One of the few positive stories to emerge from Lytton, after the devastating fire of June 30, was the news that Kumsheen ShchEma-meet School had survived the blaze. Now, two months later, the school has reopened, with 90 students registered.
“The projection in June [before the fire] was 120 students,” says School District No. 74 superintendent Teresa Downs. “We thought a positive start would be 60 students, so to see it at 90 already: we’re happily impressed and shocked.”
Formerly Kumsheen Secondary, the school underwent extensive renovations, and reopened as a Kindergarten through Grade 12 school in January of this year. The Lytton Elementary School building on Main Street was being used by the Nzenman Child and Family Development Centre Society for some of their programs, and was lost in the June 30 fire.
Downs says that the reopening of Kumsheen has gone incredibly smoothly, with most of the staff returning alongside the students.
“I have to express our deep appreciation to the staff who’ve returned,” she says. “Five of the eight teachers are back, as well as both custodians, the three bus drivers, and seven of the eight support staff.
“A lot of the focus is on classroom teachers, but without custodians and bus drivers and support staff the school doesn’t function. We’re deeply appreciative that they’ve returned for another school year. The school doesn’t run without bus service, and that’s one of the first groups we thought about. Students from as far away as Boothroyd and Cook’s Ferry come to Kumsheen, which shows how vast an area it is and how many communities the school serves.
“A whole great system has allowed the school to open successfully this year.”
Downs says that through July and August there were many conversations around what the role of the school district would be for students and families in Lytton and the surrounding area.
“We didn’t know what the services and amenities would be, and how to manage that, or what the community would want. Would we be able to open? It was a good test of flexibility and keeping focused on students and what families need.”
She says that what they heard over the course of the summer was mixed. “On the first day of school there was lots of feedback about how people and individuals were appreciative of the familiar routine, but there was also concern about the loss of services and amenities due to the fire, and what we could offer. People have been very adaptive.”
Concerns included the lack of RCMP service, lack of ambulance service, and the loss of the community’s health centre. “It’s made some people nervous about having children in school, but there are other schools that don’t have those services nearby, and we’re confident we can support students in a safe way.”
The community is still waiting for the return of some critical infrastructure, such as potable water, and Downs says that drinking water is available for staff and students every day. Landlines have been transitioned to cellphones, so the school’s phone number remains the same, but internet at the school is limited to just the office.
“We’re getting regular updates from TELUS around the work they’re doing, and when we can expect to see services broaden. We appreciate the work TELUS has done so we can get the school open and offer services.”
Downs feels that in some ways, it’s a great opportunity for Kumsheen following the amalgamation of the two schools earlier this year.
“We transitioned to a K–12 school in January, but in some ways the elementary and secondary schools were operating in the same building. This is an opportunity for the two to come together. With the reduced numbers there are some changes, but we see this as a great opportunity for teaching and learning to happen out on the land in interdisciplinary ways instead of block learning.”
As an example, she says that the Social Studies and English curricula can come together. “We can build around what is an area of interest for students, and find great creative ways to still meet the curriculum that isn’t from a textbook. Our school team has been in touch with all the families about their needs and expectations, and we’re making families aware of the options they have available.”