Agassiz Elementary Secondary School students wore sports jerseys to school to show their support for the town of Humboldt in April 2018. SD78 superintendent Balan Moorthy has responded to comments in a new report from Agassiz Harrison Community Services, saying that AESS is a school with “tremendous heart.” (File photo)

Agassiz Elementary Secondary School students wore sports jerseys to school to show their support for the town of Humboldt in April 2018. SD78 superintendent Balan Moorthy has responded to comments in a new report from Agassiz Harrison Community Services, saying that AESS is a school with “tremendous heart.” (File photo)

Agassiz Secondary ‘school with tremendous heart’: SD78 superintendent

Balan Moorthy responded to the findings in a new report from Agassiz Harrison Community Services

Fraser Cascade school district superintendent Balan Moorthy was surprised when he read the results of a new report from Agassiz Harrison Community Services, which shared some students negative feelings towards Agassiz Elementary Secondary (AESS).

“My feeling about Agassiz Secondary is it is a school with a tremendous amount of heart,” Moorthy said.

“The initial reaction will be I’m defending a school in my district because I’m the new superintendent, but I have very quickly learned and felt that Agassiz has actually got a very, very warm culture.”

RELATED: Agassiz youth face wide-spread bullying, mental health issues, drug use: report

Agassiz Harrison Community Services (AHCS) recently released a Needs Assessment for the area, which outlined key needs in the community and recommendations for programming through AHCS.

Among other stakeholders, the needs assessment interviewed Agassiz youth and found they were experiencing drug use, mental health concerns and bullying. The report went on to include descriptions of AESS as a “challenging environment” with entrenched bullying.

For Moorthy, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“When I read the report, I thought, this is really an opposite to the narrative Renge Bailie and I experienced,” he said.

Moorthy and assistant superintendent Rengee Bailie, both newcomers to the district, had conducted interviews with around 40 students in Grade 8 and 12 around the same time the AHCS consultant was interviewing its AESS focus group.

Moorthy said he and Bailie asked questions that were very similar to those in the report, and they got completely different answers.

When asked about how students treat each other at school, Moorthy heard responses like “it’s chill here, you can be yourself” and “I feel safe here.” Those who did share experiences with bullying said it was sorted out in the end.

“It wasn’t 100 per cent rosy, but it was really positive,” Moorthy said.

SEE ALSO: 2 students arrested in assault of transgender girl at Mission middle school

He also noted that AESS has, on average, one or no suspensions due to physical altercations per year.

“There’s very few schools that can boast that,” he said.

Moorthy also mentioned data from the latest Middle Years Development Instrument, which surveys Grade 7 students from across the province to look at their overall well-being.

In the 2019-2020 school year, 19 per cent of Grade 7 students reported they had been cyber bullied once or a few times this year, and 67 per cent said they hadn’t been cyber bullied at all. Only 14 per cent were bullied once a month or more. There were similar rates for physical bullying.

These percentages were either at or slightly below the provincial average.

This is not to dismiss the feelings and concerns of the 10 students included in the AHCS focus group, who shared concerns about bullying, drug use and mental health concerns, Moorthy said.

But, he added, “based on being a school administrator for over 26 years, you would have gotten those results from any school you went to.”

“I think there is a challenge for kids social-emotionally across the world right now, when it comes to how do you deal with the reality that kids are exposed to drugs, they are exposed to mental health concerns, they are exposed to bullying,” he said.

“The average youth is really a victim of being challenged by social media,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Abbotsford youth launches mental health awareness page

This year, the Fraser Cascade school district has implemented two new supports for students to help with their mental health.

SD78 has hired Bernard Klop, formerly with the Chilliwack School District, to act as a district counsellor for elementary-aged students, as well as students who are learning remotely. Klop comes to SD78 with extensive training in clinical and personal counselling, and started his position in the district two weeks ago.

The school district is also implementing Open Parachute, a video-based online program to support the mental health of students, staff and parents.

Staff are being trained to use the Open Parachute program to help create open dialogue with students about their well-being; so far, 33 employees in SD78 have showed up to the training sessions.

Moorthy also noted that he is hoping to bring more centralized supports to the school district.

The changes, which will be shared in more detail in the coming months, will bring increased supports for Agassiz students, but could be seen as controversial in a place where schools have often focused on their own strengths and challenges within the district.

RELATED: SD78 growth plan to focus on inclusive learning, reading

For now, Moorthy said the district will be focusing on the two new initiatives and the supports currently in schools.

“We know across British Columbia — or North America, let’s face it — the idea of supporting mental health for kids is of exceptional concern.” he said.

And as for the results of the AHCS Needs Assessment when it comes to Agassiz schools?

“Obviously there’s things they want to work on in the community,” Moorthy said. “Let’s not look at everything with rose-coloured glasses.

“But they have a lot of be proud of between Agassiz, Kent and Harrison Hot Springs Elementary,”

Any Agassiz youth wanting to comment on the findings in the AHCS report are encouraged to reach out to the Observer through email (grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com), Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.



news@ahobserver.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Great Bear Snowshed on the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) in British Columbia. Truck driver Roy McCormack testified in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Feb. 25, 2021 that his brakes started smoking in about this location, and soon after he lost all braking, which led to a multi-vehicle crash further down the road on Aug. 5, 2016. (GoogleMaps)
Truck driver charged with criminal negligence in Coquihalla crash is accused of ignoring smoking brakes

Just before crashing the smoking truck was seen entering Zopkios brake check and leaving shortly after

Kathleen Gros will be helping local creatives explore the intersection of words and pictures through comic books in an upcoming online workshop.
Vancouver graphic novelist to share skills in online workshop with Agassiz Library

Kathleen Gros will be leading the Magical World of Words and Pictures workshop on March 6

(File Photo)
Crash causes delays on Coquihalla southbound, travel advisory issued

A vehicle incident between Merrit and Hope has caused major delays heading south

The last three wild northern spotted owls live near the Spuzzum Watershed outside of Hope. The province recently ordered a halt to logging for at least a year to give the owls a chance to survive.  (Photo/Jared Hobbs)
Logging halted in northern spotted owl habitat near Hope

Halt will last at least a year, gives time to formulate survival plan for Northern Spotted Owl

The Rocket Science S.T.E.M. camp will run virtually during spring break. (Submitted photo)
Abbotsford Airshow, Gearbots Educational Resources launch Rocket Science camp

Virtual format of camp open to students aged nine and up, will run during spring break

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Shaelene Keeler Bell. (Facebook)
Candlelight vigil planned for Chilliwack mother missing for four weeks

Virtual event to ‘spread some light’ for 23-year-old Shaelene Bell of Chilliwack

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Most Read