The Bella Coola Valley has a tremendous amount of history to it and for sixty-five years Sir Alexander Mackenzie School has been a part of that history.
Sir Alexander Mackenzie School, or SAMS for short, first opened its doors sixty-five years ago on October 31, 1949. When it opened for the students this marked the first time their school had electricity and indoor plumbing. The school catered to students from grades 1-12 at the time.
Over the years, SAMS has not only been remodeled but also reconfigured several times. In September 2008, it became a grade 6-12 school changing from the more traditional high school grade 8-12 model.
Although the new modern state-of-the-art schools have all the bells and whistles, there is something to be said for the quirks, charms and history of a sixty-five year old building; from the noises some of the taps make when the water is turned on in the staffroom to the ghost several staff members swear they have seen in quieter moments near the school library. Not only has the building itself been remodeled, modernized and altered many times over but most recently this past summer with new interior paint and new large windows have been added to what was the old locker bay area.
While some look to the city and see the schools there having so much more, in many ways SAMS is fortunate. Recent visitor, BC School Principals / Vice-Principal Association President, Gordon Li was asked how much time his school in Burnaby received from its clinical therapist; it was a great deal less than the three days a week that SAMS enjoys of clinical therapist, Cyril Wolgien’s time.
SAMS can boast being one of the only schools in the province with its own complete medical exam room set-up (the same as one in the hospital) that is staffed once bi-weekly by the public health nurse and a doctor from our local hospital. This project was conceived in partnership with then public health nurse, Pat Lenci, and the school to allow students a confidential way to deal more pro-actively with health issues.
The school has continued to evolve over the years. The Carving program began the evolution and now SAMS boasts an off-site mechanics program, timberframe program, and new this year a high-end food catering team program.
The legacy of these programs rests tangibly in the community and with its students past and present. The Mechanics program can point to many graduates who have gone off to post-secondary education and because of their experiences within the program here often finished their post-secondary education earlier than their classmates from other high schools.
The Timberframe program has left behind a legacy of several buildings and unique partnerships, the main one being the construction of the Healthy Beginnings building but also the several houses and shops the program has built throughout the years.
It is the idea that the school and the community work together in partnership that best exempflies what is best about small, rural schools like SAMS compared to those in larger centers. Again, BCPVPA President, Gordon Li, expressed it best terming what he saw during his visit as “wrap around” programs and services.
The school couldn’t do what it does if it wasn’t for the cooperation and participation of agencies and groups such as Healthy Beginnings, Community Support, Bella Coola Hospital, Mental Health, MCFD, Nuxalk Health and Wellness and the RCMP to name a few.
The school continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of students today. This is made possible by the willingness of the students and the hard work and dedication of the staff past and present. While many schools struggle with ‘post provincial strike hangover’, staff here got right down to work doing what they do best – teaching students and making education as practical as the material allows.
The staff and students make the school and do their best to honour the history of the cultures here and to always remember we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us. Today, the staff is a mix of new and veteran staff that is a perfect blend of energy to continue moving its programs forward. Programs such as the unique bread and baking program, underway now for three years, or the salad bar program would not be possible without dedicated staff who think outside the box pursuing grants and other financial opportunities to bring these opportunities to the youth of the valley.
Nor would extra-curricular programs such as the school’s soccer, basketball and volleyball teams be possible without dedicated staff. SAMS can boast being one of a very small number of co-ed soccer teams that is competitive (placing 3rd this year in the northern zone) within the zone. Be it basketball, soccer, or volleyball our teams regularly bring home trophies for being the Most Sportsmanlike team. SAMS is the smallest school to ever host the Girls Basketball Single A Zone Tournament as was done last year when 10 teams competed. Again, none of that is possible without the dedication of staff, students and community volunteers.
The ultimate goal for every student at SAMS is reaching graduation. Some require a helping hand, others require a bit more than this but every year SAMS is above the provincial average for the rate of graduation.
Sixty-five years is a long time and difficult to encapsulate in a mere few hundred words. Much has changed over those sixty-five years but what remains the same is a great bunch of students, a dedicated, hard-working staff and a school that has and always will be a part of the community.