Valley Heights Secondary School welcomed Grade 8 students from Courtland Public School for a full one-day visit last week.
The 20-plus Courtland Grade 8 students were introduced to various VHSS classrooms including music, science, construction, art, math, language, business and manufacturing for a full day of activities that included designing T-shirts in art and completing a small woodworking project in construction.
In total, there are about 150 Grade 8 students this year at VHSS feeder public schools and each graduating class was scheduled to visit in November and December – Langton (Nov. 28), Houghton (Nov. 7), Port Rowan (Nov. 13), Courtland (Nov. 21) and Walsh (Dec. 4) Public Schools.
“And we’ve got room for them all,” smiled Leanne Buchanan, Head of Guidance at Valley Heights. “Welcome to our house!”
In past years the Grade 8s visited on the same day in November, typically Take Our Kids to Work Day when many of the Grade 9s were not in school. Three years ago VHSS broke it down into single-school visits.
“We used to have all the schools come on one day, and there were advantages to that too. They can mix together from the different schools. But now I think there’s more advantage doing it the five individual days.
“We just thought that if it was a one-day schedule – what a high school schedule is like – they would get that one-on-one type of attention. We’re really trying to promote our strength, and our strength is in our classes being small, that individual attention, and that sense of community. So we thought if we make it all about ‘Courtland’ for one day, then it mirrors what we’re trying to do in school. It’s the individual attention, getting to know everybody. The kids get a sense of what the school’s about because it’s just about them for the day.”
The response was great, she said, from feeder school students and teachers.
“It’s more work for us to replicate that for five days but the benefits are really great. It’s a way to emulate what our greatest strength is – that one-on-one attention.”
Buchanan and Valley Heights principal Alison High, who is a VHSS grad, will be visiting the feeder schools in January, and Valley Heights has an evening open house planned for Grade 8 parents.
Visiting the secondary schools is one of the most important parts of the Grade 8 to Grade 9 transition, said High.
“It is a difficult decision to make and every school has different things to offer,” said High. “At the end of the day, the diploma is the same. The courses that you have to take are the same. So it’s really about the students having the opportunity to get out there and see where they feel good… where they feel like they’re going to be happy – and supported – spending the next four or five years.
“So we put a lot of work into having the kids out and making them feel welcome, and giving them a taste of what the community and the family feels like here. I think that’s a big deal, that’s important.”
Sense of community, she said, is one of the school’s greatest strengths and the feeling in the hallways is very positive.
“Most days down here in the (Hidden Valley) Cafe at lunch for example, there are students who eat down here, a lot of the staff eat down here, they eat together.”
Including the Turning Point students, High estimated VHSS has just under 500 students.
“It is a smaller school and that’s a reality,” she nodded, “but because of that we do have that sense of all us being a part of one thing. And that is something that I think is very valuable.
“We have fantastic teachers who are great at curriculum. They’re all wonderful in their subject areas, but they are also very caring and kind and they get our kids, they understand where they’re coming from. A lot of them are from around here – Norfolk County. It’s that feeling of family.”
Located south of Langton on Hwy 59, Valley Heights is a true rural secondary school. That can be an advantage, said High, when it comes to lunch-time activities. It gives the students a different kind of campus experience.
“We have a very active Eco Club,” she noted. “Last week they did owl banding after school. Students have the opportunity to really understand our environment and appreciate what we’ve got out here. I think there’s a lot of benefit to that.”
The Grade 8 visits, the open house, and the visits to elementary schools all help educate students and parents, said Buchanan, showing them what VHSS can offer.
“Sometimes people think we’re just a trade school – and we’re not,” said Buchanan. “We have them, but we have university programs too. Some people don’t realize that we have every pathway available just like the bigger schools do.
“We have the programs. I think it’s important for students to realize that we have a university pathway, we have a college pathway, we have an apprentice pathway, we have them all. And we can provide that in a community-type atmosphere, like everybody knows everybody and the teachers are able to spend the time with individual students. They’re nurturing and caring, and they’re in the community.
“We want to promote what we have and this is a way to show them firsthand what a day at Valley Heights would be… ‘a day in the Valley.’ We’re proud of our little school and we have a lot to offer.
“I think sometimes people say, ‘oh, they’re so small.’ But there’s a lot of good in being small, especially when you can still offer everything, and have that personal touch.”
Grade 8 visits to Valley Heights have also been attended by a few students from other schools in the area, this year Sacred Heart in Langton and in past years Our Lady of Fatima and St. Frances, as well as home school students, when the parents contact VHSS and ask to be included.