All posts by Alisa Ramakrishnan

I have a PhD in Botany, and at the moment I'm staying at home taking care of my two daughters.

Students struggling to learn in roasting-hot portables

I just dropped off a fan and spray bottle for my daughter in her classroom at Sunnyside Elementary. The seven portable units have heat in winter, but no water, no washrooms, and no A/C in spring/summer. Parents and teachers often supply basic shelving and storage space for educational materials. There will probably be two more portables at Sunnyside next year. My children still love going to school, which is a testament to the hard work and dedication by the many teachers and staff at Sunnyside.

I sent a thermometer to school today so I could have a number for how hot it gets in there. The sun beats down on the metal roofs and the fans brought by teachers and students hardly move air around at all. There’s no shade to cool the units, so when the sun hits, they heat up quickly. For students who struggle with hydration, it’s dangerous for them to be in school for the afternoon.

At least one teacher is trying to find $400 for a portable cooling unit for the classroom. They’ll probably end up bringing the cooling unit from their house to use at school during the week.

This new school building opened in 2014, built for 400 students, now with over 600 students, with more projected to come next year. The gravel field is the main play space, and it would be great if it were replaced with grass. Bandaids are a hot commodity.

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From google maps, edited to include the 7 portables.

I like the teachers and staff here, and my children have done well at Sunnyside. The band program found shared space with French classes in one of the portables, which at least allowed the award-winning jazz and concert bands to continue. The band program includes many students from other schools in the area, so it’s crucial for them to have space to practice in, and this one portable is the only space available. There is a very active PAC at Sunnyside, and many parents work hard to help the school run smoothly, with great learning activities for the children. Despite the less-than-ideal physical environment, in the end, it’s the people that make a school, and Sunnyside has a wonderful team of educators, staff, and parents all working together to support the students.

Now if we can just get some air conditioning.

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Jazz Band Keeps Going

Trophies are now proudly on display, thanks to several parents!

The Jazz band program at Sunnyside has expanded to include even more schools than before, and thanks to extreme teacher and parent dedication and perseverance, the students are preparing for the Kiwanis festival again this year! Thank goodness Sunnyside managed to save a portable for music and French classes, because it’s now the band room for students from schools all over South Surrey.

Because the band teacher is unavailable to lead sectionals during the school day, more advanced students teach the less experienced students during lunch hours. Luckily, there are more advanced students available for this, since the band has regularly included passionate students in grades other than Grade 7.

Groups of band students meet at 7am and after school for sectionals as well, and I’m thrilled to report that they’re sounding pretty good! There’s a lot of pressure to practice regularly and attend sectionals and rehearsals, and the hours of hard work are paying off.

I’m so thankful to the teachers who spend untold hours preparing for classes and teaching our children. My children benefit enormously from their commitment and dedication. Go Band! Yay!

Sunnyside Band Program update

6 Oct 2017 update on the band program at Sunnyside Elementary

I’m going to dash this off because I keep thinking I need to update my blog. The band program at Sunnyside Elementary has been pared down to fit the band teacher’s new expanded number of schools. I haven’t had time to talk to her yet, so I don’t know how many schools she’s teaching.

There’s a portable on site that’s used for band and French teaching. It doesn’t have room for most of the instruments that Sunnyside used to have, so I don’t know what’s happened with that. Hopefully I’ll find out sometime!

Band practice is twice a week for an hour and a half each, with students coming a half hour early to the school on those days. Mentoring is on one day a week, after school for an hour, where Semiahmoo Secondary students (and advanced Sunnyside players) can help newbies (from various elementary school) learn their instruments.

There’s no Jazz band, and I don’t know whether there will be sectionals or not later in the year. I doubt the band teacher will have the time, but maybe some advanced students can try to run some sectionals. Some people have told me she’s hoping to do Jazz Band later in the year, but I don’t have details yet.

It’s unfortunate that students passionate about band won’t be able to have the intensive learning experience that was available to them in prior years (11+ hours/week). But I’m glad they have space to play, occasionally at least, and my daughter enjoys the short time she gets with the more advanced trumpets who come from Semiahmoo Secondary once a week.

Sunnyside Elementary Music Program is being “developed”

I don’t have a better analogy at the moment for what’s happening to the music program at Sunnyside Elementary than the high-intensity development we see in Grandview Heights. As development clears the forests to make way for townhouses, the air heats up and gets more polluted, and hectares of road runoff infect our fish-bearing streams. At the same time, the music program at Sunnyside Elementary faces greater and greater threats until at last, it gets reduced to a fraction of its former size.

