CM . . .
. Volume IX
Number 5 . . . . November 1, 2002
Caledonia Junior High in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, doesn't, at first, seem to have many redeeming qualities. The first half of this video, shot almost entirely within the school, centres on the difficulties which plague CJH.
There is a clash of economic and racial cultures which is apparent in the various student cliques such as popular kids, nerds, loners and Blacks. Caledonia has earned a reputation as a tough school where differences are routinely settled by force. Students have little self-respect, and they respect neither their peers nor their teachers. Many students don't feel safe at school but think the administration cannot or will not help. The number of fights after school and off school property results in the Principal and Vice-Principal actually driving around their school neighbourhood to keep an eye on possible trouble spots and trouble-makers.
Into this tense situation comes Edy Guy-Francois who, during the school year covered by this video, becomes the fifth principal in four years. She sees her new job as extremely stressful, but she is determined to meet the challenges (after she has decided she doesn't have enough sick days to see her through until retirement!!) She has no "magic bullet," and so the video instead documents small changes which occur in the school environment. These are endangered at various points by such things as government budget cuts, with the resulting cuts in teaching staff and newly implemented programs. But the slow, gradual change continues. At first, even the teaching staff has difficulty agreeing on a plan of action. Eventually they decide to try a peer mediation program, to teach methods of conflict resolution, and to give students more independence and engagement in solving the school's problems.
Edy's efforts with students involve strategies like peer mediators trained by students and staff from a nearby high school before setting up the mediation program at CJH. She leads an assembly which centres on cooperation and commitment. As “Principal,” she is very visible in hallways and classrooms, and she strives to deliver discipline which involves consistent consequences for all students. As carnival time approaches in the spring, students enjoy more activities, including contests, dances and a very popular talent show. A cultural awareness group is initiated. Viewers sense a calmer, more reasonable and more respectful atmosphere. Edy's own childhood is briefly mentioned. When she finally moved to a foster home as a child, she realized how important it is for children to have a caring, dependable adult around them. We see how she mirrors this in her role as principal. She delivers discipline with compassion and shows strength, vision and commitment.
Another group included in the video is parents. Their role in disciplining teenagers is discussed, and viewers meet the mother of one particularly difficult girl. As well, we see interactions with parents whose volunteer hours are essential to keep the school moving ahead.
The year and the video end, quite naturally, with graduation, and the final shots tell viewers what happened later on to the various students we met in the film.
After a year of hard work on the part of administrators, staff and students, we have a school atmosphere which has seen positive change and a move toward an environment where everyone feels safe and valued. The progress has been neither quick nor easy, but one senses the Caledonia is permanently changed for the better. The video encourages viewers to explore assumptions about what goes wrong in a school and how to correct such a trend. Real solutions which worked at Caledonia Junior High are the basis of the documentary, but the video is not at all a "recipe for fixing a school." Its strength is not in offering across-the-board solutions but rather in providing a vehicle which could instigate discussions among administrators, school board trustees, teaching and other staff, parents, and any others concerned about our schools and the environment they provide for our children.
Ann Abel, a former teacher of high school English and French, currently is the teacher-librarian at Peterborough Collegiate in Peterborough, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.