Some New Directions on Transitions

November 21, 2017 - 5 minutes read

west-vancouver-schools-chris-kennedyA common topic we discuss in West Vancouver Schools is how we support various student transitions in our system. As students move through the system, there are several transitions that stand out.

Of course, there is the first one as students enter Kindergarten. We work closely with our local early childcare providers to support their work, and create strong linkages between our systems. This past weekend we were at the Early Years Fair with a range of partners including the District of West Vancouver and West Vancouver Community hub.

We find other key transitions take place as students move from primary (Grade 3) to intermediate (Grade 4). While for some of our students in Lions Bay or attending Cypress Park, this can mean changing schools, all students moving to intermediate see some differences, such as a change in their report cards. At primary, the report is holistic and broadly focused on a student’s development, and as they move into intermediate it is more content- focussed in a range of subject areas that in many cases carries on through high school.

The final two most discussed transitions come as students move from elementary to secondary school and then as students graduate from high school. For another time, I will spend some more detail on these shifts. What we are finding increasingly important is that we not only support the academic transitions students make at these times, but also the social-emotional well-being of young people through what can be very stressful times. We were fortunate to have UBC President Santa Ono speak at TEDx West Vancouver ED earlier this fall ( and share his commitment around tackling the mental health issues that cross over from high school into post-secondary.

I would like to highlight two other examples of transitions we have adopted in West Vancouver Schools. The first is our Ignite Your Passions Programs ( ). These are out-of-school opportunities for elementary aged students to pursue their passions in areas like coding and robotics with secondary school teachers. Students have the chance to learn in a high school environment with secondary school teachers before the start of Grade 8.

I was speaking with a UBC professor last week, and I asked if there was something that unsuccessful students at university had in common. He said one thing he noticed was that if the first day of university was their first day on campus, they were probably going to be behind. The same, I think holds true for ensuring elementary students are successful at high school – having students at high school for course work, basketball tournaments, music concerts or other activities helps make the transition smoother.

The final example of transitioning I want to highlight comes from a presentation I saw last week at the B.C. School Superintendents’ Conference. Chartwell Elementary and Sentinel Secondary shared the work they are doing around capstone projects, in which students pursue independent research on a question or problem of their choice, engage in scholarly debates in the relevant disciplines, and with the guidance of a teacher, work towards a deep understanding of the topic. Sentinel Secondary school has embraced the Advanced-Placement (AP) Capstone project as part of their robust AP program, and they have shared their knowledge with Chartwell Elementary school. Having seen this in action at Sentinel, Chartwell has built a capstone program of their own for grade 6 and 7 students. Students are getting the chance to experience the type of learning they will be able to choose later in their school careers. It is inspiring to see both the younger and older students so passionate about their research areas.

Sometimes we think of transitioning as making sure that students learn the right content in Social Studies in Grade 7 to be ready for Social Studies in Grade 8. And yes, this type of curriculum transitioning is important, but the topic is far broader, as educators constantly strive to help students be successful at every key milestone and transition during their school career.

Chris Kennedy, Superintendent
West Vancouver Schools