Above: High-fives all around as Director Blancher greets students arriving at River Heights School

The Great Grand Erie Road Trip: Director Blancher Kicks Off 2019-20 with an Adventure on the First Day of School

It’s the first day of school in Grand Erie. At River Heights School in Caledonia, a thick fog has rolled in off the river. It’s no matter, though. Everyone is finding their way – whether they’re new or returning students and parents – thanks to the school’s teaching and administrative staff who are providing a welcoming first point of contact.

Joining them is Brenda Blancher, Director of Education, and Linda De Vos, Superintendent of Education for the Haldimand family of elementary schools. It’s great to have the additional friendly faces considering nearly 90 French Immersion students in Grades 4-8 are completely new to the school. Beginning this year, the French Immersion program is split between River Heights and Caledonia Centennial Public School (Kindergarten to Grade 3).

“The last time I took French was in the ‘80s during university,” recalls Blancher as she makes her way to the Grade 8 French Immersion class right after the first bell rings. “You know what they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

If Blancher is now experiencing some first-day jitters about her command of the French language, she doesn’t have to worry because the Grade 8 students are happy to share what they know. This time next year, they’ll be part of Grand Erie’s first cohort of Secondary French Immersion students in Haldimand-Norfolk.

Grade 8 student Olivia steps up to provide a quick lesson for Blancher.

“Avez une bonne année,” she says slowly with careful pronunciation, and Blancher repeats the phrase to the class. So far, the first day is fantastique.

Right: Director Blancher receives a warm welcome from student Addison during her visit to a Special Education classroom at Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School

Travelling down the county road and into the city, Blancher arrives at Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School to check in with Principal Griffin Cobb on his first day at a new school. First days in Grand Erie are old hat for Cobb, who attended Elgin Avenue Public School and Simcoe Composite School growing up, and then came right back after completing his post-secondary education to begin his career in teaching.

“I always really looked forward to school,” says Cobb, whose son just happened to start Junior Kindergarten that morning at Blancher’s first stop, River Heights. “It’s a fresh start, and nice to be back with your friends and colleagues.”

Cobb and Blancher visit one of the Special Education classrooms at Pauline Johnson, where Educational Assistant Bill Papachristos is working with Adam to map out the student’s new routine. They utilize a tablet with the day’s schedule laid out in blocks of time, indicated with visual icons. The educators are doing a great job of ensuring everyone in the class is adjusting to their new schedules.

Right: Director Blancher takes a bite out of an imaginary hamburger during playtime in the Kindergarten classroom at Echo Place School

Next stop is a brief jaunt down the road to Echo Place School, where Vice-Principal May-Lynn Liao greets Blancher. Liao remembers being a Kindergarten Teacher years ago, when Blancher paid her another kind of visit, this time for the purposes of an evaluation, part of Blancher’s duties in her former role as Superintendent.

“Of course I was nervous,” says Liao of the evaluation. “But, it’s important to remember that we’re all new at some point, and to remind ourselves that we have the tools we need to succeed.”

Fittingly, Liao and Blancher visit first-time Kindergarten Teacher Ashley Lake, who is preparing for story time with Grand Erie’s newest students.

“Kindergarten is an exciting time of curiosity and wonder,” says Liao, who is beaming with pride at the hard work the school’s teaching and custodial staff have put into getting Echo Place ready for today. “Having flexibility and a positive attitude is the main thing when it comes to first days, and any day.”

Right: Director Blancher joins Principal Gail Ash and Teacher Jayne West during an outdoor nutrition break at St. George-German School

It’s up to the north end of Grand Erie after that, to visit St. George-German School, where Principal Gail Ash greets Blancher in her new office – she’s spent the past four years at Princess Elizabeth Public School, so this is another first.

“I don’t think it matters how long you’ve been in education, the first day always brings on those jitters,” Ash says.

Ash and Blancher make their way out of the office to see what’s going on in the school yard, greeting secretaries Kathy Rayner and Ann Birkett as they go.

“Secretaries are the heartbeat of the school,” Ash says to Blancher as they make their way through the hallways. Outside, students are enjoying a nutrition break, and making great use of the school’s grounds to play games and explore. Supervising the action is Teacher Jayne West, whose past experiences as a supply have meant lots of first days.

“I’m always looking over my daily notes, and ensuring I know exactly what I’m doing and where I’m going,” she says of her strategies for weathering new experiences. “Preparation is key.”

As the bell rings, it’s time for Blancher to head to the final stop on the Great Grand Erie Road Trip: Waterford District High School.

It’s towards the end of the day, and Principal Rob Malcolm and new Vice-Principal Geoff Stead invite Blancher to check out the kitchen-classroom space which serves the Hospitality program. Teacher Jennifer Dinsmore is providing a hands-on tour of the space – including a new dishwasher, which will mean more time cooking and less time scrubbing dishes – for the Grade 9 class of future culinary greats.

The bell rings to signal the end of the day, but not everyone heads straight to the buses. The gymnasium is the place to be, as students sign out equipment for the upcoming football tryouts, and a Grade 9 class finishes up a game of basketball with Teacher James Osborne.

Right: Director Blancher gets a free-throw lesson from Spencer at Waterford District High School.

Principal Malcolm asks if any students would like to volunteer to demonstrate a quick free-throw lesson for Director Blancher, and Grade 9 student Spencer takes it up. With all the qualities necessary for leadership, Spencer offers supportive pointers on stance, alignment, and stabilizing the ball in preparation for the throw. The first shot falls short. The second one does too. But the third time’s the charm, and a reflection on the student and the teacher, as Blancher sinks the basket effortlessly. The exchange echoes Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan and its Achievement indicator, which sets high expectations for students and staff, with an emphasis on understanding effective learning strategies.

Blancher isn’t looking to take up intramural basketball this fall; however, the first day back in Grand Erie has been a slam dunk in terms of the teamwork and dedication that made it a Success for Every Student.


Photos by Grand Erie Communications

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