Final days at Burns Lake—Sun, Kayaking, Lakes, School, Friends, Goodbyes.

June 24th—June 28th 2019

Lakes District in mid northern British Columbia has won a piece of my heart!

         Photos taken from Gerow Island near Burns Lake–June 2019

The Teacher-Librarian/Learning Commons Specialist position with School District 91 started as a 6 month contract and ended as a 7 1/2 month contract during the 2018-2019 school year.  I experienced a “true Canadian winter” in northern B.C. unlike the milder winters we experience on temperate Vancouver Island.

The amount of sunshine in snow country, and variety of year round sports opportunities, were bonuses I had not anticipated. I was also so grateful for the friendliness of the people thriving up here, diversity of cultures, and vast range of arts available.

        Out exploring on ATV’s with new friends–Burns Lake, B.C. 

It is no wonder there are so many young adults starting careers in the Burns Lake area. This blog post reflects my final few days as a member of the school staff and community of beautiful Burns Lake, British Columbia.

During the final days at Burns Lake my husband and I booked a lovely Airbnb “Lakeside Hideaway” on Gerow Island 2 minutes from Burns Lake. Each morning we awoke to birds singing, geese honking, sun reflecting off the lake, and tranquility of this peaceful, beautiful area.

Kayaking around Gerow Island

The courtesy kayaks called our names and we enjoyed a paddle or two most days. Sunsets were a kaleidoscope of red and yellow hues dancing above the hilltops each evening.

Lakefront Hideaway Airbnb Burns Lake

Inside, the suite was modern and well equipped. Even in late June we enjoyed the mesmerizing flames from the fireplace on the cooler nights. We will definitely return to this lovely accommodation on a future trip to northern Burns Lake.

Lakeside Hideaway Airbnb late June 2019

Meanwhile at school, the bustle of year end events was in full swing. Sports Day was very relaxed and it was wonderful to see so many parents in attendance. Triple Jump is normally my specialty, but at Decker Elementary I was assigned Standing Long Jump! I hadn’t seen this event in decades, but was pleasantly surprised at the distance some children achieved.

Sports Day at Decker

The new Aboriginal school blanket was unveiled at a school assembly by the Top All Around Grade 7 students from 2018 and 2019.

Several Learning Commons Leaders students created a QR code and riddle type scavenger hunt designed to introduce younger students to new areas of the library collection.

In the Library/Learning Commons we were busy with year end book collection, weeding of old books, Library collection inventory using Destiny, and QR Code scavenger hunts for the younger students.

Helping in the Learning Commons

Over one-half of the students in grades 5-7 were members of my Learning Commons Leaders’ club at Decker Elementary. These amazing students were quick to assist me deleting old/outdated/damaged books which we then displayed for all students and staff to take home Free!

Learning Commons Leaders sundae treats!

As a special treat for these incredible, dedicated, energetic students we had an ice-cream sundae treat day.The sweet treats were a sticky hit!

Happy students enjoying ice cream

On the final day of school with students in attendance we had the usual Award’s Day celebration. Although some students had departed on an early vacation, these photos give a glimpse into the number of grade 5-7 students involved as Learning Commons Leaders with me.

Learning Commons Leaders at Awards Day

It was exciting to see the growth in attendance of boys as initially all leaders were girls.

The P.A.C. (Parents Advisory Committee) showed their appreciation to the staff by preparing a delicious hot lunch on the final day of the school year. The wonderful menu included pulled pork buns, stuffed baked potatoes, corn on the cob, salads, corn bread, and desserts. We emerged satiated and extremely grateful.

Final Day of School PAC Appreciation Luncheon

After school I was invited to the year end staff party of my other school–William Konkin Elementary School. As you may observe…This school has a larger population and there is a substantially larger staff. The party was hosted by the husband/wife team Richard and Judy at their home in downtown Burns Lake.

WKE Staff Year End Party 2019

Under familiar blue skies, surrounded by lush green trees, we had a lovely time chatting and laughing together. From surprise mystery gifts and free summer time novels to read, to giant games and ‘be creative’ paint stations. Prior to the potluck dinner, two of our young female teachers made their grand entrance by driving up to the party area in their muddy side by side ATV.

WKE Year End Party!

This staff knows how to connect, laugh, and have fun. I made so many friends and will miss these caring, dedicated individuals very much as I return to Vancouver Island.

The final day of the school year was an administrative day at school.  While teachers packed up their classrooms and filed all paperwork; in the Learning Commons my husband worked tirelessly beside me as I endeavored to complete the first ever automated inventory of the Decker Lake Elementary library collection.

