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 :)
Happy New Year!
Three years ago, today, we announced to the world that we would open a school.
The echo of those words still, every time, sounds so strange in our ears, "Open a school"?! I think we still follow that up with, “who does that?” Because honestly, who does that? Did we really actually do that? I guess we did! And really, it turned out to be everything we dreamed it could be, plus some. Which really was a gamble, don’t you think?
We recognized that opening a school would be the riskiest, scariest, bravest, most unheard-of thing we could do at the time for our teaching careers and lives. It would change everything in our lives, from personal to professional, and everything in between. But, with a special blend of trust in each other and our skills, a strong dose of perseverance, and great amounts of passion for what we believed education could be, we took that big leap of faith and announced to the world January 1st, 2016 that we would open a school. (We didn’t realize that that would be first of many great leaps of faith we’d be making along the journey of entrepreneurship, but that’s besides the point)
So, looking back, has it been scary? Was it really a big deal? Yes, 100%. Managing people, money, time, resources, clients, families, our own beliefs and values, goals, ideas, and our own families is no easy feat. The toughest part is reminding ourselves that it’s okay, it’s not easy, and there’s no perfect way of doing it. We’ve made it through, with smiles on at the end of each day. And what’s even better, we’re still going strong with that same recipe for motivation that we started with.
So, yes, all of that was big and scary. But what’s bigger to us, what really gets us saying, “Wow”, is when we’re standing in the back lobby right after snack time when the kids are hanging their coats and rushing off to their next class. You see 58 pairs of boots lined up on the shelf, older ones stopping to tie a little one’s shoe, a younger one stopping to say hello, and they all bustle past and then suddenly, it becomes quiet as classes get started – that moment of quiet, when we both look at each other and know exactly what the other one is thinking. Wow. What is it, you ask? What is it about that moment that gives us goose bumps, wide eyes and is immediately followed up by a deep breath? It's when we both realize that all of this just wouldn’t be without that that great leap of bravery 3 years ago and the continued leaps every day since. It makes every once of effort worth it. These students wouldn’t have made new friendships, wouldn’t be aware of how different a class of 10 can be. They wouldn’t be bouncing to math class with the skip in their step, lining their boots along the shelf with care. They may not be confident in their ability to speak up, or even acknowledge the needs of someone else to tie a shoe. This all happens, day in and day out, which we think is quite amazing and awesome, because of a big decision we made, and truthfully continue to make every day, to push through barriers, go against the grain, and open Via Vita.
We, now, get to be apart of each of these students’ lives and play a role in shaping their future. They inspire us daily to be better and try harder, and we are forever grateful for that. We have met and continue to learn from the most amazing educators, parents, and community members who teach us everyday the value of working as a team.
To all of the wonderful teams of people who we’ve come to meet along this journey, and those we will get to meet in 2019, thank you, thank you, and happy New Year! Thank you for supporting us, challenging us, motivating us, inspiring us, and most importantly, reminding us stay true to who we are. It truly takes a village, and we are beyond proud of the village VVA has become.
Many things happen in a day. There’s so much we want to say, but so little time to say it.
The moments that go into the school day - they are more than just time slots, childcare, and subjects of study. They are, honestly, our world.
We reflect on them, we draw meaning out of them, and we strive to constantly build better ones. We continuously replay them in our minds, and use them to fuel us further.
Being right there, on the front lines, while your child overcomes challenges, strives to do better, takes ownership over their choices, discovers something new, or shines in a way that naturally complements their uniqueness and personal qualities - these moments are what we live for, what we work hard for, and what we believe in. They are us.
So, to better get to know ‘us’, your teachers, the team you trust to teach your child, wrote out our thoughts about teaching. First, we wrote them separately, and then brought them together to create this post. Here’s how it turned out.
Your Via Vita Teachers
Adele, Alicia, Meghan, Ryan, Yolanda, & Zoe
I choose to teach your child because I choose to keep learning, and since they want to keep learning too, we make a great team. I want them to realize how fun learning can be. I love to be curious with them, explore with them, investigate with them, and create with them. I choose to teach because I want guide your child in discovering who they are, and to help them to see their worth both as a learner and as people.
The reward I get from my job as your child's teacher is a daily surprise--sometimes the reward is laughter, sometimes it's a shared eureka, sometimes it's a double high-five out in the backyard. It is getting to continue learning right along with them everyday! It is getting to watch as they transform and overcome obstacles that they never thought possible.
When I see your child smile… it warms my heart that they are building a positive relationship with school and learning. When I see your child smile, it sparks an already familiar feeling: being in the right school, for the right reasons. When I see your child smile, it helps to remind me why I chose this profession.
When I see your child struggle, I step into the role of co-pilot; I'm not there to fly them around of their struggle like an avoidable detour, but rather, to help them through their struggle, mostly by reminding them that they're not alone. I work with them to build their own understanding and help them create meaning in the challenges they face. When I see your child struggle I know that I must work extra hard to help them to see their own value and to believe in their ability to overcome any obstacle.
What gives me joy every day is to be part of a school that feels ever more like a big family that's addicted to learning. It is to see students come back each and every day excited to learn and do more than they did yesterday. It is watching students help each other, spread kindness, and form lasting bonds.
What pushes me to keep going when the going gets hard is a penchant for perseverance, which I aim to inspire in my students every day. What keeps me going is knowing that we are teaching students to love learning so that they want to continue it throughout their lives. It is knowing that I have the unique opportunity to influence the life of a child in a positive way, and that in return they may influence others in a positive way.
What I love seeing every day happen at Via Vita is our Morning Meetings: a daily gathering, co-hosted by students, where we table discussions about how we're doing as a community, and how we can do even better. What I love seeing everyday happen at Via Vita is, honestly, the learning! It is fluid, looks different each day, and happens differently for each student. I love seeing the wonderful mentorship fostered between older and younger students and the multi-age bonds that are created. The students really are like one big family.
The difference I already notice in one month is the amount of support I get from our students, regardless of the task at hand. They are ready and willing to help, and I am constantly encouraged by their will to build a culture of cooperation in our school. In just one month, I notice is the significant increase in confidence and leadership skills for so many of the students. I notice how supportive and accepting everyone is of each other. Some of us have only known each other for a short time but it already feels like family.
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!