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Peace Arch Elementary student Adam Lenk and his mother drum with Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell at a pod re-naming ceremony at the Surrey school. Below is a poster showing the animal names of the five new school areas in the Semiahmoo language.
The land where Peace Arch Elementary sits was once a giant rainforest with large trees and wild animals roaming free.
Semiahmoo First Nation (SFN) member Roxanne Charles reminded students, teachers and guests of this during a ceremony at the Surrey school, where she and many of her relatives, including her children, have attended over the decades.
The Jan. 24 event was held to rename five of the school's sections – or pods. Instead of being identified with numbers, the school areas will now be given a fitting animal designation.
The senior classes, for example, will be in the orca building, explained student Yannick Wright.
"The orca is the navigator and the leader for the younger students," he explained.
Similarly, the area for Grades 1-3 will be represented by a beaver – an animal known to be a good collaborator that works well with others and cares for the environment.
On top of the pod names, the school mascot, the raven, is, appropriately, a persistent problem solver that never gives up.
Besides orca and beaver, animals used for other school areas include the salmon, bear and wolf.
SFN Chief Harley Chappell, who also attended Peace Arch as a child, drummed and sang for the audience before teaching attendees how to pronounce each animal name in the Semiahmoo language.
"I want to thank you for bringing our language into your school," Chappell said, "for bringing our language into your culture."
Grade 4 student Adam Lenk and his mom taught students their clan's dance, which included each animal representation.
Trustee Laurae McNally, who served as one of four official witnesses to the naming ceremony, said she was proud to observe the relationship between the school and SFN peoples.
She spoke about some of the animals chosen, including the salmon.
"They're really all about renewal, and that's what you're doing today with the pods – you're renewing the names of them."
She also referred to the bear's protective nature, mirroring that of students and staff protecting one another; and the wolf's dedication to family, representing the strong and supportive Peace Arch Elementary community.
"I am very heartened and encouraged to view the ceremony today and I hope you will keep up your connections with our First Nations people," McNally said.
Assistant-Supt. Lynda Reeve, also a witness, referred to the responsibility of those in the orca pod.
"You are the leaders of this school and as you work with your buddy, younger students, it is also your duty to teach the new students in the school why the pods have been renamed in this way," she said. "This is really a gift from the Semiahmoo people to the school and you need to treasure that in your heart."
Principal Carol Davison is thrilled to nurture the school's connection to the land and to the Semiahmoo people.
"When I moved here last year, I thought 'what can we do to make it more community-oriented and less institutionalized?'"
She said a committee of teachers worked together on connecting the animal names not only to the appropriate pod, but to the core competencies – intellectual, personal, social and emotional skills – in the B.C. curriculum.
Roxanne Charles will design the artwork for each pod's new animal designation, and hopes to include students in creating signs.