Please welcome Ms. Tori's reflection after the Student-Run Restaurant we held early March. Much like anything at VVA, our team poured their hearts into the event, engaged every child, provided mentorship and support to allow them reach new heights they never thought possible for themselves. VVA Families came out to support, helping out in any way they could, truly making this a team effort. It was a blast! Ms. Tori captures the essence of the lead up, the night of, and the post-event bliss that comes with reaching any great accomplishment. What an amazing night, students! Thank you, Ms. Tori for giving us this lovely moment to reminisce, during a time when we're all taking care of ourselves and each other from our own homes.
It is the day after our restaurant fundraiser. Eyes are droopy, limbs are limp, and people of all ages drag themselves slowly around to class. This of course includes students, teachers, and parents in the mix. We are however, nothing if not satisfied. We have just finished hosting our most successful restaurant yet, and the feeling in the school is utter bliss. Another portion has been raised towards our fundraising goal, but more importantly we have learned lessons about ourselves we never thought possible. Some take away confidence, others, leadership, and most of us amazement of just how much we can accomplish as a team. Via Vita is nothing if not cohesive… Many times we just refer to ourselves as a family.
But before we reminisce too quickly, let's look at the week leading up.
It’s Monday. Alicia and others have spent most of their free time shopping, pricing, and organizing the menu. The week is dedicated to preparing for our major event: the restaurant. Teens and pre-teens alike are busy building decorations with Hilary, practicing how to serve and host with Meghan and Adele, and making themselves busy by helping Alicia in the kitchen. It is a few very intense days of hard work and we are all feeling it. Even the littles get into the groove by working on the food prep ahead of time, including more science in class, learning about money or addition and subtraction and the whole school feels… electric. We are excited and anticipating any and all scenarios that could play themselves out on the big night.
“Ms. Tori”, Josh asks me the day of, “can you give us any games that practice working on nerves?”
I smile and nod. “Of course Josh. But don’t forget the wise words of Ms. Adele. Nervousness? Just means you care about what you’re doing and you’re excited”.
Ten pairs of eyes light up as they await the roles they will later take on in the evening.
Our day continues “as usual” one might say. Alicia plants herself in the kitchen much like the days leading up to this, and staff trickle in and out making sure to assist where possible, and most importantly making sure Alicia is nourished and cared for. She is our leader in the kitchen through and through, but we’ll touch on that more later.
The younger kids of our school get picked up early so they can prepare themselves for a fabulous dinner out, as the older students start to set up the gym. Hilary and the pandas have worked tirelessly on decorations and as soon as they are set up it clearly shows. We are transformed into a 50's diner almost instantly with the help of some guitars, music notes, and a very stylish 50’s counter and jukebox to boot.
All at once the wheels are in motion, families are coming in, and people are flying all over the kitchen and gym. Kids are working in shifts with one another and communication is absolutely vital. At the beginning of the evening everything feels “hiccupy”. We want a flow but can’t quite get used to each other's dance steps and routines. Hesitation starts to set in and all at once I wonder why I even signed up to be Alicia’s helper in the kitchen because making decisions is still a “new” skill for me.
“We got this team”, shouts Hilary in her beautifully positive way, and all of a sudden I am pulled out of my fear and right back into it. Kids are moving around me reinvigorated and the positivity begins to flow through us. Waiters start communicating with ease (and help from their fearless leaders Ms. Meghan & Mr. Ryan), while our kitchen crew uses loud and bold voices to return the call for food. I only imagine the focus and positivity that Ms. Arlene, Ms. Jenn, and Ms. Zoe bring to our “toppings tables”, and in a blink of an eye I see Ms. Adele & Ms. Kerrie disappear for the rest of the night to their cash station. Ms. Hilary and Mr. Devin move around me in perfect synch anticipating a need before it even happens and all at once you can feel the rhythm of the night. Order, food, dishes, cash. Order, food, dishes, cash. Little by little we pick up the speed (although our grilled cheese just won’t grill as fast as we want them too), and our entire school is alive. I don’t hear much other than laughter and as I look out into the dining room I see nothing but smiling faces and pride beaming from each and every family member that attends. We even have some political faces that join in our evening and stand in awe of the responsibility our students hold on their shoulders so proudly.
