Recent History – 1999
Dec. 17, 1999, By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
As the new teacher at the Grandview alternate school, Mark Lofvendahl finds that his job gives him both a challenge and a sense of freedom.
The challenge comes in teaching kids who, for various reasons, would have trouble in the regular school system. The freedom comes in being able to use a bit of innovation.
“Little of this job is direct instruction. You teach in different ways. You teach situationally,” he said.
“Any little minute is a teachable moment and you’ve got to take those moments and teach in that manner instead of standing up in front of the chalk board and giving notes and things like that. “It’s not like a classroom at all.”
Lofvendahl, 32, came up here from Langley, where he taught a grade seven class last year. Impressed by the way he handled a difficult class there, the principal, who once worked in Dawson Creek, referred him to School District #59.
A few interviews later and he and his wife were up here. So far, Lofvendahl is enjoying it.
“It’s an awesome place. The kids just need a little bit of extra love. A little bit of extra care,” he said. “They just need somebody to be patient with them and they respond.”
His students are kids who’ve fallen behind usually because of behavioural problems. “Some of them are prone to outbursts, things like that, and we’re trying to help them get through that, and we’re trying to help them get through that so that they’ll go back into the regular system,” Lofvendahl said.
The students must adhere to a strict attendance policy. They’re required to be in school 80 per cent of the time, and if they drop below that, they’re withdrawn and must reapply to get back in.
And when they’re in class, Lofvendahl stresses structure.
“When they’re given structure, they perform really, really well,” he said. “They may not like the structure, they may not think they need the structure, but when it’s structured, the kids are sitting down, they’re given work to do for a period of time from now till now, they sit down and do it, just like any other kid.”
But by the same token, they’re also given some leeway in that they have more opportunity to work at their own pace. And as the months have passed, Lofvendahl has eased off on the discipline.
“At the start of the year there was quite a bit of disarray because the kids didn’t know me, and I didn’t know the kids,” he said. “So I was quite stern, and as the year has gone by they’ve taken some of that, I suppose, power back away from me and they’ve kind of taken a lead in the classroom to earn some trust.”
The students at Grandview range in assessment from grade one to grade nine, but they’re aged 13-17. “All of them are struggling academically in some way, but some more than others,” he said. “I’ve got a kid who can’t read and that’s a struggle so as a teacher it’s a challenge.
“You’ve got to find time for that kid who can’t read and help him learn how to read and learn some skills to get through life. And on the other hand you’ve got to think about the other 20 kids and they need your time too.”
Others, thanks to having moved around a lot, and having attended several different schools, are missing whole years of education.
“For a lot of these kids, that’s the problem. They’re missing some building blocks,” he said. “They have a clump of knowledge from kindergarten and clump from grade two and a clump from grade four because the kid is so transient. In and out of school, shifting communities with their families and moving and things like that.
“It’s pretty scary what some of these kids have been through and are still going through right now.”
But progress is being made.
“Their behaviours have improved for the most part, academically they’ve improved,” he said. “I mean, if you go get the kid’s report cards right now and they’ll show you how they’ve improved.
“And just the knowledge that they’ve had at the beginning of the year and to what they’ve got now, it’s great, so they’re making big strides.”