Whitehorse Daily Star

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MOVE HAS HAD DRAWBACKS – MAD student Lynette Aschbacher doesn’t believe she is receiving the program’s full potential benefits this year.

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

AT THE FAMILIAR DIGS – MAD students involved in the As You Wish production are seen in April 2019 outside their favoured location – the Wood Street Centre.

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

PANNING THE IDEA – MAD students and supporters protest the program’s departure from the Wood Street Centre on July 20. The event took place outside the Department of Education building.

Uprooted program raises curtain to problems

Students in the Music, Arts and Drama (MAD) program say that attending school at Porter Creek Secondary School has negatively impacted the integrity of the program.

By Gabrielle Plonka on September 11, 2020

Students in the Music, Arts and Drama (MAD) program say that attending school at Porter Creek Secondary School has negatively impacted the integrity of the program.

“It’s definitely fun, but I’m really thinking about applying again because I’m not getting the full MAD experience,” Lynette Aschbacher, a Grade 10 student, told the Star.

The MAD program was moved from its regular location at Wood Street Centre this year as part of a system-wide shuffle intended to provide greater safety to students.

Grade 8 students are attending school at Wood Street, while experiential programs are at Porter Creek and F.H. Collins Secondary Schools.

MAD students are now located in a Porter Creek classroom with access to the school’s theatre. They were promised separation from the general school population, but say Porter Creek students regularly infringe on their space.

“There’s always kids walking down the hallway that’s supposed to be separate for MAD kids … and it’s kind of weird,” Aschbacher said.

The small MAD classroom necessitates that students go outside for some drama games, which doesn’t lend better privacy, Aschbacher explained.

“Sometimes Porter Creek kids will walk by and I notice some of the more quiet girls will stop doing what they’re doing, and wait for the other kids to walk past, and it kills the mood.”

Michael Gwynne-Thompson is also a Grade 10 student in the MAD program. He said Porter Creek students are regularly disruptive.

“They do interrupt our classes – the only thing dividing the regular school and Wood Street (programs) is a piece of paper,” Gwynne-Thompson said.

“They come around during their breaks and make noise during our classes, they’ve yelled remarks at classmates…. Any remark you could think of to call a theatre kid, ‘gay’ or ‘ugh, theatre kids’ and what-not.”

The MAD classroom itself is cramped, and doesn’t provide sufficient space for approximately 25 drama students.

“The room is pretty tiny,” Gwynne-Thompson said.

“We’re pressing right up against the room (and) there isn’t enough space for us to distance.”

The small room has hindered the program’s regular roster of interactive class activities, which Gwynne-Thompson said is “really a shame.”

The Porter Creek theatre is also small, which means MAD students need to split into two groups to use the space.

Half the class will participate in an activity while the other half of the class watches.

Aschbacher said that it’s sometimes “awkward” to participate in drama class with a constant audience of peers.

The small theatre has students seeking alternative spaces.

“The deck isn’t big enough to house all of our students at once, so we’re opting to go outside instead of the theatre,” Gwynne-Thompson said.

In a normal year, MAD students would spend about three hours every day in the theatre. This semester, theatre time has been cut to one or two hours.

The theatre is also shared with the rest of the student body, so availability is sometimes limited.

“We don’t have constant access,” Aschbacher said.

“Sometimes when we’re supposed to have drama class, we do something else, because other people are using the theatre.”

The Porter Creek school bells have been disabled in the MAD classroom, but they still disrupt MAD students in other areas of the school.

“It’s unfortunate that the regular school bells interrupt our classes, having these structured bells get in the way and interrupt the flow of the class,” Gwynne-Thompson said.

“We still hear them in the theatre and in the hallway.”

The MAD program is currently taught by a single instructor who is aided by a revolving cast of substitute teachers.

According to Aschbacher, there were already three different substitute teachers in the first couple of weeks.

“The moment we get comfortable around the teacher, all of a sudden that teacher is gone and there’s a new person, and we have to do it all over again,” Aschbacher said.

The program’s one permanent teacher has essentially carried the program alone, students say.

“There’s been mental taxation on Dave, he’s trying to organize everything by himself, which is really difficult,” Gwynne-Thompson said.

“It’s been a really big change, and it’s really challenging.”

Both students say the program has been stripped of its relaxed, unrestricted setting in the new location.

“It’s a lot more difficult to be more quiet, and watch ourselves, and watch our space, as opposed to the very free nature of last year in the Wood Street (Centre),” Gwynne-Thompson said.

Kyle Nightingale, a spokesperson for the Department of Education,v provided an email response to an itemized list of student concerns on Tuesday.

He said the department is actively working to fill the vacant teaching position for the MAD program and is committed to supporting staff, students and families.

“This includes ensuring students are able to learn in a safe and respectful environment free from bullying or harassment,” Nightingale said.

“As part of the Safe and Caring Schools Policy, school staff are equipped to provide support and respond to unhealthy social or bullying behaviours to ensure a safe and caring learning environment for students.”

Nightingale said administrators appreciate the patience of students and staff as everyone adapts to a pandemic-safe school year.

“We recognize this is not a usual school year and we have had to adapt programming to be able to safely return students and staff into schools during the pandemic,” Nightingale said.

Students with concerns about the programming or supports at their school should contact their teacher or principal to ensure they are addressed, Nightingale said.

Several students and their parents have contacted the Star recently to state MAD’s departure from Wood Street is simply not working.

In a letter published in last Friday’s Star, retired teacher Kevin Greenshields pointed out the Guild Hall’s suitability for accommodating the program, and urged the government to rent the Porter Creek facility for that purpose. A petition circulating urges exactly that.

However, there has been no indication from the Education department that that’s in the plans.

Comments (5)

Up 0 Down 0

Bogart on Sep 16, 2020 at 1:47 pm

While The Guild sounds like a great idea, I'm not sure that place meets current building codes and safety in terms of fire suppression, heating/airhandling and other safety minimums. Those buildings are old AF and are likely filled with asbestos and other nasties.

Up 13 Down 7

Eureka! on Sep 13, 2020 at 3:44 am

It hit me like an Epiphany -- the city is going to have some spare buildings so when they complete their 9 for 1 at least move to the resort on top of the hill. Surely one of these many emptied buildings could satisfy MADD's need. I mean Bill said it not more than nine months ago. Nine for one, nine for one.

Up 12 Down 11

Nathan Living on Sep 12, 2020 at 1:29 pm

Sorry for what has happened to the MAD students.

Up 30 Down 13

Graham on Sep 12, 2020 at 8:51 am

Moving the MAD program to an unsuitable location is cruel to the students. And the Department of Ed isn’t doing enough to solve it.
This program changed my life, and has (Literally) saved others, I hope it can survive. And I hope the Department of Education gives it the attention and support that it needs.

Up 31 Down 8

Guild Hall on Sep 11, 2020 at 5:48 pm

Send MAD over to the Guild Hall--they need that space. CHAOS is in a portable that will be used by Porter Creek School next semester. CHAOS could use the MAD classroom next semester, SASE uses its portable, everybody wins. As for the bullying from PCSS students, sounds very exaggerated and ripping up PC school in the news isn't gaining you any support.

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