Community Building Unites Diverse Student Body at Hastings Elementary

Few schools have as diverse a student body as Hastings Elementary. One of the largest schools in the Vancouver School District with over 630 students, Hastings educates students from a wide-range of socio-economic backgrounds. One of the things that unites this diverse student body is a variety of programs and activities aimed at building community. The commitment among staff and students to help one-another and reach out beyond the school walls is one of the things Hastings teacher Sheelagh Brothers loves most about her school.

Brothers has been teaching at Hastings for the past 14 years. She says the school has a number of services designed to support the diverse student population.

One of the school's most successful programs for vulnerable students is Kids First, which runs daily after school and provides snacks, homework support and supervised physical activity for close to 100 students.

"The Kids First staff do a tremendous job of providing fun, structure and support for students that really need this, and it in turn helps teachers because we know that our students will have somewhere to be after school and someone to help with homework when many parents are unable to help their students because they don't speak English or are at work," says Brothers.

Tug a War at HastingsIn addition to Kids First, Hastings also has a terrific Community Schools Program. Activities range from lunch hour clay, music and dance activities to summer break programs. Brothers says the community school team is led by Community Schools Coordinator Jennifer Scott, whose work engaging the East Village (aka Hastings Sunrise) business community has led to many beneficial partnerships, including one with a local knitting store and another with a chocolate caf�. These partnerships have led to significant opportunities for the school's students. Nothing better epitomizes these partnerships than the annual Inner City Christmas Dinner (organized each year by Scott and a band of committed volunteers) which this year raised over $36,000 for students and engaged several dozen businesses from across Vancouver.

Brothers says these programs are critical for many of Hastings students who are growing up in poorer households as well as for students new to Canada who are struggling to adjust to a society and a school system vastly different from their previous experiences.

Vulnerable students aren't the only ones being catered to by Hastings. Brothers also points to the school's Student Leadership Program. For the past seven years, Hastings staff have worked hard with students to show them how they can contribute to their community outside the academic world of the classroom.  In addition to the leadership program, the school also hosts a very popular French Immersion stream. Although the language streams are separate, Brothers says teachers at Hastings work closely to ensure students stay connected and there is significant crossover and mentorship.

"The teacher across the hallway from me is a French Immersion teacher, and our classes have shared PE periods for two years now. We pair our students up across the hall, and one of their projects for the year is that students have to design and develop a game together and then teach it to the combined classes," explains Brothers. "Her students help my students do some of their French activities (like learning and pronouncing the words to 'O Canada' in French). Interactions like these help to open my students' eyes to the similarities they share."

In addition to the day to day interaction and community building, Brothers also points to the Grade 7 Lip Sync as an amazing school tradition. She says her students spend most of the fall planning which song they'll be covering and will start rehearsing during gym periods by the middle of May.

"We've had some amazing acts over the years and it's also really wonderful for the teachers of the younger students to see how their former students have grown up and changed," says Brothers. "It's become something of a 'rite of passage' for the Grade 7s and most of them love the opportunity to be chosen to perform for the school."

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