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Dec 13
Tips to support students with autism during the holidays

Christmas kid.jpgThe Christmas holidays can be a time of wonder and delight, taking part in family traditions, seeing loved ones, and a break from routine. The holidays can also be a time of stress for those on the autism spectrum who thrive on familiarity and predictability. This can be a difficult time of year, but with some preparation and planning, the holiday season can be enjoyable.

How can holidays be enjoyable for families with children who have autism? Take the holidays one day at a time and in stride. If the day does not go according to plan, that's OK. Respect the needs of the children and don't worry about what others think. It is us, the neurotypicals, that need to adapt to the person with ASD, not the other way around. It is easier for us to change and be flexible.


1) Use Social Stories

Create a social story for any new routine. If grandma is hosting Christmas Eve dinner, tell the child what the breakdown of the evening will be. Anxiety can arise over a change in the schedule. My adult children still worry that they won't be home in time for bedtime during Christmas festivities. If I let them know ahead of time about changes in the routine, they tend to do much better. Usually, what they want to know is when an activity will end and how will they know it is over. We give them a time that we plan on leaving and the kids do well with that.

The school schedule can also be interrupted with plays, concerts and assemblies. Teachers and educational assistants – give lots of warning about changes in the daily routine. Work in special activities into the visual schedule. Create a social story about a concert or a play the children will see. It is often anxiety rooted in fear of the unknown that causes challenging behavior and avoidance of new experiences.

2) Make sure to include quiet time

Allow for some quiet or down time during a day that has new experiences in it. Create a plan B if the school play is too hard for the child to sit through. If a music concert will be loud, perhaps use some noise cancelling headphones to lessen the sound. If the class is planning a Christmas party, walk the child through what it will be like. Maybe the child can also help with organization or suggest a favourite game to play. If a preferred activity is included in the day's events, the child is more likely to be enthusiastic about it. Think about scheduling a favourite activity right after a new experience so that the child knows when the concert ends, there is some computer time, games, or play time with a much loved toy.

3) Keep new foods to a minimum

Be careful about introducing new foods or ones that aren't usually consumed. Some children have food sensitivities and can't tolerate traditional Christmas foods like shortbread, chocolate and other delights. They may be interested in trying them, but check with the parents first to see if they can handle certain foods. The joy in the moment is never worth the aftermath of an upset stomach or GI system later.

4) Surprises aren't necessarily a good thing for those with ASD: this includes visitors and gifts

Some children on the spectrum don't enjoy surprises. If this is the case, don't give a wrapped gift or if you do, put a picture of what's inside the box on the outside of it. Predictability is key to keeping children calm.

For families, limit the amount of visitors to the house. Large groups of guests can be challenging for the person on the spectrum to deal with; so can an invasion of their space. Request that people not drop by without giving notice. This is a rule in our house that we insist people follow. Limit the length of a visit to something manageable. Every family willl differ.

If opening presents all in one day is too overwhelming, spread it out over several days. When our children were young, they took 7 days to open all of their gifts. It made Christmas last a long time because the kids felt they were seeing something new each day and they really explored that new item. Our son struggles with opening presents due to poor fine motor skills so we put his things in gift bags with tissue paper. He then has independence with opening gifts. Clear up boxes and wrapping paper as you go to keep the chaos to a minimum. Our kids needs a lot of alone time after opening gifts because they like to explore them at their own pace. We give them that space.

5) Break with tradition if it means happier children

This can be a hard thing to do, but keep your child's best interests at heart. My parents wanted us to come over on Christmas Eve and all day on Christmas because that's what we did before we had kids. They also expected us to to bring the children to Christmas Eve mass which was about 2 hours long. This was just too much much so we opted for a lunch and gift opening on Christmas Eve and just a dinner on Christmas Day.

Create your own holiday traditions that are meaningful to your child. Find ways in which they can contribute to holiday activities. Maybe they like to put sprinkles on cookies, stamps on Christmas card envelopes, hang decorations, make cards by hand, or create e-cards on the internet. My daughter loved to make a gingerbread house; she did that with her grandma.

6) Stick with one outing a day

Try to choose times that are less busy to do things. Mornings tend to be quieter on the roads. Matinee movies or shows are not as busy as an early evening show. Buy tickets ahead of time to avoid line-ups.

7) Stick with your normal schedule as much as possible

Try to follow normal mealtimes and bedtime. Getting enough sleep is important as are regular meals with preferred foods. If visiting someone, bring snacks in case your child doesn't like what is being served or can't tolerate it due to sensitivities.

