A student tells us what’s up at White Pines

September 18, 2016

White Pines Collegiate and Vocational School


The kids are back for another year at White Pines. Photo courtesy Frank Calvano

SooToday received the following submission from Ben MacDonald, a Grade 11 student at White Pines Collegiate and Vocational School, who just had to tell everybody about all the cool new stuff going on at his school as students return to their classrooms:

The 2016-2017 academic year has only just commenced at White Pines Collegiate and Vocational School and they’ve already been privy to a new set of educational initiatives.

On Wednesday, Sept. 7 through Monday, Sept. 12, White Pines celebrated their inaugural Culture Week.

Consisting of a series of ten workshops promoting cultural competency, student leadership and student innovation, this idea is an early indication of the shift from standard curriculum to Project Based Learning (PBL) at White Pines.

PBL is considered the next step in interactive curriculum, providing inquiry based learning with an emphasis on projects, team work and learning environments outside the sometimes confining walls of a classroom.

In today’s times, where any information needed is just one Google search away, many aspects of our society have had to adapt, so why shouldn’t academic institutions? This is at the heart of PBL.

Staff members first discovered this concept when SERT Nicole Battocchio and Vice Principal Grant Kahtava (now serving as principal at Central Algoma Secondary School) visited several New Tech high schools throughout Texas last year.

“After visiting these PBL schools I came back to White Pines inspired, it was a career changing experience. I knew right away that the students and teachers at WP would be a perfect fit for this type of learning,” said Battocchio.

Then, in May, even more staff participated in several teacher workshops at another New Tech school, this one in Niles, Michigan. Wholly impressed, they decided that White Pines would be the perfect school to adapt to this new approach and instantly set about implementing it.

Culture Week is just one of the many implementations they have planned for both this year and the foreseeable future.

White Pines students have welcomed this new initiative with open arms, as it offers an alternative to the highly structured education to which they have been accustomed.

Ryann Ross, one of the 560 students calling White Pines their home away from home, was very enthusiastic when we asked her about her thoughts on Culture Week: “I felt that it was a great way to get students from grades 7-12 to interact with each other and build closer relationships.”

Quinn Clement, another student, felt that, “Not only did it help alleviate the anxiety of this year’s new students, but it also showed them the friendly atmosphere WP engenders.”

Workshops students participated in included a “Trust” seminar, where blindfolded students were lead by other students across a carpet laden with rubber duckies representing land mines, a “Speaker’s Voice” workshop where students were encouraged to make up a school cheer and present it in front of their peers, and a “Cultural Competency” presentation where students learned the Ojibway creation story and then were given the opportunity to offer their interpretations and reactions towards it.

They also all received long sleeve T-shirts emblazoned with the White Pines logo so as to promote school spirit throughout the community.

All of these amazing activities and events culminated in a school wide pizza and freezie pop luncheon as well as Friday’s pep rally, where students frenetically and energetically cheered in support of White Pines football team in anticipation of the annual East vs. West game against Superior Heights.

White Pines staff and students were also graced by the presence of rapper and WP alumnus Duane Gibson, who holds the world record for longest freestyle rap without a break. His presentation about overcoming obstacles and setting goals definitely left an indelible impression on his enraptured audience.

Thus, during the time when students usually sluggishly and begrudgingly return to school after a glorious summer, White Pines became an excitable and enjoyable atmosphere where every student was not only eager to learn but to participate in their education.

As White Pines principal Joey Turco says, “Enthusiasm is contagious.”

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