Oak Bay bids farewell to community landmark

Events planned May 21-23 at Oak Bay High School to mark historic school buildings soon to be replaced

Allen York retires from his sun-filled office in the East building at Oak Bay High School after more than 30 years working with staff and students there.

Allen York retires from his sun-filled office in the East building at Oak Bay High School after more than 30 years working with staff and students there.

An old, frail man struggles with a walker in the sand of Willows Beach, sweating in summer heat walking the waterline during the lowest of tides.

Starfish dot the sand, curling under blazing sun. He strains to bend and flick them into the water, one-by-one. An unsympathetic crowd carouses by, taunting the man. “What’s the point? You’ll never get them all in the water.”

In answer, he flips a sea star into the waves. “Made a difference for that one.”

It’s an adaptation of an age-old tale, told by longtime teacher Allen York, that illustrates what professionals do at Oak Bay High.

As a counsellor at the high school he’s a fan of a good analogy, translating an idea or feeling people grapple with into something they already understand.

In this case it’s teachers, and peers, who work as a community to make Oak Bay High what it is – helping each other reach the “top shelf”.

Being a longtime counsellor he’s keenly aware of the pitfalls of youth.

“We’re the equivalent of a small town and you see everything from celebration to tragedy,” he said. “There are always students making poor choices … Every young animal pushes up against the fence.”

The key is to be there, and if they don’t feel they can quite reach that “top shelf of excellence”, help lift them.

“Excellence is not the Lamborghini in the parking lot. Excellence is reaching your full potential.”

At Oak Bay High, he says, the teachers, students and administration all contribute to that goal, living up to the four pillars approach the school embodies.

Students are set to start classes in the new $54 million 151,000 square foot building this fall. Inspiring and flexible spaces have been thoughtfully crafted to engage students in the four pillars of education at Oak Bay High School: arts, academics, athletics and citizenship.

Each will play a prominent role in the farewell event slated for Saturday at the school. Four alumni will pass on the pillars to a current Grade 11 student who will take that ethos into the new school – symbolically transferring the pillars of the school from one place to the other.

“We think it’s important to recognize what has been, and take the things that have meaning to us all to a new building,” said principal Dave Thomson. “The idea has meaning for the kids we have, because early in the new school year, that student who accepted the symbolic gift will then present it to the school as we meet as a new school.”

The event is at Oak Bay High School on May 23 from 4 to 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 per person with tickets available at the door.

“The nature of it is to carry the traditions forward,” Thomson said. “If you don’t collect the oral history and hear the stories you lose it … It’s about appropriate honouring of a significant school history and a significant school.”

When the chain link fences come down in the fall, the landscape will mimic what York already sees in the reflection of those four pillars at Oak Bay. It will be wide open and welcoming.

Teachers aren’t simply teaching math, they’re teaching young people the subject of math, and using that material and means to help them develop a sense of self.

“I’m certain the tradition of excellence will migrate into that building, because it’s carried by our teachers and students,” York said. “There’s an expectation. It means something to be an Oak Bay student. It’s the students that guard and continue the excellence and they know it.”

He admits the school is accused at times of being clique-y and there are cliques, many groups from athletic to a strong Gay Straight alliance group. There’s an international program that welcomes students from abroad, Best Buddies which pairs kids of differing learning and life skill capacities. There are sports teams and math clubs and dance troupes and those who volunteer outside the school.

“The opportunities are absolutely endless … They’re not closed clubs. If you want to get into athletics you’ll be welcomed by the jock community,” York said. “We don’t give up on kids. We don’t say ‘go away, you’re not one of us’.”

The farewell event officially starts with tours May 21 through 23, open to staff and students from the past as well.  The tours will offer “re-energizing of that feeling it means something to have gone through the Oak Bay High experience.”

“It has the potential to have the individual realize they’ve been part of a really great tradition – a tradition of excellence,” York said. “This school is like an ethos, a living entity.

Guided tours of the old buildings will be available May 21, 22 and 23. RSVP online at oakbay.sd61.bc.ca/our-school/farewell/.


Teacher reflects on 33 years


Allen York will say farewell to both the old and new schools as he retires in June after more than three decades at Oak Bay High.

York “grew up on a surfboard” in Australia and discovered a love for Canada while seeking adventure in Alberta. With much travel between the countries, he returned to Canada more and more but missed the coast – so he came to B.C.

He started in classrooms that used to be called ‘learning assistance’ for those who have differing learning capabilities. “That was me when I was growing up in Australia. I had a difficult youth,” he said. “You know you’re a teacher when you can teach a child who seems to not want to learn.”

He’s taught everything from firearms instruction to educating post-grad teachers at UVic. He even tried to retire four years ago, but couldn’t emotionally do it.

“I have not had to work for many years, I choose to stay here,” he said. “I’m just so thrilled to be part of it for 33 years.”

He’ll double up his outdoor time in retirement, expecting to visit the new school, with surfboard in tow.

“I want to spend some time travelling and kayaking,” he said, returning to places such as the Broken Islands or Broughton Archipelago. “My fear is, if I accidentally cut myself when I’m camping, I will bleed green.”