Students and staff at Big Lake elementary school. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

Season’s Greetings: Rural school heart of Big Lake community

Principal Holly Zurak talks about why she loves the school

Big Lake Elementary School principal Holly Zurak loves her job.

“I’ve worked at a few [schools] and I think what’s unique about Big Lake Elementary is that everyone treats each other like family, whether they are family or not,” Zurak said. “There’s a real spirit of kindness in this community.”

The school receives “the best community support” from people who don’t have children in the school and people whose children went to the school in the past, she added.

“What’s kind of neat is that quite a few of our parents are actually alumni. It is one of those situations where many hands make light work. We have lots of parents and community members who are involved as volunteers in all sorts of ways,” she said, noting the annual auction is always a success and well supported.

At Christmas time the students present a concert for the entire community. Zurak said she recognizes it’s a lot of work and values how supportive the community is.

“The older students are doing a play with a theme of kindness and inclusion and we will be having activities in the school, leading up to the concert. The students will be collecting items for food banks in Williams Lake and fundraising for a cause.”

Big Lake resident Andrea MacDonald drives the school bus and comes into the school to teach the students the songs for the concert each year.

“It’s an integral part of the concert and she practices the songs with them on the bus!”

This year marks the second year the school has been a Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation wild school.

“We are supported by the foundation and some coordinators from the foundation come out and support our staff learning about outdoor teaching and learning.”

Over the last few years, the foundation has supported the school with Get Outside grants which helped purchase backpacks that have dip-nets, tweezers and specimen jars.

Read more: Big Lake elementary goes ‘wild’

“The funding also helps us get around the district. When you are a rural school it is expensive to leave the school to have educational opportunities. They have been a great granting source for us to get to places like Gavin Lake and Scout Island.”

A school set of snowshoes for all 30 students was purchased by the parent advisory council, she added.

With the school surrounded by forest and in close proximity to the lake, the staff has been trying to expand the local outdoor learning area.

“We’d be crazy not to be engaged in a bunch of outdoor education activities, but we are lucky that our forest is actually a section of the Williams Lake Community Forest so we are also supported by it for many of our adventures and they will come out and work with us sometimes.

Recently the Big Lake Community Association built an accessibility trail along the lake which staff and students have enjoyed.

Each morning the school gathers outside for a morning meeting, sitting on stumps and benches made out of donated supplies.

The students say good morning to the person next to them, looking them in the eyes and saying their name.

“They’ll do a fist bump or a handshake or a high-five,” Zurak said.

“We go around the circle and share what the scope of the day looks like. We are a very inclusive school and are intentional about making sure the students feel grounded as they start the day.”

This year the school has begun a healthy schools pilot project with the Directorate of Agencies for School Health BC, receiving help in growth and development, healthy eating, physical activity or mental well-being.

“In the coming months we will be pooling all of our stakeholders, staff and parents to see which of those four pillars we could grow stronger in. We are the only school in the district doing it.”

Big Lake is also one of the schools in the district using FreshGrade Learning, a program where teachers and students are adding to an online portfolio.

“It’s about reporting all the way along,” Zurak said.

“Our whole school plan is around making our learning visible and I am very passionate about telling the story about our small school.”

In rural schools it is important to seek as many educational opportunities as possible, she added.

“I’m really lucky to work in a school that has staff that supports that vision and parents and communities members who are willing to help and pitch in.”

Read more: Big Lake Elementary’s 37 annual Christmas Auction and Tea on Sunday



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Big Lake Elementary School principal Holly Zurak

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