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THURSDAY SPOTLIGHT: New uses for Parksville Winchelsea school

At least five School District 69 programs are now together in one place at the former Winchelsea Elementary School in Parksville

The word wasn’t actually used, but the new combination of programs in Winchelsea Place is all about synergy.

“There’s all kinds of opportunity for incidental collaboration,” said district principal of learning services Kerri Steel on The NEWS’ recent tour of the former elementary school with three of the program directors.

When the district closed four elementary schools and switched from a middle school to a K-7 and 8-12 configuration over the summer, the district-owned building opened up for programs they had run out of various, some rented, spaces.

The former school, at 140 Renz Road behind Ballenas Secondary, provides more space, and will offer students a concentration of services that Steel described as “wrap-around help.”

The programs include the Learning Centre (formerly known as the District Resource Centre), Aboriginal Education Program, Learning Services (formerly known as Student Support Services), Springboard Daycare and PASS/Woodwinds Alternate School.

“We started 25 years ago to address the needs of kids who were really challenged, 11 and 12 year olds who were not attending class,” said PASS/Woodwinds principal Joe Panichelli during the tour.

They started with the PEP (priority entry program) for Grade 6-7 students who require “intense emotional/social support,” and higher grade levels have been added over the years.

The school now includes Woodwinds, for Grade 8-10, including helping keep kids off the street who really need extra help, he said. Their goal is to feed students into the two district high schools.

Students in Grades 9-12 can attend PASS (Parksville Alternate Secondary School) and earn their regular Dogwood graduation certificate in a more supportive, flexible environment.

“We have so many wonderful partnerships in the region we offer more than $18,000 in scholarships every year,” he said of their often emotional graduation ceremonies at which some students speak of the huge accomplishment of the hard road they overcame.

They also have the Continuing Education Centre for adult education, with students into their 60s earning their high school graduation certificates.

PASS/Woodwinds has also gained notoriety for their unique outdoor recreation programs ROAMS (River, Ocean and Mountain School) and VISSP (Vancouver Island School Ski Patrol Program) which give students high school credits and hands on, experiential training in everything from white water rafting and fly-fishing to first aid and marine radio operation.

The new space offers facilities like a kitchen, project and art rooms and gymnasium they didn’t have at their Mills Street location, as well as closer access to Ballenas classes that some of the students take.

Meanwhile students, teachers and staff from across the district, who may be going to Winchelsea Place for one thing, will now have easy access to numerous other resources from the Learning Centre and Aboriginal Education Program, which have new meeting and storage space.

Like Steel, most of district principal of First Nations Rosie McLeod-Shannon’s staff are out working in schools, their offices at Winchelsea mostly serve as resource centres and their own offices.

McLeod-Shannon said they more than doubled the two little offices they had in Family Place.

Similarly, Steel said people like the district occupational therapist who covers different schools and used to “share the corner of a desk,” now has a real home base.

Though it has only been a couple weeks all three said they are amazed by the number of productive conversations they are having bumping in the halls and finding ways to collaborate, “creating a little community here,” as Steel put it.

They also have meeting spaces and a gym available for community use. Call the district operations and maintenance department at 250-248-2067 for more information or to book space.

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