And through it all, I can’t help but look at Alicia and quietly smile to myself. I think of everything she brings to these kids on a daily basis and to our families on such special nights as this. Our students are lucky enough to learn skills such as responsibility, cooperation, math, and most importantly the power of a home cooked meal. Families, for a few nights a year, are treated to a smorgasbord of food cooked by the children they love the most. They get to see their kids shine in a light they might not typically find anywhere else.
All of a sudden I see Ms. Adele (for what feels like the first time in hours) and she is smiling and telling us it’s time for teachers to eat. We cheer as the amazing students and parents take over and we begin to sit at our table. It seems daunting that we will ever stand up again. Water is poured and chugged down by each of us, and we begin to draw with our table crayons. Hilary and I engage in a friendly game of tic tac toe that I lose begrudgingly. I stop for a minute to close my eyes and appreciate the people that sit around me before looking at the table and all its features.
Suddenly kids start serving us left, right and centre, and before I know it I have eaten a burger, grilled cheese and somehow a bowl of tomato soup. My coworkers and I dig in as we stack dishes high and kids continue to bring more food and laugh at our pile of food. Suddenly it is time for dessert and we eagerly remember that brownie bites available. Suddenly kids are bringing us toppings and I can’t remember where the food stops and I begin anymore. I feel so full at one point that I don’t know if I’ll ever be hungry again. It is a feeling I’m sure everyone felt tonight. That feeling of fullness: and in more ways than one.
It is no surprise once again that Via Vita makes us feel this way. Full in the physical sense yes, but full of emotions, pride, and comfort that such a school initiates ideas like this and sees them through. Every day with my co-workers is a reminder that what might seem… let’s say improbable, can be done with the belief in its staff and its students.
I mean we created a restaurant!! It’s no wonder the phrase we like to use around work is: small school, big difference.
Once again from the most appreciative and forever thankful,
Ms. Jenn, new to VVA this year, writes about her first experience with SHOWCASE! So wonderful to hear her perspective, after we're sure, much experience with the traditional Christmas Concert routine. The Showcase situation is definitely it's own entity, and now with one under her belt, she's ready for more! Please enjoy her beautifully detailed reflection of this special thing that we do here at Via Vita. Thanks, Jenn!
As a new staff member at Via Vita Academy, the word “Showcase” floated around from time to time among the senior staff all year. It was a bit of a phenomenon in my interpretation and left me with a lot of questions which I silently kept to myself. Why? Because it was always mixed into sentences with words or phrases such as, “prepare for”, “crazy”, “stress”, “huge production”, “support needed”, “it is a ‘thing’”, “exhaustion”, and my favourite, “Oh, you wait!” followed by a giggle. What was this ‘thing’?? What was “Showcase”?! Will I survive?...
Once the Showcase preparation had started and our whole school schedule had been turned upside down for two weeks, I was met with the question from colleagues, “Are you ready for the Showcase craziness to begin? How are you feeling so far?”. I would reply, “Well with anything here that is new to me, I trust you all. I am just going to embrace the process”. You see, working at VVA, you live and breathe a supportive environment whereby the staff and students are very much a collective working unit - like a thriving honey bee colony where VVA is the hive, if you wish. That is where all the sweet success is produced. Only I guess, there would be two Queen Bee’s who regulate the unity of this buzzing colony - Ms Meghan & Ms Adele!
In the final two days leading up, a quick morning meeting with the whole school to go over the day, staff downing coffee like there was no tomorrow, and singing O Canada, was followed by every “honey bee” splitting off with his or her assigned job so we can run through the show and get out as many kinks as possible. The older students (Giant Pandas) had big roles aside from being on stage - walking around with microphones and headsets and communicating with us from all over the downstairs to coordinate the scenes and deliver cues. The maturity was remarkable. Some Panthers & Pandas also volunteered to help assist us in our “Kiddie Korner” which is not an easy job keeping all the little bees quiet, occupied, and ready when they need to be. Leadership was in full effect and surprising to us staff who were watching! The days were long. Snack and lunch happened, but not at the normal times. The little bees learned lessons in patience, and flexibility with these changes and moved through them like little bosses! A couple students found scenes challenging in dress rehearsal and they did not go smoothly. We discussed what things we could do last minute to support them - can we change things this late? Cut the scene? Modify the scene? Find a backup? What will happen on the big night? Oh my, this is where I struggled personally. I felt pressure. I did not want to let anyone down. Fingers were crossed.
