Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Save Gladstone: My Story

I just found out that the school where I have been working as a counsellor for the past 9 years may be closing down at the end of the next school year due to budgetary issues. This horrible news came as a total shock to the staff, students and parents and I have been overwhelmed with such a wide mix of emotions the past few days. I love Gladstone Secondary School. The students are generous, kind, hard-working and so respectful and the staff genuinely care about kids and education. It is a special place that I am proud to be a part of.

When I first came to Gladstone in September of 2007, I knew nothing about it. The hallways felt foreign, I barely knew anyone, I was overwhelmed with my new job and I went home each evening wondering if I’d made a big mistake leaving my old teaching job. Those initial feelings of doubt and not belonging were erased within days as this wonderful community accepted me. Many many many times since I first started, I have considered myself so fortunate to work here and couldn’t imagine ever leaving.

When people talk about how Gladstone is amazing they always mention the same things: robotics, dance, athletics, performing arts etc. etc. Not that those programs and activities aren’t great, they are, but for me it is all of the little things that occur on a daily basis and almost go unnoticed that stand out and make the school amazing. The smiles and waves from kids as staff walk in the hallways, the excited support from the audience during a performance for their classmates, the sheer amount of selfless fundraising at holiday times, the tears from grads on the last day of school when they have to leave, the number of times I heard someone say “thank you” during the day – I could go on and on and on.

I am now working with my third group of students as a counsellor and each one has been so rewarding and special to be associated with. While I’d prefer to be hanging out with my family or throwing a Frisbee in a park, if I have to work, this is just about perfect. I wake up each morning looking forward to going to work and I leave each day full of appreciation and accomplishment. I am always advising students to find a career, as I have, where they feel like they are making a difference and having an impact on the people around them. This job at this school with these students is so incredible.

Just last week I was telling a friend how great a set-up I have – awesome students, fun and various responsibilities, a supportive group of people to work with – that I could see myself staying for the rest of my career. “Why would anyone leave Gladstone?” I asked at the time. Now I’m asking “why would anyone want to close such an incredible school?” The answers provided just don’t take into account what a drastic and negative impact its loss would have on so many people and the community. Sure I’m biased, but I also know that I am speaking for hundreds and hundreds of others.

My first thought when I heard the news was that my current group of grade 10s wouldn’t get to graduate together, and that I wouldn’t be there shaking hands and giving high fives at graduation and telling a funny and heart-warming speech at prom about our incredible journey together. I know it may not make sense to others, but I really associate myself with the students I work with – I often say “we” when referring to the grade I work with and “my” when talking about the students. I care so strongly about the students and always feel like they do of me. I believe I’m seen by the students as a combination of a parent, a cheerleader and a friend and I’d be sad if we didn’t get to finish this all together.

Working with a group of kids as they grow and mature and progress through the five years of secondary school is the single best aspect of the work that I do. From meeting them as young grade 8s all the way through the end of grade 12 and helping them with resumes, friendship issues, graduation and the real world is such an amazing experience. And grads often come by to visit, to catch up and to continue to get advice and counselling years after they have left the building. Having this current grade splinter and split apart after their grade 11 year is just horrible timing. Having the school cease to exist just seems so wrong on so many levels.

The news about the school closure, while still preliminary, poses many challenges and has been an instant and tangible source of stress for so many people. The end of the school year is usually a time for celebration and sharing exciting summer plans, but current events have put such a damper on this seasonal revelry. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason in life. But, this news is such an affront to one of my personal and heartfelt philosophies; that everything works out in the end. Does it? Will it this time? Please.

I hope more than anything that, in the fall, our staff is able to work together with the parents, alumni, current students and the community as a whole to somehow save the school. I am, by nature, a very positive, roll-with-the-punches sort of person and I am trying so hard to stay positive, but it is so challenging not to feel like the end is coming. While I obviously know life will go on regardless, I’m having such a hard time integrating this plan of Gladstone closing with my philosophy that everything will work out in the end. I hope that come December of this year we all receive the good news that we so badly want, that Gladstone can be taken off of life support. I just want to keep working here with this staff and these students. Is that asking too much?