8) Create a safe zone for down time

Have a quiet place for children to go both in their own home and in other homes. Ask your host ahead of time if there is an area your child can go to if they need some down time away from the group. Let people know your child's limits and ask that they respect that. Sometimes a simple accommodation like lowering the volume of background music can make a huge difference.

Dec 12
Goldstone Park Elementary celebrates new playground

Goldstone Park Elementary playground opening.jpg

Surrey-Panorama MLA Jinny Sims, Goldstone Park Elementary PAC president Amit Sharma, Surrey Board of Education vice-chair Terry Allen and principal Laura Gills cut the ribbon at the official opening of the school's new playground.

The rainy weather didn't dampen spirits at Goldstone Park Elementary as the Surrey school celebrated the official opening of its new playground.

Grade 7 students Jaya Khattra and Anaya Kumar spoke about how great it is to have the new playground.

Terry Allen, vice-chairperson of the Surrey Board of Education, said playgrounds not only promote physical activity, but help students learn by improving attention and decreasing stress and anxiety.

"It also improves motivation—helping kids try things they might not normally be inclined to try," he said, speaking to students and parents. "I hope you enjoy this new playground and I look forward to seeing the positive impact it has on the local community."

Surrey-Panorama MLA Jinny Sims took the opportunity to explain the role of government to students and helped celebrate the new playground.

An official ribbon cutting took place on the playground prior to students having some time to play on the new equipment.

The Ministry of Education announced funding for the new $90,000 playground last March. Surrey's Westerman Elementary and Strawberry Hill Elementary also received playground grants. Westerman's was recently completed, Strawberry Hill's is scheduled to be done in March 2020.

Dec 09
Fraser Heights Secondary toymakers help families in need for 17th Christmas

Vy and other students.JPG

About 17 years ago, a group from Fraser Heights Secondary visited Tijuana, Mexico to build a small house for a family in need.

When they returned to Surrey, they started thinking about ways they could give back to their local community as well.

Martin with volunteer.JPGTeacher Martin Lim (right) was part of that group, and if you visit the wood shop at the school in November and early December, you can see what they came up with.

Lined up on work benches are dozens of colourful rocking moose, dinosaur and sea planes – all in various stages of completion, and all to be donated to the Surrey Christmas Bureau.

On any given evening, there will be between five and 30 volunteers, says fellow organizer and tech ed teacher Chris Mills, depending on what process – cutting to sanding, painting to building – is needed.

"They're students, they're parents, they're community members, they're family… they're whoever wants to come," adds Lim.

The first year, the school made just 10 rockers. Now 60 of the bright and unique toys are donated to families in need over the holidays. Donations of materials from the community has helped expand the effort exponentially.

For Grade 10 student Anson Chung, the reasons he helps out are simple: "It's a charity and it's fun," he says.

sea planes.JPGVy Pham (top left, beside Chung) has been volunteering to make the toys for six years now. She graduated two years ago from Fraser Heights, but still returns each year to lend a hand.

"It became sort of a habit, and now I just really enjoy it," says Pham. "It's the people, mostly. It's just really nice to see everybody come together and help out and do something good."

Tony Miles, a Surrey Christmas Bureau board member, visited the makeshift toy shop for the first time this year and was heartened by the tireless work and dedication of volunteers.

He has also seen the look on the faces of grateful recipients when they see the colourful, well-built toys they can put under the Christmas tree for their children.

 "Parents are immediately drawn to them," Miles says. "I think for a lot of families, these become heirlooms."

The district's transportation department picks up the toys to deliver to the Christmas bureau each year.

Dec 06
Students and teachers thriving in new eight-classroom addition at Panorama Park Elementary

Hundreds more students at Surrey's Panorama Park Elementary have a better learning environment now that an eight-classroom addition is complete.

"After years of underinvestment in Surrey, we worked hard to get students out of portables," said Rob Fleming, Minister of Education. "When students have the positive, engaging educational experience they deserve, they have a better chance to succeed – and it's great to see that happening at Panorama Park."

The expansion was a $6.1-million project funded by the province that added 200 seats to the busy school near 62 Avenue and 128 Street and eliminated the need for portables.

Panorama Park's Grade 1 students sang for visitors prior to the official opening Dec. 6.

"We're pleased that government has made getting students out of portables and back into classrooms a reality in Surrey," said Laurie Larsen, chair of the Surrey Board of Education. "Surrey is growing at such a fast pace, and these types of investments are integral in ensuring that our students have a positive educational experience in safe and modern facilities."

Paulo flanked by officials.JPGGrade 7 student Paulo (centre, right) spoke about the new flexible spaces and equipment at the school, including an open, collaborative area with a garage door opening to the outdoors.