Yesterday, Sunnyside’s concert band and jazz bands, plus some of the upper-level music classes, went on their last performance tour. Yearly they have gone to other schools to showcase what they’ve learned. Dozens of parents transport children and instruments to different schools, and yesterday we were treated to a wide variety of music performed by well-taught elementary students. This has been a yearly tradition at Sunnyside, supported by teachers and administration alike.

Putting together a program like this takes an astonishing amount of preparation and organization, and requires support from the entire school. Teachers of students in the music program have to accommodate long hours of music practice and missed hours, made up for with homework and altered schedules. Administrators undoubtedly have challenges of their own with such a complex program. Last year, Sunnyside Elementary put on a huge musical play/performance that included every student in the school! It required quite a bit of support and time to pull it off.

As the numbers of students at Sunnyside increased, resources available to students decreased. The last two years have seen 5 portables moved on site to support hundreds of new students. When the band teacher told her students she wouldn’t be teaching band next year, I got worried.

I talked to the principal, who confirmed that the music and band programs would have to change drastically to accommodate the numbers of students we have. Worried, I got online and made a Facebook page for the other parents at Sunnyside who support music. This turned out to be crucial, as some Semiahmoo Secondary parents got on there and told me that if I wanted anything done, I had to go to the district.

So to the district I went, and I also started coordinating with the amazing parents at Semiahmoo Secondary. We had letter-writing campaigns, took recordings, and went to meetings (other parents did, since I couldn’t go).

And now the last performance of the jazz band is tonight. Yes, there will be a band next year (standard hours). Yes, there will be music next year (on carts, rolled out to the portables and classrooms). Most people probably won’t even notice the difference.

Just like we forget all too quickly how much forest used to be here.

South Surrey stands to lose what it loves during urbanization

The last performance of Sunnyside Elementary School’s award-winning jazz and concert band program is next Thursday, June 22, 6pm at the school. There’s no more room at the school for drums, pianos, marimbas, and musical instruments you can’t put in your pocket. South Surrey is running out of room all over.

 

A corner lot by Sunnyside Elementary was finally bulldozed. In a day or two it was transformed from the left picture to the right picture. The lot will become three new big houses with tiny yards. The tree there, a big maple, I think, was well-loved for 50 years, at a guess. It had a tire swing and lovely climbing branches. I’m sure children sat there on summer days, but the inevitable forces of economics were unable to save it for future children.

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It’s ironic that at the same time this lot was being bulldozed, the Sunnyside Elementary school’s music program was undergoing the same transformation. img_2147.jpg

For over 20 years, students passionate about music could find a mentor at Sunnyside Elementary. Next year, unless we get even more parent advocacy, this practice room will become a classroom, and their music teacher will be teaching at 7-9 other schools, normalized by the pressures of urbanization.

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It’s hard to take pictures of a band program facing the bulldozers. How do I take a picture of something that’s not there? How do I document the absence of a school at the Kiwanis music festival for the first time in over a decade? How do I show what will be lost without demeaning the efforts of future band programs? The Surrey school district will ensure that Sunnyside grade 7 students can take band if they want, two days a week (100 minutes, if I remember right). That’s a far cry from the grade 5 through grade 8 students you usually find in the music room before school, during lunch and recess, during the first hour of classes, and after school.

Once the houses are built on that corner lot, more people will move in and they’ll be happy they could find a place to live. They won’t know about the tree swing, or the climbing branches that used to be there. But hopefully their children will have the choice to attend an award-winning band, practicing music with other students and a passionate teacher!

If you happen to be someone who appreciates music and the efforts of students and teachers who have supported Sunnyside’s program in the past, please write the administration (emails below)! We need to preserve this unique music program from demolishment, not just this year, but for decades to come.

wilson_shawn@surreyschools.ca, larsen_laurie@surreyschools.ca, allen_terry@surreyschools.ca, holmes_bob@surreyschools.ca, mcnally_laurae@surreyschools.ca, thind_garry@surreyschools.ca, tymoschuk_gary@surreyschools.ca, reeve_l@surreyschools.ca, rawji_f@surreyschools.ca, tinney_j@surreyschools.ca, ryan_r@surreyschools.ca, reeve_l@surreyschools.ca.