Saturday September 3, 2022 | LANGFORD, BC [Updated 7:20 pm]
by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
A new school that greets arrivals with native plantings and veggie gardens. Now that’s something different!
The new PEXSISEN Elementary School in Langford was undergoing finishing touches on Friday, ahead of the long weekend. It was an exciting opportunity to tour the new ‘digs’, inside and out.
While Sooke School District 62 (SD62) has already issued several photos and promos about the new school in their social media feeds, it was good to have local, regional and TV media out there at 3100 Constellation Avenue, for a look-see!
PEXSISEN Elementary Principal Karen DeCicco and Vice-Principal Ceilidh Deichmann were on hand to tour senior SD62 staff (including SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson, Secretary-Treasurer Harold Cull, and Associate Superintendent Monica Braniff — responsible for the Belmont family of schools, and Human Resources Executive Director Fred Hibbs), a few current SD62 trustees (Ravi Parmar, Dianna Seaton and Allison Watson), and others through the modern two-level school.
Set for 500 students:
Student capacity at PEXSISEN Elementary is 500. And there’s room for more! September 6 will see a unique start to the 2022-2023 school year with some middle school students also enjoying the new space while next-door Centre Mountain Lellum Middle School (CML) is being completed.
Grade 7’s who were expecting to attend CML will start the school year at PEXSISEN and take part in a buddy system with Grade 5’s; Centre Mountain Lellum is expected to open in November 2022.
Colour and natural light:
Principal DeCicco is given credit for the mix of colour, detail and attention to the feel of learning spaces at PEXSISEN. She’s been working with her team since March of this year to bring the school design, organization and ambiance to fruition. Every day counts. Some minor construction touches were still going on during the tour, and some teachers were also appointing their rooms with creative touches for their new students.
Earlier in the week, classroom and office furniture was being moved in. Teachers had access to their rooms for setting up from scratch. They also had a training session on management of the lighting and ventilation options. It’s an exciting time, but a big load.
In the classrooms the lighting can be managed to suit the tone of activity — bright, daylight, warm, and dimmed are among the options — to calm down, stimulate or otherwise address classroom needs. The sound system is built in, with ceiling speakers. Rooms are bright with plenty of windows. The main floor colour accent is light blue, and the second floor colour accent is light yellow.
Rooms for Kindergarten and younger ages can open into an outdoor courtyard play area, a space which can also be viewed from within the classrooms. That sort of passive observation is part of the location of the school office design from which school visitors can be seen arriving and departing.
Some classrooms have small artificial plants on the group desks. Small baskets of books can be found in spontaneous places.
Hallway play spaces between the classrooms include a variety of play-tables, seating, and book shelves. Grade levels are not segregated from one another; one section of the school will see a range of grades sharing hallway space as they enter and exit their classrooms.
The large ground-level gymnasium can be viewed from both the main school level and through interior windows on the second level.
Child care on site:
There is a child care centre on site — right at the front of the school, set apart from the busier classroom area for K-5 at the elementary level. Up to 50 toddlers and pre-school-age children can be accommodated in that new space.
BC’s former Ministry of Education became the Ministry of Education and Child Care earlier this year, with educational and parent-support goals in mind through the on-site child care experience.
Situated between the child care centre and the main school area is a comfy and inviting-looking staff room, also bright with natural light.
Garden and field:
Principal DeCicco — the students like to call her “Ms. D” — began the tour on Friday by acknowledging the school name as gifted by the Songhees Nation, which means “the opening of hands”. Special to DeCicco is the front garden (not yet populated with native plant species), which has 16 irrigated garden beds. A garden support team will start by installing native plants in the front section. Student classes will use the other raised garden beds for food-growing projects.
She also highlighted the school’s “beautiful green field” the surface of which offers well-tended natural grass, a soft surface for young children to play on for class activities, recess and lunch time, and sporting activities.