The big day was long and the students were in after school care until 430pm following a full rehearsal of the show. However, the staff never left. We cleaned, did last minute preparations, ate, and quickly got ready at school for the doors to open at 6pm. Oh wait! And, of course, an unforseen hiccup - the power went out around 2pm, when we were just finishing up rehearsal, and stayed out due to unknown causes until close to 4pm! Nevertheless, we persisted. We ran around during that time with big, goofy smiles on our faces refusing to think that the absence of electricity would halt all the hard work that had been put into the show that night! In the words of Tinkerbell, “All you need is faith, trust, and a little pixie dust”!
With lights now on, the doors opened at 6pm, and Ms Adele was shockingly calm and actually ready to start the show before 6:30pm. We started on time, and the show ran amazingly well from start to finish. So much cooperation happened for those 2 hours of the show if only you could hear what was happening through those headsets. Students were creative and improvised to cue each other if they forgot their lines; students beamed on stage with more confidence than I had ever seen, and I even had an impromptu silent dance party in the back foyer to celebrate the success of one particular student who exclaimed, “I am so proud of myself!”, which brought tears to my eyes.
The Showcase wrapped up on time at 830pm with a whole school dance to ‘Footloose’ and let me tell ya, as tired as we all were, we were most definitely feeling the energy and wanting to kick off our “Sunday shoes”. We looked at each other when it was all over and felt that awkward high energy that you feel after you finish a big exam in university (a mixture of adrenaline and mind fog with a sprinkling of relief). As parents and children started to trickle out for the night, we heard many comments that it was “the best Showcase ever”. So many parents not only acknowledged their own children, but made thoughtful, congratulatory comments about other children with whom they were proud. The staff along with a kind student and parent volunteer began the clean up process which took us until 10pm when we closed the doors for the night and went home to our families. This too, I am told, was early compared to other years where the dinner was held in addition to the show, and staff finished up after midnight. For some of us, this had been a 15 hour day, with many similar late days leading up to it. My colleagues are the hardest working, dedicated people I have ever met - arguably at times, perhaps so hard working that I worry about them. But yes, they are amazing. Equally as amazing, are the students who comprise the hive at Via Vita Academy. Well done, well done, well done!! You should all be so proud of yourselves. You rock!
So what did I learn from the VVA family about this production? That true learning, like most things at VVA, stems from the collaborative process. Which I now get, is the reason we do what we do here at VVA. The end product was the Showcase - a result of ALL the learning that had taken place all year, the hard work putting together projects, studying for tests, finishing assignments, going to study hall, waiting turns in the kitchen, participating in discussions - I get it! Everything was put to the test over the two week creative period. Now I get why they call it “SHOWCASE” - My “A ha” moment!
I learned that people who I never thought could express themselves so fiercely and bravely on a stage, would truly amaze me. “Do I even know this kid?!” I saw students encouraging their peers and helping them with empathy and compassion through feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, fear of failure, and stage fright. I witnessed students find their peace and their confidence and surprise themselves at what they could do with perseverance mixed with a healthy dose of nerves! That’s huge.
The ability of the students to weave and link a story line together into a script that incorporated each class’ contribution was more than impressive. Even more so, the love for their school, their ability to emulate their teachers, the importance of acceptance and embracing diversity, and explaining what makes VVA special were the themes THEY chose to incorporate into the Showcases’ script - a futuristic vision of VVA in the year 2420 on a new planet. If that does not show off learning beyond traditional reading and writing, I don’t know what does. This is truly what sets VVA apart. Those are next level demonstrations of life skills to applaud. #loveislove #smallschoolbigdifference
I was in awe of the sheer talent and dedication of my colleagues (who gave up many lunch breaks and personal time to practice with the students and help them feel comfortable and well prepared) Their ability to create musical masterpieces collaboratively with the students that were thoughtful, humourous, and tugged at the heart; Their love for theatre and the gentle encouragement and nudges to keep trying; Their ability to wear many production “hats” and being so organized; Their artistic flair and bonding with the kids over painting and preparing; and their mutual support and laughs with me, and my fellow newbie teachers, as we were thrown wherever we were needed to help!
