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 :)
Our VVA staff is truly something special. Up until the years of VVA, we had never worked with such diverse, supportive, and passionate group of educators who truly take risks together, share and reflect together to build such a positive work and learning space. Another dream conquered - a work environment that feels like home! Every day we see new layers of ourselves appear because we feel so supported and apart of an amazing team. Thank you VVA staff. Truly, thank you.
An extra special thank you to Mr. Ryan for writing this beautiful post, describing a very special day for all us of at VVA, the day we decided upon our Vision Statement. A couple year's into operating, and we still hadn't narrowed down our vision statement enough to confidently share it with the world, that is until this wonderful summer's afternoon. It was a day none of us have forgotten, and often long to create again. The wonderful mix of mindful reflection, nature at it's finest, and clear and confident minds that came together that day has truly left a beautiful mark on all of us.
Now that it’s January, I thought I might share a flashback to this one day that our teaching team shared back in August, when things were warmer, and our vision for this school first officially took shape...
Mid-August arrives, and the Via Vita Teaching Team gathers to envision how our year of learning together is going to look...
...But before we can start, there is a major list of tedious to-do’s to be done; rooms need rearranging, schedules need straightening, forms need filling, protocols need punctuation, new staff need to be shown the ropes, plus-this-plus-that and then some, among a bunch of other one-last-little-items. Phew. The first days of our first week back have us feeling a bit hectic, straight outta the gate.
Then comes a surprise: we’re invited to spend a day together out of the school, well removed from our list of to-do’s. There’s this place, on a lake, away from the whirring, clunking sounds of the city. A place surrounded by trees, whose leaves will be gently rustled by the crisp winds of late summer. A place where the year ahead might be more comfortably envisioned.
Also we’ll be fed dinner.
Away we go.
Upon arrival, everything that was promised comes to life. We are alone on the lake, where all but the Judas Trees are still green with the vivacity of August’s bittersweet ending. We set up shop in a wide oval on the deck, and for that day’s first hour, we do little but breathe this place in together, and exhale the last few days away. This place. This is where we’ll truly begin our year.
Working comes easily. We have a list of to-do’s for this day, too, but here, getting things done flows as readily as the lake lightly rippled by the breeze. So we explore things that might’ve been harder somewhere else--our personal strengths and struggles, how we can be more mindful in our learnings and teachings, and how to move forward as a new team, together. These talks are challenging, but they are beautiful, and as we share, our vision of the year ahead becomes ever more clear.
There is one item left on our list, but the day is young, so we stop to eat and laugh. Above us, clouds waver indecisively about whether to rain, while late summer sunbeams promise to keep things warm regardless. After several helpings of delicious food, we’re feeling ready to take on that last to-do: make a statement about the school, one that encapsulates, in one line, what it is we’ll be ever-envisioning for our school as we learn, teach, play, and work alongside our students.
Our team is in full swing; we’re especially pumped about this line, and it shows in our approach; in pursuit of something simple, true, and achievable, we take to willfully weaving our ideal pursuit. Somehow, what we envision has to fit into this one clear-cut sentence. It sounds heavy, it sounds intimidating, and yet for us, melding likeable minds lakeside, under the shifting summer sky, the day’s last to-do is done not long after we’ve begun:
Our vision is a culture empowered by community, compassion and wonder.
We’re finished, but, because we’re feeling pretty great about our day, we decide to keep it going. So into the lake we finally go. Some dive straight in, while some dip toes. Some swim to the raft, and some soon after leap off in a rush after spotting spiders. While we’re laughing and treading water together, The sky finally makes up its mind, and we watch as the wind pushes a warm rainfall across the lake toward us. And we stay put, and keep treading water, and laughing together.
Please welcome Ms. Ally! Oh, we are super excited to have Ms. Ally join us for teaching in the fall! After doing a student teaching term with us, it was love at first sight! We knew she would be a fantastic addition to our team as she fit in immediately - with our staff, students, and parents, and philosophy of learning. How lucky are we that she chose us!? Take a read to learn more about VVA's new teacher, Ms. Ally Vansnick!
For me, the perspective of having a unique family didn’t click until I hit about grade 10.
My mom lost her eyesight to a still unknown cause when I was in grade primary. She woke up one morning with blurry vision in her right eye and within the next few months it spread to her left eye. By the time I was in grade 5 she lost her sight completely.
I know this might sounds kind of bleak but I assure you it’s not.
Thinking back on it now, the most definitive memory I have of my mom losing her eyesight was when I had a “groovy" themed birthday party. Didn't we all? I was 7 years old and I wanted coloured peace signs and smiley faces everywhere. I had told my mom to colour a peace sign purple and she got half way through before I looked over and she had coloured in grey. She laughs about this now but I can only imagine how terrifying it was for her at the time. I cannot imagine gradually losing the ability to see things I have my whole life, Not seeing colours, not telling light or dark, not seeing the faces of loved ones.
People see my mom and circumstance and don’t understand how she cooks, cleans and does everything anyone with sight can do. I often find myself explaining that she hasn’t always been blind, that it happened later on. I can imagine some people who might experience this kind of loss might become dependent on others, but not my mom. She still walked us to and from school. She still took my brother and I out to do things. She taught us how to help her while being independent problem solvers from a young age.
It’s interesting to me, how you can manage to find strength and positivity in the hardest moments life has to offer you. My mom is the most positive person I have ever met, and has been dealt a great deal of difficulty. I don’t know how she does it, but she does. And she is my inspiration for just about everything. Her zest for life gives me so much to strive for every day.
I know not everyone has a mom or someone in their life that they can they look up to and I recognize that despite the challenges my mom faces, that I still get to have such an inspiring mom. It is because of this that I teach. I aspire to be that person for the many children and youth I get to teach. I am grateful to my mom for all she has done and continues to do and hope to pass on to my students that kind of inspiration, dedication, and determination she puts forth on a daily basis.
I often realize every day how much we can take for granted if we aren’t looking closely. I am thankful that I will get the opportunity to spend my days teaching and helping young children grow into great leaders of tomorrow. I am thankful to be able to do this at Via Vita, an environment that I feel aligns with the kind of inspiration my mom had on me. A place where kids get to learn to be independent, understand how the world around them works, to problem solve, and see the positive side of any situation.
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