Scanning over 18,000 barcodes while teaching and completing year end procedures is no easy feat! I was working late into the evenings and during weekends determined to get the library collection inventory accomplished prior to my departure from sd91. At 3:19 p.m. on the final day of the school year we finally achieved 100% completion!

The staff had all departed for summer holidays except Dylan, the principal, who informed me he planned to set the school alarm at 4:00 p.m. My husband and I hurriedly threw my personal teaching belongings into several bins and we exited the front door from Decker Lake Elementary school at 3:59 pm.

Goodbye School District 91 and Burns Lake. Feeling immensely proud to have completed the dreaded library inventory, it was officially time to switch to summer vacation and commence retirement for the second time!

Highlights from the final days in Burns Lake

Prior to departing to Prince George, we stopped in to view two local stores I had not seen yet off Highway 16–Woods ‘N Water and the adjourning sewing store Yarn and Sew On. Both stores were filled with fascinating merchandise as shown on the accompanying video which highlights the last few days in Burns Lake.

Burns lake stores

Saying goodbye to the family I stayed with and lovely Brat the cat was emotional and difficult. Loretta, Joe, and Brat have become dear friends whom I will sincerely miss.

Loretta, Joe, Brat and I

Thanks for the memories Burns Lake and School District 91.

Typical Downtown Burns Lake—Highway 16

Tomorrow the next chapter of my adventure commences.

Diversity in Northern B.C.–Aboriginal Day, Backyard Fun in P.G. and Exploring Tranquil Burns Lake.

June 20th to 24th 2019

Late June is a paradox for teachers as energies are pulled between completing a multitude of school year end activities and an increasing desire for summer exploration and relaxation. This blog post reflects this contradiction. In addition, June 21st is celebrated in Canada as National Aboriginal Day (also known as National Indigenous Peoples Day). Burns Lake area celebrates June 21st with pride, inclusion, and style!  Another experience represented during this post is a neighborhood backyard party in Prince George complete with a obstacle course driven on lawnmowers while blindfolded!

June is such a hectic time at schools as teachers work hard to complete themes and course work, assess individuals, and write report cards. In conjunction with these year end expectations, extra curricular events such as, track and field, Grade 7 graduation dinners, Kindergarten ceremonies, Art nights, Sports/Fun days, Awards ceremonies, and School Wide Field Trips are also being planned and executed.

Celebrating the transition of Grade 6 or 7 students from Elementary School to Secondary school varies at each school and geographical location in Canada. At Decker Elementary they host a pot luck dinner for students, staff, and parents followed by a volleyball game where students verse adults. It was a relaxing and fun evening. Instead of dressing up in fancy clothes many of the girls decided to make a statement and arrived in onsies!

June 21st, National Aboriginal Day, is recognized as a national statutory holiday in the North West Territories and Yukon Territory. The date was established due to the First Peoples’ spiritual connection to summer solstice. Very few Aboriginal students attended school on June 21st as most of the Lakes District families were involved in the parade and cultural activities located throughout the community.

I was grateful to assist supervising students while our school attended the parade. The Aboriginal Day Parade was lengthy and ran through downtown Burns Lake stopping all traffic from using Highway 16.  Multiple surrounding bands were proudly represented. Regale was worn and some singing and dancing occurred. Participants varied in age from toddlers to elders.

Aboriginal students graduating in Grade 12 were honored and lifestyles promoting healthy sports and activities were featured. The parade was inclusive involving local pony and cycling clubs, Fall Fair promotion and square dancers, First Responders Emergency Vehicles, B.C. Transit Bus, a 3 trailer long B.C. Logging truck, and led by a marching Royal Canadian Mounted Police (R.C.M.P.) in full red serge.

Gifts were presented to the onlookers from candy to tree samplings, red roses, packed food, and toys. The parade participants and floats were diverse, yet there was such a unified feeling of happiness, pride, and community spirit.

June 22nd brought another 2 1/2 hour drive east to the big city (nearly 80,000) of Prince George. P.G. is a popular shopping area for people from the Lakes District as it is the largest city up in the mid northern area of British Columbia.

During the drive I felt ecstatic because my husband flew up to join me for the final week of my teaching contract in Burns Lake then will assist driving the 1,000 km back home to Vancouver Island.

My brother enjoys planning backyard parties with a twist and this weekend proved no exception! My brother, Mark, had a full house in Prince George as my husband Mark and I, my mother, two of his adult children, and his grandson were all out visiting.  Add fabulous neighbors and long time friends, and this backyard party would be complete!

