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 :)
January 27th, 2019 was Literacy Day.
Teachers love this day. Surprised? As we prepared for our celebration for literacy, "Love for Reading" on Valentine's Day, we got to talking about reading!
It sparked plenty of conversations over the past couple weeks, about our love for reading and how we found it realizing that we all found it at different points in our lives, and from different experiences. We thought we'd take some time to share a few memories with you, and that it sparks a conversation with you and your kiddos about reading at home, perhaps you might even enjoy the odd chuckle while reading our memories, or "awww" moment!
What comes to mind for your reading memories? We'd love to hear them!
Reading for me was a part of every single bed time routine. When I was small I remember clearly having dinner, rushing off to get all cleaned up for bed, and then my mom and dad sitting down to read to me before I fell asleep. These memories are as clear to me now as they have ever been, because my parents always made it special. I could pick a lot or a few books, I could ask questions, it really didn't matter. What mattered was the time we spent together, and the fact that reading was always so positive.
It made going to school, and enjoying that process a little easier. However, I definitely was the kid that liked to read the last chapter or page because I couldn't wait to know what happened. This unfortunately landed me in hot water during book clubs because I would suddenly always have a knack for guessing the ending... Well would you except anything less? Patient reading skills came to follow and suddenly I fell in love with books all over again due to the anticipation of the ending.
Flash forward to my teenage years: my dad sets a new rule in the house. "We read one hour before bed every night except Friday and Saturday". As you may expect some nights I whined, bargained, pleaded, but he wouldn't budge. My dad was usually the guy you could try and bend a rule or two around, but not about reading. Honestly? Looking back on my past I wouldn't change a thing. Secretly all those reading times we had together just made our family closer, strengthened my love of reading once more, and ultimately are some of the best memories/ books read that I still have. Reading became my solace before bed, and still is. I am a terrible sleeper (it's commonly known through our family and my friends), but I know that when the darkness tries to swallow you, when it's 3:30am and all is lost, the one thing I can always reach for to keep me company at night "before bedtime" is a book.
So thank you to my mom and dad: they are truly what make the gift of reading so important to me. They are what make my memories of the past so special to look back on for lots of reasons. More than anything though, they make every new book read, or old book read to others a reminder of how stories bring us closer together. To paraphrase my feelings from one of our family favourites...
"I'll love you both forever, I'll like you both for always. As long as I'm living, your baby I'll be"
I don't really remember learning to read, I'm not sure exactly how or when it happened. But I do remember falling in love with books at a young age. Actually, obsession is probably a more accurate description than falling in love. When I was little my parents would read to me every night before bed, I had a bookshelf full of all kinds of different books in my bedroom. I bet you're thinking this all sounds pretty normal so far, but as a kid I would go through phases where I would get my parents to read me the same book night after night for months at a time. After a few weeks my parents would beg me to choose a different book, any other book, but I was adamant that my current obsession was the only book that would do. I remember the books so vividly, I even remember the order of some my obsessions; The Three Little Pigs, Button Soup, Green Eggs and Ham, Snowed in at Pokeweed Public School, and Anne of Green Gables.
I still remember getting the opportunity to bring in a book to read to my class in grade 1, my current book of choice was Green Eggs and Ham. I was so excited! I knew that book cover to cover, could I read it or did I just have it memorized? I'm still not sure, but I don't think it really matters. Loving a book doesn't mean you need to be able to read it all on your own or that you need to understand every single word in it, it just means you love it!
Luckily I still have many of the books I loved as a child, my Mom gave me a big box of them when my kids were born. Now and then they let me share one or two of my favorites with them, you know in between reading Dora and Pokemon for the millionth time ;)
I was chatting with my mom recently, and asked her how she’d gone about teaching me to read. She said “Actually I don’t remember teaching you to read. I just remember reading to you, until you started reading to me. After that, you just started reading to everyone.” While I was floored that she hadn’t used any strategy other than reading with me, her latter point has been true for as long as I can remember—I love reading to people.
I still carry a reading memory from Grade Three. The teacher asked if someone would like to read a story to the class, and I decided to not raise my hand, just to break from my habit and give someone else a turn. I’m still not quite sure why what happened next happened. All I remember is that instead of someone else taking a turn, the class just asked if the reader could be me. I remember the joy of that moment. My class thought I was good at reading? They liked when I read to them? Or maybe my desire to be the reader was plainly painted across my face from the moment the teacher mentioned it. Regardless, I carry this reading memory around with me, knowing that within it lay a simple truth—they liked when I read to them, and I liked doing it. And now I teach at a school, where I can basically read to people whenever we like. And we do, and it’s great.
I owe every inch of my love for reading to the passion of both my parents. To this day, we have continue to read together, discuss together, and debate together. When I felt lost, my mom and dad would somehow always help me to find inspiration and wisdom in literature. Perhaps, one of my strongest memories is listening to my mom reading-aloud to her fifth-grade students when I was a child…I thought I’d share some of that memory:
Seven-years-old and sitting at the back of my mother’s classroom. School is out for lower elementary, but in my mother’s upper- elementary class, a vivid read-aloud is in session. Like the 25 students sitting in front of her, my mouth hangs open in awe and amazement as she dynamically and boldly interprets the words of Roald Dahl. She’s like a conductor, weaving connections between characters, inspiring predictions, and splendidly spewing vocabulary. You can almost see the thought maps of students as they form and then float above their heads in real time. As she closes the books for homeroom, the student’s eyes fill with disappointment. Unlike her students though, I do not need to be left in anticipation for the night. As my mother tucks me into bed for the evening, I ask her to read where she had left off that afternoon. She pulls out the book from behind her back: “of course” she assures. As she pulls me closer, she whispers, “but this time, let’s read it together”.
