Division News Article

Swan Hills School: Growing and Learning Together

December 12th, 2019

This year we are publishing a series of stories about our schools. Read them all here.

This year, Swan Hills School turns 60 years old, and over the years the school has been through many changes. The main part of the school was built in 1963 and while it was being built, classes were held in a small section of the hotel. In this picture from early 1960’s, you can see cases of pop that were stored there to supply the hotel restaurant.

The school grew to accommodate over 600 Kindergarten to Grade 9 students in the early 80’s. According to Associate Principal Sheila Gardiner, “The addition of the high school in 1996 brought a new dynamic to the school, and we celebrated our first graduating class in 1999.” Today the school has 220 students enrolled from Preschool (S-PREP) to Grade 12, and the school continues to focus on building student relationships and engagement for greater achievement in their futures.

Swan Hills School (SHS) is the only community school in Pembina Hills that serves students from Kindergarten through Grade 12. Because it is located in the last town in the division to be incorporated (Swan Hills was the first township to be incorporated in 1967, Canada’s centennial year) it is in some ways the newest. Principal Slade Sekulich told us that an independent survey found the students and staff of Swan Hills School to be the most attractive in the division, which may be due to its “youthfulness” — or possibly the altitude. He jokingly says, “Our location near the Centre of Alberta provides us with the distinction of being the ‘Centre of our Universe’—despite Edmonton and Calgary attempting to claim this title.”

Necessity – the mother of Innovation

Several teachers at Swan Hills School have developed expertise in teaching multiple subjects and several grade levels, often at the same time! This is very important because lower enrolment in some grades sometimes requires combinations of grades and classes. Sekulich says, “Our teachers have become proficient at teaching common curricular outcomes in multi-grade classrooms.”

Flexibility is key

In addition Sekulich says, “We have embraced the principles of High School Redesign as demonstrated in our flexible programming. Over the past few years, representatives from Alberta Education and other school divisions have visited us to learn how we offer a wide variety of courses to students of all grade levels.”

High School Students are assigned flex time, similar to other high schools in the division, during which they complete Workplace Safety Systems, Career and Technology Studies (CTS) or other elective courses they choose. Depending on teacher availability, students can also take additional sections of Foods, Woodworking, or other hands-on courses during their flex block. High School students can also enroll in a number of CTS or elective courses during one block a week that could earn them up to 3 credits. This elective week was introduced last year and is another example of the flexible ways that Swan Hills School supports its students.

Active learning in elementary

Grade 1-3 students use Osmo technology for hands-on learning projects. In addition to core programs, Grade 4-6 students use what the school calls “Enrichment time” to write scripts, build sets, and rehearse for the annual dinner theatre. All elementary students are also heavily involved in the music program and participate in both the Christmas and Spring concerts.

Focus on Mathematics

The Mathematics Intervention Programming Instrument (MIPI) is a diagnostic test used by SHS to analyze students’ learning needs in math. his year as it was very useful in pinpointing problem areas common to all grade levels. This knowledge resulted in a cross-grade strategy to focus on bolstering number talks and breaking down work on decimals, fractions, and percentages.

Focus on Relationships and Wellness

Swan Hills School is one of 120 schools across the province that receives service from a Mental Health Capacity Building Project. The Swan Hills project is called the PAWS program – Promoting Activity, Wellness and Success. PAWS is a community based project, housed within Swan Hills School and focusses on providing mental health prevention and promotion services to children youth and family within the community. PAWS provides resources in any area of wellness such as substance abuse, anxiety and depression, conflict management, social skills, anger management, parenting support, etc.

Program Manager Vanessa Lewis says, “Since the program began in 2007, it has served as a beacon of support within the community. Together, with our community partners, we strive to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and equip our population with the necessary skills to build and maintain lifelong resilience.”

Many staff have completed the Go-To Educator program, and are working to build upon existing relations students have formed with staff members. The Go-to Educator program builds the capacity of staff members to listen to and guide students through temporary periods of distress, worry or loss. Sekulich says, “This year, we have begun a series of occupational presentations for grades 9-12, focussing on a range of possibilities from politics to legal fields to industry and to health care, and have added more staff members to work with students in the capacity of academic counselling.”

Community connections

Not so many years ago, it seemed impossible that the school could have a woodworking shop. However, with the contributions of various community members, donations from local businesses, and the hard work of motivated staff members and students, an unused classroom was converted and stocked with the equipment necessary to provide a woodworking program for junior and senior high school students. “Students enjoy creating various items for themselves and their families, and several have engaged in school-based projects such as building shelves, repairing furniture, and refinishing our gym’s bleachers,” says Sekulich.

More recently, a donation from Razor Energy made it possible for the school to expand program offerings for our students. Keeping in mind that, to build programs that truly engaged students, meeting their needs and interests, students themselves should have key input into what was established. Students indicated their strongest interests lay in visual arts, photography & animation, communication technologies, and fitness. The school now has a basic photo and editing lab, the tools for creating and transferring student-created graphic art to t-shirts, mugs, and other canvases, and equipment for a small fitness & weight training program.

These additions to Swan Hills School were made possible by working together—community, students, and staff—and this sentiment is embedded in the school’s motto, Together we can; together we will.

Going the extra mile

Swan Hills School has a top-notch, hard-working, and dedicated group of teachers and support staff. To work in a small community like Swan Hills requires people who will be flexible and willing to go the extra mile, and this school certainly has those people. Teachers and support staff take on all sorts of responsibilities from coaching, to helping out with concerts, to volunteering their time to organize a variety of activities for students.

Sekulich says, “At Swan Hills School, we believe no one person is the MVP. It takes a committed and dedicated group, each sharing their individual strengths, to achieve significant goals. As well, we are of the belief that no goals are out of reach – we can!”