The two Marks invented a creative obstacle course for adults utilizing a lawnmower pulling a little cart, pylons, a basketball, basketball hoop, noodle, and a blindfold.

The children had access to a trampoline, super soaker water guns, water balloons, and an electric mini bike.

Six year old Jack idolizes NHL Hockey Player Brett Connolly and was wearing one of his number 10 Connolly jerseys at the B.B.Q. Jack’s bedroom was filled with Connolly memorabilia as he has followed Brett faithfully for most of his 6 years. I showed Jack photos of Brett in my Kindergarten and Grade 2 class. Jack and his mom have since met Brett’s parents and Jack’s room is now adorned with more precious Connolly keepsakes.

B.B.Q lunch, good conversation, sunshine, and laughter made this Backyard Fun day in Prince George complete. Thanks bro!

After a few photos of my mom, brother and I and the sweetest little girls next door, Mark and I were back on Highway 16 heading west to Lake District area.

A special treat awaited our return as I had booked 3 nights at beautiful Lakefront Hideaway Airbnb on Gerow Island, 2 minutes from Burns Lake.

Descending the stairs to our suite, warmed by the sun, admiring the rays as they glistened on the water; we felt enveloped by beauty and tranquility.

This was the perfect location to embrace the beauty of Lakes District and celebrate the final week and completion of my 7 1/2 month contract as Teacher-Librarian/Learning Commons Specialist in sd91.

The next blog post will cover our final days in beautiful Lakes District.

 

 

Burns Lake–Beauty, Blue skies, Books, Educational Bonding, and Brat (the cat).

June 2019

Returning 1,000 km north to Burns Lake to complete the final 5 weeks of the school year was an opportunity to continue working with a fabulous staff and engaging students; and experience the delights of this beautiful area during early summer. This blog post summarizes the first 3 weeks of my adventure up here.

Burns Lake is located 226 km (2 1/2 hours) drive west from Prince George on highway 16 (otherwise known as the Highway of Tears). There are billboards erected to remind drivers of some of the people (mostly aboriginal women) who have mysteriously disappeared along this highway. It’s an oppressive and sad history tied to this area which directly affects families and students we are teaching.

However, there are so many dedicated and energizing people and organizations making the heartbeat of the community pulse with activity and optimism.

A walk down to Spirit Square to observe people walking their dogs, children swimming in the lake, people chatting with a coffee, or teens playing in the skateboard park always brightens my day. The square was busy last summer due to the horrendous forest fires burning out of control in the Southside. These same grounds were converted into an evacuation area during that difficult period.  

The population of the village of Burns Lake is listed as just under 2,000 but this does not include numbers from any of the surrounding reservations. Burns Lake is a central hub, known as the heart of the Lakes District, with highway 16 passing directly through the downtown core en route to Prince Rupert and is a junction for highway 35 to Francois Lake and the Southside.

Arts, culture, outdoor recreation, and alternate life styles thrive here. One weekend while walking downtown to my favorite organic coffee shop There was a painting workshop occurring outside right beside the highway! These photos are of lovely Lorne Street and the downtown main highway. 

On the edge of the village is Omineca cross country ski club and 10 minutes away at Boar Mountain you can experience world class Mountain Biking. Forestry claims to be the main industry; however, ranching and tourism directed to outdoor recreation, are equally important to village economics.

My home bases during these 5 weeks are at Decker Elementary school and with Loretta, Joe and Brat on Lorne Street. Brat was a rescue kitten and is now a totally lovable and affectionate cat.

My colleagues and friends from William Konkin Elementary did not forget me while I was absent traveling around Asia. Days after my return to Burns Lake, we had a ladies adventure 80 km northwest (about 50 mins) to Houston to check out a funky women’s dress shop Chia’s Dream Closet and Happy Jack’s local bar for dinner. Social bonding is so much fun and important!

At Decker Elementary the staff led by Monica (the quilter), Brenda (First nation’s home support) and several other staff created a quilt with FN symbols on it. The wolf was the icon selected to represent Decker. Some of the students who attend Decker are from Cheslatta Carrier background, some from Lake Babine, but the majority of our FN students are Wet’suwet’en.

This small school has a population of 125 students from Kindergarten to Grade 7. Prior to my departure in early March I had a Learning Commons Leaders’ club for students in grades 5-7. Over 30 students (girls and boys) attended regularly. I had a lovely card waiting on my Library desk when I returned. Teaching is such a rewarding occupation.