My mom is an avid reader and was always reading - to us, with us or just for herself. She read to us constantly, and we visited the library weekly until we went to school. I remember I loved the smell - walking in through the heavy doors, the air stale from housing stacks and stacks of books. New or old, I wanted to read everything that interested me (which was a lot). My mom fostered my love of reading by letting us choose any and every book we wanted, and especially encouraged us to read series, so if we really liked something we could continue the story beyond that one book. She planned book reading challenges and had us record how many books we'd read each summer. We read everywhere - outside at a picnic, inside with tea when it rained, at night before bed, lazy mornings, in the car on road trips, and many other places. I asked her as an adult what her memories are of me as a child and a reader, and she says I made her read me my favourite books hundreds of times before I could read them for myself. Even when I could read there was nothing better than mom reading to us, listening to her animate each word and seeing the story jump off the page and into my imagination. I could climb mountains, win races, swim in oceans, fly on carpets, solve problems and mysteries, or make new friends without ever leaving my house. My imagination grew with each book I read and each book closed only made me want to open another.
As a child, I always had a great love for books and reading. I was always running to Dad, to sit with him and "read" the paper (pretending to read, even before I could). We lived in a log cabin and had a wood-burning stove in the living room. We would all sit and read together, as the crackle of the fire hissed in the background. My dad would sit by the fire with my sisters curled up, and I would rock in the chair with Mom and read. It was virtually like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting.
As a result our family's love of reading and being the youngest of 5, I learned to read at a young age. I wanted to do it on my own and keep up with everyone and the conversations. Dad was a huge fan of reading, and somehow magically influenced us all to even go cable-free for a year - a family of teenagers, no TV for a year! What a guy! It really encouraged us to get back into reading, and those Norman Rockwell moments. It's a memory that I'll always treasure.
"Little Betty Bear..."
These 3 words will forever hold the key to memories of reading. These words, for me instantly conjure up feelings of love, protection, support and most of all, a genuine joy for reading. I am immediately brought back to my family's living room, in the evening, propped up in my father's lap with the book "Betty Bear's Birthday" open in front of me. It's sunset outside, I'm all ready for bed, and I get this last story before I have to head off to bed for the night. The floor lamp on above us, the sunset stretching over the lake out the window, the dog snoozing by my dad's feet, and the lazy-boy chair creaking every time we turn the pages of the taped-up, barely-held-together binding. I keep laughing in between correcting my father as he jokingly mixes up the story line, waiting for my all-time classic line, "that's not the right words, Dad!" I can recite every word of this story still, and recall the beautiful pictures of Betty Bear, her mother and her father, the bowl of oatmeal she had for breakfast, and the best page of all, the page where she decides to take a walk through the forest. The page illustrates most beautiful deep forest with a path weaving it's way through the trees. Every time I'd make my dad pause here just a bit longer, imagining I could step right into the pages and join Betty Bear for a skip through the trees. Betty Bear meets a load of her woodland friends along her journey, whom she thinks forget it's her birthday, but later surprise her with treats of honey, nuts, and seeds and a picnic tea among the forest floor. Seriously, this story, is magic. Well, at least I thought (still think) it was. All 10 pages of it - pure magic. I'm told it is not in print anymore, but no need to worry, as it will forever be printed in my memory. And fortunately, my loving parents saved and gifted me it so I can relive it's magic again and again with my daughter.
I know that these 3 words are what set the foundation for me as a reader, long before I could even read myself. For the years later, I struggled to find a connection with a book like the one I had with Betty Bear, but because of that foundation, I knew the magic existed, I just had to keep looking for it. Years of pretending to read in silent reading time in class but not having a clue what the words were in front of me, reading and re-reading the confusing paragraphs in my school textbooks, and evenings of my mother reading To Kill a Mocking Jay aloud to me so I could understand what the heck my Grade 10 English teacher was talking about did not ultimately deter me from reading. I struggled, but I did not give up hope. The foundation my father set early on in my life kept my joy for reading afloat, and offered me an opportunity to see and experience those magical words first hand, so I knew eventually I would find that joy again. Which I did.
My memories of reading as a young child really begin with my younger brother. Jarrett had the little critter series of books by Mercer Mayer and I would just read them to him again and again and again. We loved searching for the grasshopper, spider and mouse in all of the pages, and we would laugh at all the mischief little critter would get into. As I got a bit older, I remember reading The Chrysalids in grade 6 and just loving the idea of a dystopian future, and to this day I still enjoy this genre of books. As a teenager I got hooked on the Harry Potter series, and I remember in university going to midnight releases for the newest book. I also had to re-read each of them before the movies would come out, of course, as any true Harry Potter fan would do! It is truly magical watching the excitement grow in in my children's eyes as I get to read the beautifully illustrated versions of Harry Potter to my children now and pass along my passion for reading a big series to them.
As an adult, one of my fondest memories is my father gifting me the book ‘Water for Elephants’ and telling me how much he loved the book. I don’t even know how many times I’ve read this book, now, as it has now become one of my most cherished books and the first I would and will ever recommend to anyone who’s looking for a good read. This past summer, I loved chatting with him and my aunts about all the books they are reading, That book, and these memories, are a piece of him, and my family, that will forever stay with me and connect me no matter the distance of land between us. And what boy did I ever realize that I still have a lot of reading to do to catch up to them! I best get crackin!
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