Whistler Secondary School has a central role in the Whistler community. This school, along with the many extracurricular activities offered in Whistler, is the basis to encouraging the athletic, creative and academic minds that flourish in this town. It’s hard to imagine that just over twenty years ago there was no secondary school in Whistler. Instead, the 135 students from Grade 8 to 12 had to make a 70km round trip to Pemberton Secondary School every day.
Due to this unnecessary and inconvenient commute, funding of $12,095,987.00 was confirmed in 1994 for the building of Whistler’s own secondary school. This budget accounted for 200 students, leaving a bit of wiggle room from the 135 who currently made the commute. However, in the summer of 1996, just before the school was to open, enrollment had reached 315. There had been plans to physically expand the school in the coming years, but no had expected the space to be needed quite so soon. This left each student about $20 short in funding, particularly affecting the Grade 11 and 12 students.
The money fell short when it came to upper year science courses and the necessary equipment for laboratory experiments. The district asked the ministry to make up the difference but with late notice it was questionable whether the ministry could help in time for the coming year. The Howe Sound District refused to let Whistler’s students be at a disadvantage. In the meantime, they planned to either permission to loan money from the bank or, if need be, send the Grade 11 and 12 students back to Pemberton for the year.
This unexpected abundance of students left Principal Rick Smith in a bit of a bind. Instead of solely preparing the school for its opening, he was left with the task of hiring extra teachers. This principal was cut out for his job and made do with what they had. When Whistler Secondary School opened on September 3, 1996, you wouldn’t have guessed that they stretched their budget over the length of the school.
Resourcefulness was key with this new school, which was set to take full use of every space they had. A good example of this was the room that branched from the school entrance which they named the Multi-Purpose Room. This space was to be used as both a classroom and a lunchroom. Anything that needed a big open space, such as assemblies, was held in the gymnasium. Making use of every space they had still left the school with less space than students. To make up that last deficit in space, they parked four portables behind the school to hold various classes (these remained in use for almost ten years).
Despite the budget hiccup, the school and its students were not at any disadvantage. There was a library stacked with books, an adjoining glass-enclosed computer lab featuring 20 internet-linked terminals, and 10 tv monitors spread throughout the classrooms. Many of these features were only possible because of the many generous donations to the school from various companies in the community. The home-ec room was equipped with fridges and stoves and the art room with five potting wheels and a kiln to make sure that no student’s interests were ignored. The issue with science equipment was bypassed and one lab had the usual gas, water and dissection capabilities for chemistry and biology. As well as these physical accessories, the school was well equipped with programs. There was an up and coming work-experience program for the Grade 11 and 12 students. Instead of working for pay, this program have students real employee experience for school credit. Since Whistler is home to many sports and activities, this high school also planned to work with athletes’ schedules. They developed programs for skiers and other athletes to make sure they remained caught up in their schooling.
Whistler Secondary has come a long way since it opened just over 20 years ago. The most notable changes are the physical developments of the school. After a few years the school expanded the multi-purpose room, getting rid of the portable classrooms. They also replaced the computers, stocked the library with more books and built an entire new wing with new classrooms. As well as the physical changes to the school, there have been athletic and academic advancements at Whistler Secondary every year since it opened. The school has grown to offer programs and experiences that could not be offered anywhere except our beautiful valley.
Article by Sierra Wells. Sierra graduated from Whistler Secondary School in 2016 and is currently a student at Queen’s University.