During the winter, students are expected to remain outside during breaks unless the temperature drops below -20 degrees Celsius. When the sun shines…shorts are quick to appear! I found the mosquitoes nasty and I wore bug repellent when I was on duty outside. But biting insects did not seem to phase these students! Many were covered in bites from camping excursions, but they did not complain or cover up.

Beauty in nature and artistic expression are embraced at Decker Elementary. Many colorful flowers adorned the school gardens and seasonal art displays outside classrooms were highly innovative and changed regularly to the delight of parents and definitely appreciated by me. Each student had an art portfolio and near the end of the school year students displayed their favorite artistic endeavors during an Art Open House at the school. 

It was very impressive to see the effort and pride students put into their displays.

Arts B.C. concerts in schools are varied and usually enjoyable for students, but this group, Tiny Islands, was particularly entertaining and engaging. It is rare to capture the attention of all students from Kindergarten to Grade 7, but Tiny Islands jazz group was interactive, funny, talented, energetic and musically educational.

A local high school musical rendition of Aladdin was well attended and a fun field trip for the students.

Part of my Teacher-Librarian/Learning Commons Specialist position was to analyze, weed, and update the library collection appropriate to the needs of the staff and students and locate resources to tie to the new B.C. curriculum.

In addition, a TL works collaboratively with teachers developing units of study which promote inquiry learning and reinforce engaging S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) problem solving skills.

This collage depicts a variety of learning and activity in the Learning Commons during June. These lessons included: S.T.E.A.M. investigation related to simple machines; Learning Commons Leaders assisting to review non-fiction subject areas and shelf books; Grade 1/2 Literacy Centers word practice; Grade 5/6 Book Speed Dating Activity; Introduction to High Interest/Low Vocabulary Novels; and Buddy Reading.

Miscellaneous wonderful programs are happening at Decker in June including the Breakfast program led by Ms. Zettergreen where students assist making toast for others while Ms. Zettergreen creates smoothies.

The school wide Jump Rope for Heart event raises money to support Heart and Stroke research and is lots of fun. The loud music, watermelon, and obstacle course created by the grade 6/7 class were hugely popular. Well done organizers!

One day in June the blue skies appeared to be shedding snow! There were masses of white cloud like substances blowing everywhere outside. When these items fell to the ground they piled up similar to hail. This was a new experience for me. I learned these were seeds from Cottonwood trees–a type of Poplar.

So many options are available for weekend adventures around the Lakes District. A walk is always pleasant. After grabbing a drink at one of the 3 awesome coffee shops on the main road, you can walk down by the lake at Spirit Square. The arena, curling rink, climbing wall, dance rooms, weight room, racquetball court, skateboard park, and tennis courts are all also located there.

If you are lucky, you might be invited out for dinner with some of the friendly folk from Burns Lake. The kimono from Vietnam looks great on you! Thanks Sara!

Or you can tour one of the local greenhouses and learn about the most deer resistant plants available for this geographical area. After admiring the photo of the Atlantic Giant Pumpkins, you might feel inspired to start growing some for the next Lakes District Fall Fair.

My next blog post will be dedicated to weekend activities which utilize motors in this northern B.C. area!

 

 

Cambodia–A Myriad of Emotions. Tuol Sleng, Tarantulas, Tropical Storms!

Early May 2019

Cambodia has a tragic past which deeply effects its people–lifestyle, family structure, culture, economy, basic survival, trust. This 7 day guided tour through Cambodia merely scratched the surface of new awareness and understanding of this country and its amazing people.

Commencing this Intrepid tour as a naive tourist; I departed emotionally haunted, shocked, and much more deeply connected to the needs and future visions of these resilient, hard working Cambodian people. Keeping in mind that 54% of the population is under 18 years of age, there is much rebuilding and new direction likely to occur in the next few decades. Here is a pictorial overview of some of the day’s highlights.

This would be our first full day in Cambodia. The heinous historical atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge shared and viewed during the morning tours, would deeply horrify and sicken us all. This day took a heavy emotional toll on our group members. Some chose to reflect and not to pursue optional activities today. However, others ventured out to explore the capital city Phnom Penh (population over 2.1 million)–even tasting a certain type of arachnid at lunch! Several of us toured the National Museum even being detained by a sudden Tropical storm! At night most of the group also took an optional tour up the Mekong River before dinner.

To be truthful… I have been taking Imodium and Charcoal tablets trying to stabilize unhappy travel bowels… I’m not alone either!!!

