Thetis Island Elementary School as it looks today. It TIES the community together with its appropriate abbreviation. Long-time school traditions are maintained, like the hand-ringing of a brass bell for recess. (Photo by Kelly Bannister)

Historical highlights of Thetis Island School

Perseverance required on many occasions to keep the school open

The following Thetis Island School historical highlights are based on Westmacott (1990) and records of the Thetis Island Parents Association:

Mr. A. Tomlinson was the first teacher in the first school that opened in September 1920. He taught all subjects, including physical education, which sometimes involved a military drill with marching, standing at attention and standing at ease.

The second school built in 1922 was on property owned by the Burchell family. The building was paid for by the Thetis Island community. The teacher, Mr. A.J.W. Dodds, was from Saltspring Island and had a key role in advocating for the new school building. Mr. Dodds was known as a strict but fair disciplinarian. He did not let the kids get away with anything but he also did not use the strap.

After the gap years from 1930 to 1950 when there weren’t enough students to support a school, the third school was built on property formerly owned by Mr. Rupert Forbes. The first teacher in the new school was Mrs. Ruth Cooper who was from the Peace River District. The opening year, there were 18 students from Grades 1 to 8, including Don Hunter (son of Adam Hunter), who was too young to attend school but was allowed to come in the spring of 1952 “because he really wanted to go to school.” The children were excited to have a real school after doing their learning via correspondence for years. In the ensuing years, the school was frequently closed due to bad weather and power outages.

Until 1972, Thetis Island School was part of the Ladysmith School District. In 1972, the school fell under the Cowichan District and the school was closed. Parents protested to the Board, and the school reopened in 1973.

In the early 1980s, many one-room schoolhouses in BC were being closed and the government wanted to close Thetis Island school. The residents invited CBC to the island to create publicity and the news made the front page of the Vancouver Sun. The school has remained open since, despite further threats of closure by School District 79, which were met with strong opposition by the entire island community.

An addition was made to increase the size of school in 1997-98 but it was intentionally designed to ensure the building remained a one-room schoolhouse.

Throughout the long history of the school, there have been field trips to Victoria and other places, shared learning activities with Penelakut Island school, sports days, annual Christmas concerts and much outside play in the natural environment. The general sentiment echoed by students, teachers, support staff and families involved with the school throughout its history is the sense of extended family and a specialness to the quality of education that could never be reproduced in a city.

Today

The 2019-20 school year began rather typically with 20 students in grades K to 6 but ended rather abruptly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with 15 students staying the year. Teacher Genny Redman and educational assistant Simone Luckham are continuing into the 2020-21 school year, and student enrolment is expected to increase again and span Grades K to 7.

The school continues to receive incredible support in all ways from the Thetis Island community, from participation at events hosted by the school, to volunteers in the classroom, to local experts who lead educational field trips to the ocean and forest, as well as financial contributions to support educational programs, field trips and equipment.

Reflections of current teacher Genny Redman

“Thetis Island Elementary School is a multi-age classroom with students from Kindergarten to Grade 7 and there are not many of these schools left in Canada. The classroom and outside environment are one of a community of learners where students care for and support each other. As a teacher you can connect with each child on a deeper level as you teach the students for multiple years.

“Here at Thetis Island Elementary School, we have an amazing Parent Association who support the students and the teachers in so many ways. This includes purchasing resources for teachers and students, providing funds for field trips, supporting curriculum with virtual programs and much more.

“The elders and other community members provide amazing support for our students. Their involvement in our school enriches student learning to a level that I have not seen before in an elementary school. We have had daily volunteer readers and listeners, community guest speakers, a seaquarium in the classroom, a mason bee program, piano accompaniment and much more all done by community volunteers.

“Our outdoor environment is a wonderful extension of our classroom. We have forests, hiking trails and of course an ever-evolving and changing ocean that surrounds us. All of this provides an ever-enriching learning environment for our students and teachers.”

Reflections by current EA Simone Luckham

“The students feel a strong connection to each other and have a sense of belonging, which is an important part of emotional development. Another unique feature of the daily routine is how easy and accessible it is for the students to be able to work within their abilities (not only in their age group). This instils a feeling of acceptance of all the different skills and abilities. All of this is done in a fluid, everyday flow of events, without specific scheduling, or planning.

“And just as every family has extended family members, so does our school: the Thetis Island community members (both young and old) are and always have been a tremendous support. A never-ending stream of support in the form of attending concerts, organizing book sales, labour, fundraisers, monetary, workshops – the list is too long!”

– compiled by Kelly Bannister and Don Bodger.

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