Furthermore, I started to see how much it was valuable to us collectively as a staff. It was ‘controlled’ chaos, as the phrase goes, with some of them prominently playing the, “Chaos Coordinator”, finding organization, schedules, and routine in rehearsing, preparing, and well, off-routine procedures. Trust the process, is what I did. “It really does come together at the end. Even if they don’t seem ready, they will pull it off! Trust us. These kids are amazing. The parents are so understanding and so supportive, whatever happens!”.
We worked so hard as a team. We supported each other when we were tired and feeling overwhelmed. We covered for each other when needed. It brought us together in times of stress, and also provided us with lots of laughter and togetherness. Modeling this to the students is important not only in seeing us support each other, but also in seeing our own vulnerabilities and appreciating us as human beings with similar feelings too! And, most importantly, how we persevered and handled change, stress, challenge, and creativity.
Funny enough, their original song, “Turn it Around”, about people helping others with difficult feelings to feel better, written by the Glass Belly Frogs and Mr. Ryan for Showcase, is now playing in my head :)
The song that sums up this whole Showcase experience is one of unity and the lesson that hard work and collaboration can produce beautiful things beyond what actually happens on the stage. It is a song that the Giant Pandas performed that night, choreographed by the beautiful, Ms. Zoe, titled, “We’re All In This Together”. The lyrics to the chorus are below:
We're all in this together
Once we know
That we are
We're all stars
And we see that
We're all in this together
And it shows
When we stand
Hand in hand
Make our dreams come true
The Showcase was the perfect way to end the first Term at VVA. SO MUCH growth happened here for everyone. I reflect on this, because it was more profound than I had imagined. Onto a fresh new start with the kiddos for Term 2. I hope they feel as united as we do :)
Those old board games and deck of cards collecting dust on the top shelf of the closet aren’t just a thing of the past. They could actually be what we’ve all been missing, especially our kids, when it comes to having fun, being social, and actually learning and using our brain while doing it!
So go on. Go get them out of that closet and put them in plain sight!
They don’t need Wi-Fi. They don’t need an app. They don’t need a password, cord, plug-in, headset, controller, speaker, or adapter of any kind. All they need is someone to crack them open and start a game.
The multitude of games available today, along with the classics we all grew up with, of course, Battleship, Clue, Monopoly, Game of Life, Pictionary, Scattegories, just to name a few, offer a unique and vast mix of fun, skill, critical eye, wit, interaction and risk that you would be hard pressed to find a match in any videogame.
Games – like good ol’ fashioned board, dice, and card games – build more skill, more character, and more critical thinking than we may have ever given credit, and with that, now more than ever, we may need to give that some thought. The more time spent staring at screens (myself included!) the less time spent face-to-face with other people, making choices and solving problems, taking risks and keeping the brain active.
There’s more to those dusty old games than we may think; more real life in that cardboard box than we care want to admit. Here’s why we say to go dust those games off and get a game started. ,
8 Reasons to Play Games with your Kids
Yes, yes, you get to spend time together as a family. Yawn. We know this one’s obvious, the ‘Family Game Night’ has become a bit more widespread now. But why? Just to spend time together? Or is it about the memories your kids will have when they are all grown up? The moments spent attempting to beat you, learning the tricks to getting faster, thinking quicker, taking risks and learning how you got to be so good? Or those awkward family reunions where the kids don’t really know each other and instead of hiding behind their iPad screen they start laughing, moving around, hollering a good time because they got into a good board game? Rain or shine, inside or out, electricity or not, know each other or not, a good game bonds us, instantly, creates memories and moments to share with one another. It takes us out of our comfort zone. It builds a connection we would otherwise not have.
Board games force us to make choices. Sometimes tough ones. We need to weigh options and think on a deeper level. We need to decide what’s the best thing to do, or the best place to move, or the best time to use a card. It requires us to dig deep into our background knowledge – things we know about the world, people, emotions, reactions, experiences like this before – it requires us to apply both our understanding about the situation in the game and the information we may already have deep inside us. Even while we’re playing we are still learning and taking mental notes of how things play out, whether we’d do that again or do it differently, watching how others play and strategize, and learning unspoken rules or mannerisms. We’re planning ahead, thinking back, organizing information, and reading how others interpret. All of this not only builds, but IS critical thinking at its’ best. To not take everything as it is, to always trust your gut feeling, to learn who to trust and when to trust them, to question and word things appropriately, knowing how to act and react to a situation – these build skills that are above all else the most useful in real life.
