By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The dawn of a new school year brings with it a great deal of excitement, but for nearly 700 students in the city’s north end, that was multiplied a few weeks ago.
Northern Dancer Public School officially opened its doors, welcoming 670 junior kindergarten to Grade 8 students, along with their families and school staff.
The school’s narrative began a few years ago when it became clear the quickly growing neighbourhood in the area of Northern Dancer Boulevard and Bridle Road would require its own institution.
The Liberal government announced funding for the school in late-2016 and construction began earlier this year.
And while the work on the physical elements of the building was ongoing, efforts began to make sure the inside mechanics of the school were underway as well.
“We did a lot of purposeful meetings with families and engaging the community because for us it was very important that we meet the needs of the community, and the community understands we are proud to serve them,” says principal Barbara Speed.
Speed said that the biggest part of encouraging a new school to fulfil its potential quickly is “creating a common unity and shared vision of what we want our school to be, and sharing that with the neighbouring community and the families.”
To achieve this, Speed went out to assemble a strong team around her.
“We wanted to have expertise in a host of areas. We’ve got literacy and numeracy experts; we’ve got technology experts, we’ve got diversity experts, we’ve got experts in all areas,” Speed says.
Staff also had to prepare for the significant amount of change that comes with a new school.
Students at Northern Dancer were previously bused to Sunset Heights, Kedron and Dr. S.J. Phillips public schools.
This meant they were leaving friends and familiar surroundings.
Speed says it was critical that everyone coming into Northern Dancer felt as welcome as possible from the start.
“That’s why we put a lot of time and effort into making sure we were creating a sense of comfort and we were building those relationships.”
But vice-principal Shahana Ariain is quick to point out that students play in this as well.
“(They’re) also sharing the excitement of being part of a new school community and that anticipation of what that’s going to look like, sound like and feel like for me,” Ariain says.
Even two weeks after the school opened, that excitement continues.
“The one thing I continue to hear is ‘what’s happening inside? What are we gonna do next? Where are we allowed to play? How many washrooms are there upstairs?” So their focus is on starting fresh and beginning new and getting to know the staff and really start to set their space and voice on Northern Dancer,” she notes.
Ariain recalls a family coming to her and Speed on the first day of school and saying, “We’ve been waiting for you, and now you’re here.”
“There’s such comfort in knowing that we have such an amazing community that is ready, waiting and open to wanting to engage in the learning with us,” she says. “And we really think and act in ways that encourage partnerships every step of the way, and that goes right down to our policies and procedures.”
Speed says Northern Dancer will be an innovative school, and she is extremely excited about the possible partnerships with nearby UOIT.
“For our children, we want them to be forward thinkers and future global leaders. We want to equip them with those skills,” she says.
The two administrators believe that the diversity of the school’s community makes it truly unique.
“Our families have been amazing about telling us what their aspirations are, what their hopes are, what their dreams are, what the strengths of their children are, what things they are looking forward to for us being able to work with them and move forward,” Ariain says.
The school’s motto and vision are to ‘spark, connect and unleash.’
“We want to spark innovation, we want to spark creativity, we want to connect families through their diversity and different intersectionalities, and we want to unleash global thinking,” Speed says.
The year has gotten off to “an overwhelmingly positive” start.
“With a new school…there are a lot of operational pieces. So getting structures and routines done, and having families understand, we tried to be proactive in communicating that to our families,” Speed says. “Our families have been responsive and positive.”
The famed horse the school is named after serves as a motivator as well.
“Even our name, which was determined by that democratic process, the name Northern Dancer – that horse was not necessarily [one] everyone expected to be that successful,” Speed says. “The perseverance, the endurance, the effort, that’s going to be us. We will persevere, we will ensure our kids have the skills, and we will take on the challenge.”