Peace Arch Elementary marked an important anniversary last week, celebrating 50 years of education in White Rock.
Hundreds of people – students, parents, teachers and former teachers – took in the half-century celebration Thursday afternoon, packing the school’s gym for an event that featured Semiahmoo First Nation dancers and drummers, speeches from teachers and staff, as well as a number of performances from the students themselves, along with cupcakes donated for the occasion by Save-On-Foods.
Also on hand for the ceremonies, titled “50 Fabulous Years,” were the Surrey school district’s long-serving Semiahmoo Peninsula board representative, trustee Laurae McNally, and superintendent of schools Jordan Tinney.
The event started with an appearance by the school’s new mascot Archie the Raven – who greeted students – and continued with a piped procession into the gym with bag-piper Graham Davidson.
After two versions of O Canada – once in English, then in French, reflecting the school’s French-immersion designation – dancers and drummers from the Oceanside Dakota First Nations troupe took to the floor, joined by student Zack McKenna, himself a noted First Nations performer.
From there, the rest of the school population took centre stage, as four student narrators – Cymone Lamontagne, Evan Penner, Max Stone and Sara Dicken – told the story of the school, and the world around it, through the decades.
Performances included classes dancing to such songs as Let’s Twist Again, and singing the Bachman-Turner Overdrive classic Takin’ Care of Business, with the lyrics adjusted to become Takin’ Care of Peace Arch.
Retired Peace Arch Elementary teacher Renée Charett – who still works as a teacher-on-call – also spoke briefly.
“The building may be 50 years old, but the school isn’t about the building,” she told those in the packed gymnasium.
“It’s about the students, the teachers, the parents – the community.”
School principal Deborah Thorvaldsen said following the celebration that Charett represents the dedication of “a number of teachers who came from Quebec” who helped establish the tradition of French Immersion classes at the school, in keeping with the vision of bilingualism and multiculturalism promoted by prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in the late 1960s through the 1970s.
“It’s worked tremendously well for the school,” she said, noting that the school also continues to have a thriving ‘neighbourhood program’ for English-language students.
“We started as a one-track school and became a two track school and the programs have grown together – it’s built this tremendous community,” she added.
“It’s absolutely wonderful to be a bilingual Canadian – it opens so many doors,” she said. “Our community has so many choices available to it. We’re very fortunate on the Semiahmoo Peninsula for educational opportunities.”
Thorvaldsen said the welcoming presence of new mascot Archie was well-received by the public, as was the creativity of presentations by the students.
“I think everyone was impressed by what an energetic and spirited community we have at the school,” she said.
– with files from Alex Browne