Ah, patience. Waiting. Being prepared. Planning ahead. Letting others take their time. We’re all born with these skills naturally, right? Games can help teach these skills by giving a real situation where they’re actually required in order to have fun. And then those skills can come out in real life! Modeling how to support others, offer advice only when asked, making use of waiting time to plan and prepare for you own turn, being ready to play, learning the appropriate times to act and when to wait – these are all essential life skills that can be taught by playing games. These skills will stick with you through life, and be a major character builder – for the better!
Real Life, Purposeful Mathematics
Adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, shapes, figures, transformations, reflections, rotations, strategizing, probability, sorting, organizing, grouping, counting, estimating, totaling, averaging, partitioning, parts of a whole, matching, logical reasoning, money, time, visual recognition, number sense, multi-step instructions, solving problems – well, that’s an entire year of basic mathematics skills right there. No kidding. Right there in a good ol’ board game. Enough said.
Real life, Purposeful Language Arts
Listening, talking, sharing, expressing ideas, making notes, reading instructions, re-reading for comprehension, making inferences, making predictions, making connections, building responsibility for your own things, understanding respect for others and their things, adjusting to the flow of other’s thinking, recognizing a different perspective, solving conflict and disagreements, compromising, taking pride in self achievements and the achievements of others, reading emotions, taking risks, trusting your gut feeling, looking at something with a critical eye – yes, you guessed it, these are all Language Arts skills, being put to good, practical use. Talk about real life learning!
Actions and Consequences
All actions have consequences - in the game and in real life. Now, some of us know this, and some of us have yet to have learned this. What better way to learn than in the comfort and safety of a board game. All actions have an effect on something, or someone, else. Sometimes negative, sometimes positive, sometimes on both yourself and on others. A simple board game, card game, whatever it is, provides the perfect controlled environment to practice these essential skills, and actions, and learn how to handle the consequences. A safe environment to be risky and learn through making tough choices, deciding between risk or reward, to punish others or to reap the benefits. Good old board and card games are full of daring moves that force us to decide how we will handle the circumstances that follow. They have the potential to teach us much about ourselves and about the real life waiting for us. .
When you’re engaged in an epic game of Sorry! or Catchphrase or Apples to Apples or even good ol’ Cribbage, there’s moments when every bit of you is working. Your mind, your hands, your heartbeat rises, you’re all in. Kinesthetic learning like these is beneficial to us all, and often, is missing most in education today. When your whole body is into it, you can feel it, live it, and relive it. It’s a real thing happening that you’re apart of – for many children, this kind of the learning that sticks, it’s what helps us connect to the why and how of learning. We remember it. It’s face-to-face, real life interaction with human beings. Not on a screen, not happening before us, but actually with us. It’s tangible family fun at its’ best, which is something we could all benefit from nowadays!
Win some, lose some
Let’s just talk about this one for a minute. Fear of failure is a real phenomenon surfacing more and more in generations growing up today. Teachers feel it, grandparents feel it, and parents feel it. Just in life, you win some and you lose some. But if you never lose some, then you must assume you’re pretty brilliant... Wow, real life is going to be rough! If you never lose some growing up, if you never witness it in your own life, how will you be prepared when losing comes at you fast and furious once out on your own? Games provide the perfect environment for learning fair play, hard work, winning and, the obvious, losing. With grace, of course. It provides the perfect environment for modeling these behaviours and how to deal with the feelings that surface. It provides moments to teach that cheating doesn’t always feel good when you could've won with your own hard work. Or that you just love the play of the game and not just the win of the game. Or how to actually play tactfully, without making personal attacks that hurt feelings deeper than the game itself.
And the best part? Most of these life lessons that can be carried on into their lives as they get older don't have to be directly taught - they can just be learned naturally through the experience of playing games. Win, win for all.
Welcome to Our Blog
Each post is written by a supportive member of Via Vita Academy, be it a teacher, parent, student, community member, who is invested in the topic of education. Take a read and comment below!