Oak Bay High classroom spans generations

Atkinson family at the head of the class for five decades

Peter Atkinson draws a diagram of a heart on the chalkboard of the Oak Bay High biology lab that has been led by two generations of Atkinsons.

Peter Atkinson draws a diagram of a heart on the chalkboard of the Oak Bay High biology lab that has been led by two generations of Atkinsons.

When Peter Atkinson moves to the new Oak Bay High School this fall there are a couple tangible things he’ll bring – the nameplate above the door and the big wooden desk.

Emotionally, he’ll bring his dad.

“The year he retired I taught with him,” recalls Peter, seated in room 205 of the building off Cranmore Road.

The hallway outside bears more than simply the marks of approaching summer, patches of plaster showcase differing colours that highlight the extra effort in removal this season. Next fall the trophies and plaques, and name placards above doors, will grace the brand new building on Cadboro Bay Road.

Peter plans to be there, leaving behind a room that housed an Atkinson for decades.

Peter’s dad Glen started teaching at Oak Bay in 1963 and after a couple years, grasped the opportunity to redesign a kitchen lab into the science classroom that would have an Atkinson at the helm for most of its lifespan.

“I grew up coming here as a kid,” said Peter, gesturing at the remaining posters, jars and displays.

He grew up with the tanks of organisms and served as a ‘baby’ in a nearby classroom where young girls were taught the basics of mommy-hood.

When Peter first became a teacher he scored a one-year contract at Oak Bay then headed for Africa for a couple years with wife Lorinda. When they returned he worked a year at Reynolds before shifting back to Oak Bay.

He taught across the hall from his dad for a year, before the elder Atkinson handed over the reins to Room 205 in 1996.

The Atkinson room has been free of the family for only a handful of years. Glen took a two-year hiatus when he worked in Australia only to return to his Oak Bay roots. Years later Peter took on a one-year gig Down Under.

One day, a couple years ago, Glen came back into the class as a guest teacher, alongside Peter, to instruct a class that held his grandson Kieran – three generations in class.

Dad, grandpa and grandson were all on the stage together when Kieran won the Merit Cup, recalled principal Dave Thomson.

The coveted award is presented yearly to the graduate who has made the greatest contribution to the life of the school in leadership and citizenship.

“My dad was there to see it, tears in his eyes. He loved it,” said Peter.

When Glen died last winter, former students offered a testament. They flew from Hawaii and Canada’s East Coast, hundreds of them gathering to honour a favourite teacher.

“He was a well-respected, well-loved teacher,” Peter said. “My dad always said the most important thing is the connections with kids. He got to know them personally and engage them. I think that’s why he was so successful. He got to know who they were.”

“He was an icon here,” agreed Thomson, “an absolute icon.”

Other mementos that will move prior to fall include the stuffed platypus and samples such as a jarred placenta – a gift from a former student.

“All those things will go with us,” Peter said.

He’ll miss the little things, mostly memories, sights and sounds. But even Glen would be happy with the move.

“He was waiting for me to get out because it’s an earthquake trap,” Peter said. “He’d be sad to see the place go. He loved Oak Bay and was sure connected to the school and the kids.”

Kieran, an Oak Bay grad of 2014, currently has no designs on becoming a science teacher and continuing the family tradition.

 

“But I wasn’t going to be a teacher either the first couple years of university,” Peter said. “So you never know.”