The idea of artificial turf was declined for that field, as proper care of artificial turf requires no food or drink spillage, no digging, or other things that might happen with a younger group of learners. Grass is also softer on bare elbows and knees! The next-door CML Middle School does have artificial turf, for greater use as a sport field. Both fields have stone-step seating for people to watch the on-field activities.
There are covered outdoor spaces alongside the green-grass field that will include picnic tables with a portable whiteboard. The area will be used for gardening classes. Outdoor learning seems appropriate for “learning about the land that surround us”, as DeCicco told the tour participants.
2022-2023 school year:
The 2022-2023 school year starts on Tuesday September 6, 2022. Parents and students may check their school websites for start times and other details.
For the Centre Mountain Lellum Middle School students, the revised locations for the start of school are Spencer Middle School in Langford for Grade 6 students, PEXSISEN Elementary School (at 3100 Constellation Ave, next door to Centre Mountain Lellum | see construction & design info) for Grade 7 students, and Dunsmuir Middle School in Colwood for Grade 8’s.
SD62 bus transportation information is on the SD62 website. There is a late registration fee of $100 for registrations after September 1, 2022.
SD62 is encouraging walk-to-school where families are within walking distance of their designated schools.
While the COVID-19 virus is still actively circulating (now endemic on the planet), schools are depending on adequate vaccination among teachers, students, staff and parents in order to operate schools fairly normally. SD62 information on COVID-19 is also posted online.
The number of students registering in SD62 schools has been increasing every year since at least 2013, due to robust housing development in Langford, Colwood and Sooke. Last year the usually quite accurate student-growth number was off by a staggering 50 percent, as families are choosing smaller homes that are still relatively affordable in today’s housing market.
At the PEXSISEN tour on Friday, SD62 Chair Ravi Parmar said the day may come when sharing of school space with neighbouring Greaer Victoria SD61 might need consideration, as SD62 schools will be beyond full.
SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson said classrooms are operating overall at 120% capacity right now. Portables will be needed once again at Royal Bay Secondary School (which was new in 2015 and expanded again just a few years ago).
Meanwhile, new schools are on the SD62 list of capital developments. After Centre Mountain Lellum Middle School opens in November 2022, the next capital development focus is a new high school on McCallum Road in the high-traffic Millstream commercial retail area of Langford (that will be a second high school in Langford). Also on the build list is an elementary school in the south Langford area in the Latoria area near the Colwood boundary (the land purchase for that was announced in June 2022).
===== RELATED (articles by Mary P Brooke):
- SD62 promotes walk-to-school (August 31, 2022)
- Horgan & Whiteside on Fall 2022 education funding & growing school districts (August 30, 2022)
- Education & child care ministry issuing $60 million in back-to-school inflation supports (August 29, 2022)
- Delay in opening new SD62 middle school in Sept 2022 (August 10, 2022)
- Education articles archive (2018-2022)
===== ABOUT THE WRITER:
Mary P Brooke is the editor and founder of a series of publications that have focussed on news of the west shore of south Vancouver Island since 2008. That journalism contribution has produced an archive of great value to the local and regional communities, including a deep archive of SD62 news since 2014.
MapleLine Magazine was a quarterly colour glossy (2008-2010), followed by the weekly grayscale print newspaper Sooke Voice News (2011-2013), and then the colour weekly print/PDF newspaper West Shore Voice News (2014-2020). The Island Social Trends news portal emerged mid-2020, fully online for open access to all readers.
Ms Brooke holds a B.Sc. in health science and community education, with a second major in Sociology, as well as her Certificate in Public Relations. She holds a major journalism award from the University of Saskatchewan, and fully composed the inaugural curriculum in Writing for Business and Journalism for the Western Academy of Photography which graduated several successful communications professionals through the 1990s. Island Social Trends has offered a journalism scholarship to SD62 grads in recent years.
Mary P Brooke is running for a seat on the SD62 school district board of education in the October 15, 2022 election.