a year-end sleep-over party? Will there still be a talent show? And will students get to take their supplies home once the school closes?
Yes, yes and yes, McFaul answered each questioner — although he didn’t have the same for one young girl who asked, “What are they going to do with the school when it closes?”
He also couldn’t tell students whether they would see their teachers again but reassured them that new ones “will be in those places taking care of you.”
“I do know this, that right here,” he said, gesturing to his heart, “I know I’m not worried — I am safe.”
He then asked two boys and two girls who have already experienced change to stand at the front of the group and share their experiences.
One girl who moved to Maillardville from Ontario said she was initially scared she wouldn’t make friends. “But after a week or two, I did,” she said.
Another whose family recently moved to Burnaby said a new home — and bedroom — initially intimidated her but now they’ve both become home.
“Every single one of you is going to take a little longer or a little shorter,” McFaul said. “You’re going to respond with your heart and with your head... And we’ll work hard to share answers with you over the next few weeks.
“Being scared is an okay feeling,” he said. “It makes you grow, it makes you develop, it makes you a better person.”