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Woven tray gifted at grand opening of expanded West Sechelt Elementary

Reopening of bigger school celebrated with song, ribbon cutting

As the new expansion at West Sechelt Elementary School prepared to welcome more students through its doors, the official opening ceremony also welcomed the gift of a woven tray.

More than 100 years after the first West Sechelt Elementary School opened, on Sept. 21, students, members of the faculty and School District No. 46 (SD46) staff gathered to mark the official completion of its expansion, and began with a lesson and the sharing of cultural teachings.

Members of the shíshálh Nation started the celebrations with a welcoming song. Then, Ray and Christine Clayton gave several items, including the hand-woven tray, to the school district’s Indigenous Education team. Attendees all stood as the honour song was sung. 

Kerry Mahlman, the district principal of Indigenous Learning, told Coast Reporter after the event that the Claytons quietly donated several items that had been gifted to their family over the years, and the school district included them in the celebrations as a teaching moment. 

The Clayton family has a long history in local education. Ray Clayton, who is a teacher and former principal, is the grandchild of Frances Fleming, B.C.’s first female superintendent of schools, who was later awarded the Order of British Columbia in 1997. Christine Clayton is an administration assistant in the school district. It comes as no surprise that the family was given such gifts, Mahlman said. 

Now, the woven tray and other Indigenous items will help educate students about cultural baskets, the weaving process, and the role they played and continue to play in the community. Mahlman said it is possible the Indigenous Education team will come to an agreement to lend the items to the tems swiya Museum, or place them there and do teachings from the museum.

“This is actually truth and reconciliation right here,” Raquel Joe, the tems swiya Museum curator, said as she held the tray during the event.

She described the materials used to make the tray, which included corn husks, cherry bark and the roots of the cedar tree. Joe will examine some of the items gifted by the Claytons to help determine their original creators and provenance.

“It’s actually quite beautiful, very sturdy. It was well loved, this one,” Joe said. “And I thank you for looking after it.”

It was an emotional occasion, Andy Johnson, who led the songs and is a shíshálh language teaching assistant, said as he thanked the Clayton family for giving the basket back to the shíshálh people.

With gold scissors, superintendent Kate Kerr, school district board chair Amanda Amaral, West Sechelt Elementary principal Jeff Marshal and parent advisory council chair Aspen Wing cut the ribbon, officially opening the new and bigger learning space.

The $11.2-million project created space for an additional 145 students at West Sechelt Elementary. Thanks were also extended to the construction team, who pulled off the expansion during the pandemic, a material shortage and shortly after the project was announced in 2019.

As Kerr addressed the crowd during her first public event as the new superintendent of SD46, she remarked on the collaborative effort that created the final result. Elements of inclusion were evident in the ceremony and the new building itself.

“I have had the pleasure of walking through the hallways. I have seen your signs that are in she shashishalhem, in English and in Braille, your gender-neutral washroom, your breakout learning spaces, which puts learning and connection at the centre of your days, and the lovely courtyard,” Kerr said. “And these are just a few of those decisions made through your work together as a learning community to make this build inclusive and welcoming.”

A new playground, she told students, is coming soon.