After seeing the Hanoi Hilton, Cu Chi Tunnels, War Remnants museums, and people effected by Agent Orange in Vietnam… I knew emotionally I couldn’t handle seeing the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Khmer Rouge Killing fields in person today. How people can conduct genocide and commit such heinous crimes on other human beings is so deeply disturbing and wrong! It was difficult enough to look at the photos and listen to information from my Intrepid tour group after the visit.

After additional research I learned, on April 17th 1975 the Khmer Rouge entered the capital of Phnom Penh and began a “reign of terror under leader Pol Pot that left up to 2 million people dead through starvation, execution, and overwork. ” abc.net.au/news/2014-08-07/an-Khmer-rouge-timeline/5655920

This genocide of one’s own race is on its own intolerable and sickening; however, trying to fathom that the number of individuals murdered was the size of the entire population of the largest city in all of Cambodia is beyond belief!

The group toured the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which was a former school converted into the Khmer Rouge torture center. Part of the tour included meeting 2 survivors who have now written their stories about their experiences at S-21. It is estimated that over 20,000 people from 1975 to 1979 were held and tortured at this site. The Choeung Ek Memorial contains a stupa made up of 8,000 human skulls which marks the site of the “Killing Fields” execution grounds for  victims tortured at Tuol Sleng.

Warning: There are some disturbing images in this pictorial representation of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Choeung Ek Memorial, and the Killing Fields. But… This is true, recent history.

For a complete change of pace…Many of the group went out for lunch together and Mark and Tyler decided to consume something very unusual. Ready? Ever wanted to try Tarantulas? Personally… not a chance!

But Tyler ordered 3 Tarantulas for lunch. He ate two and Mark ate the third one!

Notice Tyler laughing as Mark tried his arachnid! As they both concluded that there wasn’t a chance they’d like more in the future… I decided to create both a collage and GIF of the memorable experience!

They both said “We took one for the team!” This really unique restaurant called “Friends” was located near our Cardamom Hotel and the National Museum. It is a training restaurant run by the “Friends International” organization.

There is also a shop located adjacent to the restaurant where handicrafts (created out of recycled materials) were made by orphaned children and street youth and sold by the Friends organization to fund schooling and job training opportunities for these children.

“Friends-International is an international social enterprise and registered non-governmental organization focusing on children’s empowerment established in Cambodia in 1994. “Wikipedia

This is a non-religious organization which started working to assist street youth in Phnom Penh in 1994. There is a crisis of orphaned children and street youth here due to the decimation of families caused by recent mass genocide discussed earlier in this blog post. Unfortunately, there are some dishonest organizations claiming to assist the orphans here too.

The Friends organization has validity and reliability and seems to be making a true difference to the futures of many youth here.  Tourists are encouraged to avoid giving money or food to orphans who are begging. Instead, children are encouraged to attend school, then learn trades to become more self sufficient. The schooling and job training is funded by tourists purchasing handicrafts and food prepared by the youth.

Many of us purchased items from the Friends gift shop. I purchased jewelry created out of bullets which were pounded flat and cut into shapes adorned by recycled paper beads.

Jen, Mark and I decided to visit the National Museum to learn more about Traditional Khmer art and view religious artifacts. The 1920s reddish colored building is an intriguing architectural design. The entrance fee was $10 US/person. I wished I had time to attend the Cambodian dance workshop offered here!

This video highlights our adventure in Cambodia’s capital city from lunch into the afternoon including the Tropical Rainstorm. Listen for the Thunder!

As you can see… when in the midst of a tropical rainstorm why not relax and try out the local beer?

Jen, Mark and I squashed into an tiny available Tuktuk to head home. The driver had just raised the plastic side walls which were added to protect riders from getting drenched during the heavy down pour!

Another packed day… but we are not finished! Next we headed out on another optional Sunset boat cruise along the Mekong River!

Our guide Sareth joined this tour and taught us about the meaning of the Cambodian flag. We were informed the flag of Cambodia has 3 colors and 3 towers–but there are actually 5 towers? The blue represents the King. The red represent the nation (people). The white represents religion (pure).

The sunset was glorious and magical. The riverside views depicted a population which utilized water vessels of all shapes, sizes, and conditions. The discrepancy between the rich and the poor was evident as we traveled down the river.

It was a lovely way to unwind and enjoy the activity along the Mekong River. The cocktails were lovely too. We inquired about the safety of the ice, but were told the ice was safe for consumption.

After docking, we ended our extremely full day by reuniting with all 12 of our Intrepid tour group and Sareth for a final group dinner in Phnom Penh.

Tomorrow we head off to Battambang and visit a floating village!