February 2013

University Hill Secondary
School's In For Springtime

Wesbrook's community design emphasizes new ideas - it's the evolution of the modern West Coast neighbourhood, if you will. UHill, the long anticipated secondary school now up and running on Ross Drive, is one of the most progressive components of the community.

The school has a number of features that represent a strong departure from the traditional model of school design, employing fresh new strategies in the design of educational environments. In traditional school designs, classrooms are arranged along the halls in a stacked, linear way. At the new UHill, classrooms are in clusters, each cluster arranged around a central project space. This allows for movement between collaborative group work in the classrooms, and quiet individual study in breakout spaces - a formula for learning that's more well rounded, and in accordance with advanced education philosophy.

Movement around the school is also freer than is often typical, with a great deal of flexibility between spaces. Large garage style doors open up to combine spaces for events and special courses. Students are able to move between spaces freely, and won't need a key to get into quiet study spaces. This affords a respect - and freedom - that is a key ingredient to learning.

Principal Alex Grant, former principal of Kitsilano Secondary, says, "This is a space with learners in mind."

It's also simply a lot more comfortable for students. The majority of the classrooms have floor to ceiling windows, for plenty of natural light. The new school has a cafeteria, so lunchtime will be a lot more fun (the old school did not have a caf). The facility also boasts a Dance Studio and Fitness Room. All in all it offers a more well-rounded life at school for students. Plus, the space is beautiful, and students and staff are thrilled to be here.

Currently, 750 students are enrolled at UHill, and the school has a capacity of up to 1,000 students. (Talk about flexible space). There are also spaces available for rent (for meetings, events, etc.) at UHill through the Vancouver School Board.

The old UHill, backed up onto the forests of the Endowment Lands, will become a middle school for students in grade 6-8.

Naturally, there's a great deal of excitement among the student body about the new facility. We asked two students of the new UHill to provide us with some of their impressions of the new school. Here is UHill through the eyes of Vincent Wang and Andy An.

It was another drizzly day, so characteristic of Vancouver weather. The sky was ominous, puddles were forming, and kids begrudgingly shuffled under a colorful canopy of assorted umbrellas to school as they sadly reflected on how winter break was over. This scenario applied for all schools not named University Hill Secondary. For the students of U-Hill, they actually had something positive to negate the downside of the ending of winter break: a new school!

I headed off to school, elated. As I rounded the corner of Save-on-Foods, a pristine glass and beige building caught my eye. What seemed like an impossible dream had finally come true after over five years of patience: our new school was finished and ready for us to use! The moment I caught a glimpse of the lustrous elegant glass, I tried to contain my fleeting, yet paralyzed heart. Ignoring the pungent smell of manure [from the new landscaping], I entered the two glass doors that seemed to beckon my entrance. A wide and tall corridor that seemed to stretch forever greeted me once I was inside the new building. "How big can this thing get?" I thought to myself. One thing was for sure: it was bigger than our old school. What an improvement!

I wandered around breathlessly and my eyes hungrily gulped down the surroundings. A cafeteria! Tables! Stairs! Construction workers doing last minute touches! These things were rare - in fact some were nonexistent - at the old University Hill Secondary. Glass was everywhere - it seemed like I could enter a classroom and be able to see through all the other classrooms, and outside the school too. The classroom arrangements were indeed modern - revolutionary, even. What kind of school allocated space just for places to do projects or study during a free block? A school geared toward academics, of course. Simply put, the new school was simply a delight compared to the old U-Hill Secondary, and I could tell from my astounded peers who also entered the building wholeheartedly agreed with me.

Naturally, with a school like this in the neighbourhood, Wesbrook is that much more ready to plan for a bright future - in perfect harmony with the Year of the Snake!