"It's always great to be able to breathe fresh air and do math at the same time," he quipped, going on to describe whiteboard tables students can draw and write on and two classrooms with dividers that can either separate classes or bring them together as "one big community."

Teacher Harman Gill said the new extension has created a space that enables students to participate in lively group discussions, sharing of knowledge and collaboration.

"The fluidity of the student and teacher work space aligns with twenty first century learning where the emphasis is placed on the process," said Gill.

Teacher Amrit Hundal agrees.

"With the new space, students and teachers have been engaging in a more collaborative environment," she said. "The extension has provided learning opportunities for students that encourage movement, networking ideas and taking ownership of their learning. The accessibility for an outdoor learning space has also contributed to a flex environment that progresses beyond the classroom."

The following school expansion projects are underway in Surrey, with additional space and expected completion dates in brackets:

  • Pacific Heights Elementary (300-seat addition, April 2020)

  • Coyote Creek Elementary (100-seat addition, September 2020)

  • Frost Road Elementary (150-seat addition, September 2020)

  • Sullivan Elementary (200-seat addition, September 2020)

  • Maddaugh Road Elementary (605-seat new school, January 2021)

  • Edgewood drive-area elementary (655-seat new school, January 2021)

  • Douglas-area elementary (new 605-seat school, January 2021)

  • Grandview Heights Secondary (new 1,500-seat school, September 2021)

  • Sullivan Heights Secondary (700-seat addition, September 2021)

  • Regent Road Elementary (new 655-seat school, January 2022)

Click here to view details and progress of capital projects in the Surrey School District

Dec 05
Surrey Schools welcomes expansion of gang prevention program

Jesse Ralen, former WRAP student.JPG

The provincial government announced the expansion of the ERASE (Expect Respect and a Safe Education) at North Surrey Secondary on Dec. 5. Above, former Surrey student Jesse Ralen speaks to the importance of programs that keep at-risk kids on the right path. Lisa Sutherland (below), a parent at North Surrey Secondary, also addressed the crucial role such programs play in supporting and informing students and their families.

More at-risk students in Surrey and White Rock – and across the province – will get the supports they need to get off the pathway to gang life through the expansion of the ERASE (Expect Respect and a Safe Education) school-based gang and gun violence prevention program.

The provincial government announced it is investing an additional $4.93 million over the next three years to provide immediate support to students, parents, educators, law enforcement and community partners through gang prevention and awareness training programs in Campbell River, Chilliwack, Courtenay and Hope. The funding, building on $1.12 million previously announced for the program in March 2019, will also provide ongoing support in Surrey and the other 11 previously named communities of Abbotsford, Burnaby, Delta, Kamloops, Kelowna, Langley, Nanaimo, Prince George, Vancouver, Victoria and Williams Lake.

"As young people, we want to feel safe when we're at school so we can focus on our futures," said Jesse Ralen, a former Surrey student who is an alumni of the WRAP program and graduate from STEP. "Programs like the ones I was involved in when I was in school and the one being announced today can help us do that by making sure we have access to the supports to make decisions that keep us on the right track. We all have one chance at this life; live it right!"

The gang prevention program, in its second year, provides education and training opportunities for students, parents, educators, law enforcement officials and representatives of community-based organizations.

"Too often we hear about the devastating effects of gang life on B.C. youth and their families, which is why we're taking targeted action and offering intensive supports in B.C. communities that need help the most," said Rob Fleming, Minister of Education. "By focusing on training and prevention we are taking important action to support young people earlier and give parents, schools and communities a way to work together toward positive futures."

The new funding, announced by Fleming and Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General at North Surrey Secondary, will offer stakeholders newly developed training and resources focused on gang and gun violence prevention. Student and parent education sessions Parent Lisa Sutherland.JPGon gun and gang violence prevention will also be tailored for each community. To date, more than 8,000 students, parents, educators and community partners have participated in 110 training and education sessions in the initial 12 priority communities.

North Surrey Secondary parent Lisa Sutherland was pleased ERASE is being expanded and that school communities will be able to "create and sustain" safe and caring environments that are safe and supportive for students and families.

"Students today are exposed to a variety of complex challenges as they navigate their childhood and teenage years, and sometimes parents are not aware of how to support their children on this journey," she said.

Each of the 16 priority school districts will receive grants to support the development of local programming, like after-school clubs, and other supports for at-risk youth. The new funding will also provide localized monthly reports on public social media activity related to gang activity to all 60 B.C. school districts.

