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 :)
"It’s showcase time!" I exclaim at morning meeting, about 4 weeks out from the main event itself.
"Woooo!!!" Cheers groups of students, young and old, and immediate chatter starts to take hold of the group.
All 64 of them all Via Vita students, sitting on the floor, with young ones settled into the laps of older ones, get louder with the vibes of showcase running throughout the room. Normally, morning meeting is a time to discuss things to change, the going's on of day-to-day events. Today, we've all come together to start our day and the first topic is showcase, which quickly takes hold of the entire agenda. The daily meetings are led by 2 students, who are now clapping rhythms trying to get the group back in order and quiet down. Vibes of excitement, anticipation, worry, and then getting-to-business waves over the crowd as they go through the emotions of preparing for such a big event as Showcase. New students unsure of what it all means. Old students grinning ear to ear, knowing exactly what it means.
A few rounds of repeating the pattern claps from the morning's leading students and finally the mass of the group settles down into low whispers and then finally quiet, while a few hands shoot up in the air.
“When is it? We have to write the script?”
“Can I sign up to act, please? Oh! And dance? How many things can I sign up for?”
“I want to babysit this time!”
“Remember last year’s? Can we do that again? That was so much fun!”
My absolute favourite time of year. An excellent example of controlled chaos, student-led learning, and infused creativity. Showcase season. The time of year when we bring all of the themes and most influential things we’ve been learning about all term and pull it together into an on-stage production. Songs, dances, skits, poems, stories, science shows – you name it, we include it. Written with the students’ guiding ideas, produced with the support of their teachers edging them along. It’s always completely unique and entirely theirs. Can we include a boat? Why not, if it makes sense! Can we include that story we loved reading over and over in class? Sure, let’s figure out a way. Can we include aliens? Spaceships? Zombies? I’m sure we can find a way to make sense of that, right?
Is it stressful? Heck, yes. Without a doubt. We willingly walk into the chaos and make more chaos. It’s messy, it’s challenging, it’s ever-changing. Our newest teachers are looking at us like we’ve lost it. Our oldest teachers just keep saying – trust the process, you’ll see.
See what, they ask? The payoff. The reason for it all. The moment when you see a child, who perhaps is struggling to keep their head up in math lately, or who has been chatting with us a lot lately about the woes of their changing social dynamics, or perhaps a student who has been having a difficult time smiling through the cold winter months, or a child frustrated with the complexity of reading the English language – you see them, beaming. Perhaps on stage, perhaps leading the younger ones, perhaps handling the mic system, perhaps keeping order back stage. It doesn’t matter the role, but it does matter that they are beaming. This is the reason for it all. For all the rehearsing and script writing, for all the prop making and mess cleaning. It’s also the reason for all the prep work, tests, quizzes, due dates, projects, parent meetings, staff meetings, schedules and classes. And it’s even the reason for the record keeping, payment collecting; accounting, upkeep and marketing of the business. This is the why.
That child is beaming.
Look at them. Look at what they’ve accomplished and look at how they feel about it. Can you compare anything else to it? This moment will move mountains. It’ll build confidence, and positive memories with school. It’ll help them believe in themselves, work with others, and never back down from a challenge. It builds grit, integrity, and independence. It's an opportunity to work through stress, cope with fear, and manage challenges. It’s real, hands-on, experiential learning. It’s hard work, no doubt, but it’s the reason Via Vita exists.
February 2020 marks 4 years since Via Vita Academy Ltd. became a thing and marks the 10th Showcase production with our students. We embarked on an adventure we had only dreamed of, with hopes in our heads and hearts for what Via Vita could be. Make a positive difference in the lives of our students. As a teacher, Via Vita is most certainly a dream come true.
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