- BC Games
COVER STORY: 40 years of change at SDSS
Students fill the halls of South Delta Secondary School, as they hurriedly make their way from class to locker to class. Every year, the faces and fashions in these hallways change as a new generation comes and goes.
The building itself, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, has also undergone near-constant change. Over the past four decades, South Delta Secondary School has seen all manner of additions, demolitions, renovations and upgrades, resulting in a building that bears little resemblance to the one that first opened its doors to the public in 1973.
“I love the fact that this is a place that changes,” says art teacher Julie Lymburner.
She started out teaching at South Delta Secondary School back in 1980, when it consisted of a separate junior and senior high school.
“I was at Tsawwassen Junior High in those days, and that building was on the other side of the oval,” she says.
The two schools shared a cafeteria and sports field, before being amalgamated as a single secondary school in 1992. The old junior high was eventually demolished and the land sold off, the proceeds of which went to expanding the remaining wing in 2005.
The school is currently undergoing a $10.2 million upgrade to its original 1973 classroom block, science block, library and shops. The project includes seismic upgrades to the entire building and the renovation of existing science labs.
Construction started this past summer and is expected to be complete by October 2014.
The renovations are already beginning to take shape with the opening of the school’s new science lab last month, offering students and teachers an open learning space complete with the latest science equipment.
The lab combines what was four traditional classrooms into a large flexible space that would be the envy of many colleges, and is more than capable of handling any sort of high school science lesson.
“It’s really cool to look at, and it’s great to have full size work benches,” says Grade 12 student Katie Baillie of the new lab. “It’s so much more organized and easier to do experiments now.”
Lymburner’s art classroom will be one of the many rooms renovated as part of the ongoing work on the school. For her, the constant change has been blessing, as the SDSS has been able to reinvent itself both physically and educationally, changing with the times to better serve its students.
“The school has grown more comprehensive in what we provide,” she says. “We have continued to provide more electives and courses… to meet the interests of the changing school population.”
The school is currently home to more than 1,300 students, as well as 112 teachers and staff.
And while many other Lower Mainland high schools have suffered from falling enrollment in the past decade, South Delta Secondary School has been able to maintain its student population by opening its doors to international students and high performance athletes. The school also offers a variety of performing arts-based academies and sports programs, which attract students from across the school district.
“We have diversity here, thanks to our thriving international program,” Lymburner notes. “We are attracting students from all over the world - from Europe, Asia, South America - and these students are getting involved with the culture of the school.”
That culture is one of participation. The school offers endless avenues for students to pursue their interests beyond the “three Rs.”
There is a something for everyone at SDSS, whether it’s extracurricular programs such as the school’s many competitive sports teams, clubs, or student council, or career programs like culinary arts, fashion and design, business, and trades
“Students excel here because they can find their niche,” says Lymburner.
SDSS is also home to the Vancouver Giants’ educational program. Players for the locally-based Western Hockey League team finish their high school course work while playing for the team, offering them the flexibility to graduate while traveling with the team.
Having future NHLers walk the halls might be a distraction at other schools, but Lymburner says the Giants players are all part of the SDSS family, and set a positive example for the other students.
“The work ethic they have on the ice you see in the responsibility they take for their work,” she says. “They are living their dream, and we want to support them in that.”
Despite 40 years of change, there are some constants, Lymburner notes.
The dedication of the staff and their ability to adapt with the times has been chief among them.
“I’m now teaching the kids of the kids I taught in 1980s… so a lot of things have changed in that time,” Lymburner says. “But the professional development here has always been second to none, so we do our best to learn and grow.”
Teachers have gone from banning cellphones to using them as a learning devices.
“Teachers are excited about new things,” she says. “But you still need good classroom management skills.”
Perhaps a testament to the positive effect the school has had on its students is the fact that a handful of the current crop of teachers at SDSS are former students.
Teacher Bobby McDowell has spent a good portion of his life at the school, first as a student from 1993 to 1998, and then as a teacher from 2006 onwards.
As a student, McDowell won a contest to design a new school logo, which now adorns the school’s front foyer. After graduating and finishing his teacher’s training, McDowell said he jumped at the chance to teach at his old high school.
“I loved growing up here and to come back was a big opportunity,” he says.
McDowell admits it was strange at first being back at the school as a teacher. As a fresh-faced recent university graduate, he was occasionally mistaken for a student.
“The first time I walked into the staff room, it felt like I wasn’t supposed to be in there,” he says.
But with the support and mentorship of his fellow teachers, he says he quickly became comfortable in his new role as an art and design teacher.
That welcoming aspect of SDSS extends to the student population as well, he believes.
“This is a school where students can be themselves,” says McDowell. “It’s a very welcoming and accepting place.”
The school is planning a 40th anniversary celebration for May 10, 2014, and former teachers, students, and families of students are invited to join in the festivities slated for the day and the evening.
“We love to see all our old students,” says Lymburner. Ultimately it’s the students who make SDSS the school that it is, year after year. And for Lymburner, like many teachers at the school, it’s what she loves most about teaching there.
“I love the fact that I can work with people who are young and energetic,” she says.
“It doesn’t get any better.”
• For more information about SDSS anniversary celebrations, visit facebook.com/40yearsofSDSS