"For students, we will be able to develop and expand after-school and other specialized gang prevention initiatives for at-risk youth," said Laurie Larsen, chair of the Surrey Board of Education. "And education sessions for both parents and students – specifically tailored to our unique community – will help inform and encourage crucial conversations at home."

Safer Schools Together, the Ministry of Education's service delivery partner for the student safety components of ERASE, is continuing to develop a new resource for B.C. educators, connected to the provincial Physical and Health Education curriculum. The new resource will be made available in early 2020 and will include information videos and a teacher's guide to help students develop healthy relationships, avoid unsafe or exploitive situations, and protect themselves from harm.

Dec 03
Earl Marriott boys crowned B.C. volleyball champs – again

EMS boys bc volleyball champs.JPG

The AAA boys volleyball squad from Earl Marriott Secondary has added another provincial banner to their school's collection.

The team beat the Kelowna Owls in the B.C. Secondary School Volleyball Provincial Championship final, played at the Langley Events Centre Nov. 30.

While nerves were high after the Mariners lost the first set, they went on to handily win the next three and secure the title.

This is the second consecutive year the Marriott boys team has won the B.C. high school championships, and their fourth win since 2013.

EMS's Talon McMullin was named tournament MVP, while his brother Takoda was named a first-team all-star.

In girl's AAAA volleyball action, the Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers took home silver, falling to the top-ranked Kelowna Owls in the final.

Lord Tweedmuir's Bailey Dorohoy was named a first-team all-star.

Nov 25
Panorama Ridge Secondary boys win provincial soccer title

Panorama BC soccer boys champs.JPG

Surrey schools earned gold and silver in the Boys AAA High School Soccer Championship, with Panorama Ridge Secondary edging L.A. Matheson Secondary for the provincial title.

Panorama, which came second at provincials last year, took this year's 3-0 victory during the final game against Matheson Nov. 23 at Burnaby Lake Sports Complex.

Students Rosedeep Dhanoah, Jeevan Dhaliwal and Armaan Bhagwani found the net for the Thunder and Manmeet Jhutty was named tournament MVPPanorama's Saeed Khan and Matheson's Mohkam Sivia also received Commissioners 11 awards.

Though they came away with second place, the L.A. Matheson squad made some history of their own, their efforts marking the first time in 50 years a team from the school made it to a provincial final.

Matheson beat Handsworth Secondary in the semifinals, while Panorama Ridge defeated last year's provincial champions, Vancouver College, to secure a spot in the all-Surrey final.

Check here for the full AAA boys soccer results.

Nov 19
Youth With Autism Conference scheduled for January

YWA Logo 2020.jpg

Conference logo by Grade 8 student Amina.

The Surrey School District will be hosting its second-annual Youth with Autism Conference early in the new year.

The conference will be held on Friday, Jan. 24 and is intended for students in Grades 4-8 who are on the autism spectrum.

The districtwide event is a unique opportunity for autistic students to gather together and have fun in a variety of workshops focusing on art, drama, soccer, science, personal relationships, and more.

In addition, students will hear a keynote presentation from young adults on the spectrum who will share their life experiences, as well as see a choral presentation by The Mayday Club Youth Choir (voices of Neurodiversity). There will also be morning refreshments and a group lunch.

The all-day conference takes place at École Salish Secondary, 7278 184 St.

If you would like your child to attend, please speak to their Integration Support Teacher or their Learner Support Teacher, or contact integration teacher Marissa Bourke at

Nov 14
'Classroom Champions' program available to more students thanks to Shaw partnership

Classroom Champions - Shaw donation.jpg

Shaw Communications presented a cheque at Surrey’s Green Timbers Elementary, with excited students on-hand, as well as (left to right) Chethan Lakshman (vice-president, external affairs, Shaw Communications), Surrey Board of Education chair Laurie Larsen, Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Marvin Hunt, Scott Tupper (captain, Team Canada field hockey) and Steve Mesler (co-founder, president and CEO, Classroom Champions).

Surrey Schools and Classroom Champions are connecting thousands of elementary school students with world-class athletes thanks to a new partnership with Shaw Communications. The $720,000 investment from Shaw will enable students from across the Surrey school district to engage with Olympians and Paralympians through Classroom Champions award-winning scaled mentorship program.

As a result of Shaw's support, this partnership will engage over 6,000 students and 150 teachers over the next three years. Classrooms will be paired with athlete mentors for the duration of the school year, where they will participate in virtual mentorship sessions to help students strengthen their social and emotional skills, ultimately resulting in higher student engagement, improved academic achievement and a decrease in bullying.

