WHEN THE school year ends at Thornhill Junior Secondary this June it will be different than any other summer. The school is closing its doors for good.
It’s the first time a secondary school has been closed by the Coast Mountains school district and it was amidst huge controversy and heated debates that the decision was made — ultimately boiling down to declining student enrolment.
Time and time again, Thornhill parents and community members argued that Thornhill students are different than Terrace students and that keeping children in a smaller school closer to home was key to their development.
“It’s with a heavy heart,” said school principal Jane Arbuckle about the closure. “[But] there’s a point at which you say what’s too small? What’s best for students?”
In walking the halls of the school it is clear that the school is half-empty. Classrooms alternate between being alive with the sound of students and teachers, to quiet and empty.
Students at a larger school will have more opportunity with more course choices, says Arbuckle.
But for a principal who sometimes bakes a lemon loaf to give away to a student who answers the “trivia of the week” question, she says there is a feeling of family within the school that will be missed.
“I’ve enjoyed every day,” Arbuckle said of her four years with the school. “You can walk the halls here and know every student by name.”
The school opened in 1975 during an optimistic period in the economy and with the population of Thornhill growing.
At its peak, the school housed 350 students and even had two portable classrooms. Enrolment now sits at 180, which is in keeping with a district-wide decline from 8,000 in 1997 to less than 5,000 at present.
Students will be moved to schools in Terrace. Grade 10 students will be at Caledonia while Grade 8 and 9 students, along with Grade 7 students from Thorrnhill Elementary, are going to the newly-created middle school at Skeena Junior.
Arbuckle said there is a difference in Thornhill students compared to Terrace students, explaining most are ‘bus kids’ from rural areas. Students also have a special connection as they’ve been together since kindergarten.
Skeena and Caledonia will have first pick of furniture and equipment from Thornhill. After that, anything of use will be made available to other schools.
“We want to make sure that everything needed at Skeena or Cal goes there,” Arbuckle said.
This includes teachers, as the school district has said teachers will shift with the students.
Arbuckle was unsure of what would come of sporting banners, trophies or plaques earned by students.
Vice principal Bill Lenuik, who has been at the school for 23 years, said there is comfort in knowing the community, staff and students are experiencing the closure together.
One of the teachers, Linda Lee, spent her entire 30-year career at Thornhill.
“I still call it the best little school in the northwest,” Lee said, noting its sense of family.
She often ended up teaching the children of former students — something that created a real connection and fostered a sense of community.
Lee spoke of a tree planting day that took place in the early ‘90s. Students, parents and teachers put in an effort to brighten up the outside of the school.
“Kids were working with their parents and their teachers, and we just got it done,” she said, explaining that this all stems from a community having pride in a school.
She spoke of the many trips students have taken to Holland, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Greece and China.
The school has also had a wildly successful band program with teacher Mike Wen growing the program from 16 students to 50 over a 25-year period.
This year marks the band’s 12th trip to Musicfest Canada where it has previously won national gold eight times. It also hosted its last dessert concert April 29 with a guest visiting band from Carleton, Ontario.
The Thornhill community, and Terrace, is very proud of the band program and of the participating students at the school, Wen said.
It’s also the last year for the school’s Timberwolves sports teams. Formerly known as the Tritons, the Timberwolves leave behind a host of athletic achievements.
“The heart of this school is like a web,” said Arbuckle, explaining that uncountable achievements make the threads of the school’s blueprint of success.
“You can’t pinpoint one thing, it branches into another,” she said.