Named for the late Musqueam elder and lifelong education advocate Norma Rose Point, Vancouver’s newest school includes a digital media lab with a 3D printer, clustered classrooms that open onto common spaces and a second gym that includes theatrical lighting, a large projection screen and blackout blinds.
One of the students who led a tour of the new school on the traditional lands of the Musqueam people near the University of B.C. Friday afternoon pointed out the beanbag chairs in the corner of what’s being called the learning commons, instead of the library.
“It’s a very nice reading environment because we are so comfortable… I love it,” said Grade 7 student Joyce Zhang.
“It’s not just a library like other schools,” said 12-year-old Henry Lund. “It’s a place that if you’re stressed out in your community, you can come here and work.”
Both Lund and Grade 6 student Dante Salibian like that different classes collaborate. Principal Rosa Fazio is pleased teachers aren’t working in silos.
“Everybody’s strength becomes everybody’s strength when you’re co-planning, co-collaborating,” she said.
Teachers can identify students from different classes who have similar needs and assist them in relevant clusters.
Wayne Point, Norma’s eldest of four sons, said his mother would have “happy cried” if she could have attended the two opening celebrations for the school named in her honour. Education officials and representatives of the Musqueam Band celebrated the school in the morning, and then more than 100 former colleagues, school community and family members, including relatives from the Fraser Valley, celebrated Norma and the school in the afternoon.
Multiple speakers recalled Norma’s small stature but huge heart, strength and determination to help everyone, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, to further their education and follow their dreams.
“Anyone that came to her when she was the education coordinator, she helped as much as she could,” said Musqueam elder Larry Grant.
Speakers from various organizations said Norma, who died in July 2012 at the age of 78, continues to be spoken of daily in their workplace.
“She was a woman of so much wisdom,” said Joanne Stone-Campbell, who worked alongside Norma at the Vancouver School Board and the B.C. Institute of Technology.Stone-Campbell noted Norma didn’t achieve her own dream of completing a post-secondary degree.
“But in the aboriginal culture… we believe that she was a doctor. She had the knowledge of a person who had their PhD,” she said.
Norma’s youngest son, Stewart Point, noted his mother started the first preschool on a native reserve in Canada, on the Musqueam reserve, in the 1960s.
Starting the preschool was a strategy for keeping kids out of residential school.
Norma worked as education coordinator for the Musqueam Band, was involved in the Native Education Centre and worked at UBC, the VSB and as aboriginal services adviser at BCIT. She was awarded a Diamond Jubilee medal posthumously in 2012 for her contributions to aboriginal education.
Tammy Harkey, one of “little Rose’s” first graduates from the preschool she started, said Norma took an unwelcome interest in her when Harkey, now a councillor for the Musqueam Band, was struggling in high school.
“It wasn’t about formalized education,” Harkey said. “It was about just making sure you had a dream and you had a vision about how you were going to get there.”
Harkey looks forward to her grandson attending the school named for the woman who nurtured her.
Stewart hopes his six-year-old daughter can attend the school named for her grandmother.
“But the school’s full,” he said. “And my daughter is considered as out of catchment.”
The combined elementary and middle school can accommodate up to 860 kindergarten to Grade 8 students.
This year, it’s staffed for and full with 500 students in kindergarten to Grade 7.
“It’s cool how [the name of this school] represents First Nations and the Musqueam because we learned about that two years ago [at Queen Elizabeth elementary,]” said 12-year-old Lund.
UBC anthropology professor Charles Menzies called the honour long overdue.
“It’s such an important occasion to actually have a person such as Norma Rose Point honoured by having her named placed upon this school, in this place, and this point in time,” he said.