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Mountainside secondary officially opens

School working hard to shake 'alternate' stereotypes
Mountainside secondary
Devin Courtney-Clarke, Leanne Ferguson and Paije Tarbaj welcome visitors to Mountains secondary Thursday at the official opening of the school after extensive renovations to the former Balmoral campus.

When Mountainside secondary celebrated its first graduating class of 52 students in June, it was a proud moment for principal Jeremy Church.

This week, the school marked another milestone with an official opening Nov. 14 to recognize completion of significant renovations.

Both followed three years of reinvention, after the North Vancouver school district decided in 2010 to close several former alternate schools like Keith Lynn and Windsor House and merge the programs into something new at the former Balmoral school site on Mahon Avenue.

Creating something new at Mountainside is a cause the staff has taken to heart, said Church. That includes an effort to ditch some of the stigma associated with alternate schools in the past - like the stereotype that it's where the "bad kids" go. "We've worked really hard to shake that," said Church. "We're intentionally trying to do things differently."

Students at the school include those with social anxieties, who have fallen behind in regular classes - perhaps because of medical or family situations - and those who just don't do well in traditional classroom structures.

Some students' school days at Mountainside are fairly traditional. But the school also accommodates those who are working and may only be able to attend for part of the day.

Classes also tend to integrate academic subjects with more hands-on learning - such as the industrial arts immersion program that combines woodwork and math. "It's bringing the textbook stuff to life," said Church.

Transforming the old Balmoral school to the new Mountainside secondary took a $3 million renovation that continued through the last school year.

Lockers were removed. The school has a new teaching kitchen tied to a new cafeteria and a library, complete with movable shelves. Also unique to Mountainside is a wing of offices for community partners - including counsellors, mental health professionals and doctors who make regular visits.

Church said there were growing pains the first year at the school, but added students and the surrounding community have weathered those transitions. "Our kids have represented themselves really well," he said.

This year, there are 180 students registered at the school, where an emphasis is made on keeping class sizes small. The school is designed for a capacity of 200 to 250 students.