"We are so excited to be expanding this program across the district" says Laurie Larsen, Chairperson of the Surrey Board of Education. "We have heard such positive stories from our teachers previously involved in the program, and seen firsthand the incredible impact this program has had on our students. We look forward to building on this success as we bring more Surrey classrooms into the program. With Classroom Champions, students are improving their goal setting and their perseverance and are more engaged as they see and hear from their athlete mentors the work it takes to succeed whether in sport, in the community, at home or in school."

"Shaw Communications came forward with an incredible plan of support, allowing us to make sure more kids in Surrey feel connected to a mentor who understands the lessons needed to succeed in school and in life," says Steve Mesler, Founder and CEO of Classroom Champions. "We wanted to expand in Surrey for a long time; the administration and teachers were excited, and we just needed the resources from the right partner."

"Classroom Champions inspires students and gives them the confidence and self-esteem to realize that they can do anything they set their mind to — no matter where they come from," says Chethan Lakshman, Vice President, External Affairs, Shaw Communications. "This partnership connects thousands more kids in Surrey with some of the world's best athletes while helping them recognize their own potential and learn that no dream is too big."

Classroom Champions is an international mentorship program that connects classrooms with incredible athletes to teach kids focus, decision making, and belonging so they can shine in and out of school. Over the past nine years, Classroom Champions athlete mentors have mentored over 2,800 Western Canadian students and have reached over 1 million students across North America. Through Classroom Champions Scaled Mentorship platform - athletes provide monthly videos to their student mentees on topics ranging from leadership to perseverance, connected via live video chats and in-person school visits, and messaged on public and private social media. Learn more about Classroom Champions here.

Nov 13
École Salish Secondary unveils welcome post & celebrates official opening

Group with post.JPG

A Coast Salish welcome post, carved by Gary Leon (pictured below, right), was unveiled during a ceremony which also marked the official opening of École Salish Secondary.

Though it has been open for a year, École Salish Secondary held its official opening Nov. 12, unveiling a Coast Salish welcome post that will open its arms to students and visitors to the school for years to come.

Katzie First Nation Band Councillor David Kenworthy welcomed guests and dignitaries to the territory prior to a witnessing ceremony involving Chehalis First Nation Chief Ralf Leon, École Salish Secondary teacher Crystal MacInnis and students Bree Bridgen and Diego Wolfvillage.

The red cedar figure was carved by Gary Leon ("Talekwitsen") and stands just inside the school's main entrance facing a wide-open common area.

Artist Gary Leon.JPG"I sure love the energy in this school. It's a beautiful school," Gary Leon told the hundreds of students prior to his welcome post being unveiled.

"When I worked on the post, I'd work on it early in the morning… and I always made sure I had a clear mind. When we chose the post out in the forest, we did a prayer for it because I knew if was coming into a school.

"Once I started, everything just flowed."

The figure is female, representing a mother of children, with arms extended to welcome and give gratitude to all learners in the school's care. She is wrapped with a traditional Coast post close up.JPGSalish blanket, woven by senior aboriginal support worker Paula James, which serves as a protective garment. The figure also wears a traditional skirt made from the bark of a red cedar – considered a tree of life by First Nation peoples.

"It is so appropriate – and significant – to have this wonderful Coast Salish welcome post at the entrance of this beautiful new school, welcoming our students every morning," said Surrey Board of Education chairperson Laurie Larsen.

"I thank the Coast Salish people for being so welcoming and so willing, to not only share the Salish name with this school, but also to share your culture, to the benefit and enrichment of our students and indeed, the entire school community. It's vitally important that all of us respect, engage and honour Indigenous communities, and this event is such a great example of that."

École Salish Secondary, a French Immersion school, opened in September 2018 with 850 students from Grades 8-11. This fall, following the addition of Grade 12, there are about 1,050 students and the school is excited to have its first graduating Class of 2020!

Principal Sheila Hammond noted what an honour it is to have been given permission to use the Salish name by Katzie, Kwantlen and Semiahmoo First Nations, noting the school is also home to several other pieces of indigenous art.

"The school district commissioned nine local Salish artists to provide pieces to be put on glass panels all around the school, signifying the coming together of the Cloverdale and Clayton communities to form our unique Salish community," Hammond explained.

With its modern design and flexible learning spaces, École Salish Secondary features innovative science, wood and metal labs, as well as a learning commons and fitness studio.

Larsen thanked staff, students and parents for their efforts during the past year in establishing a strong school community.

Official opening plaque.JPGTrustees with plaque.JPG

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Time: 12/14/2019 1:14:01 PM
Host: AS76
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