This article appeared in a special publication in honour of the Carihi Anniversary, in April 2016.
In 1950 Campbell River Junior-Senior High School opened. By the early 1960s the school was beyond it’s capacity and students were attending classes in shifts. “The pulp mill was on shifts and so many people in town were working on shifts”, recalls Anne Young, who graduated from Carihi in 1966, “it was kind of funny that the students were on shifts as well.” The situation was certainly not ideal, and the need for a senior secondary school was clear. In 1966 the new school, soon to be known as Carihi, was opened.
Perhaps it started with a march from the old school to the newly built school on a snowy January day in 1966, and the statement that was made about respecting the new space. Perhaps it was the legacy of the first principal John Young and the teachers he selected to join him at the new school. Or perhaps it evolved organically thanks to a diverse student body. There are many different theories on how it happened, but somehow Campbell River’s Carihi Secondary School came to have an extraordinary culture of respect and acceptance. Retired Carihi teacher Anthony Akelitis describes the school as having “an outstanding academic history and a diverse student population along with a rich cultural tradition of tolerance, individuality, creativity and understanding of ethnic and racial difference.” That culture is a prevailing theme when you discuss Carihi with past and current students and teachers.
May Tuningley, another retired teacher from the early days of Carihi, described arriving at the new school on Dogwood Street, “We were proud of our new school. For years there was no graffiti on the walls of our washrooms; and the following September when a new student threw a candy wrapper on the floor, a last year’s oldtimer said ‘We don’t do that here’. When I left Carihi eight years later, there had been no vandalism. Carihi respected it’s school.” Current principal Sean Toal feels that this respect for the school can be seen today, both from students and the community at large. “We are open and welcoming, and I think people respect that and appreciate it. The school is available for community user groups, so I think there is respect for it and I don’t think that has changed.”
Despite the varied opinions on the school’s first principal John Young, it would be hard to argue that he didn’t have a lasting influence on the school’s culture. He believed that students should take responsibility for their education. He instituted the “Freedom with Responsibility Plan” where students who maintained a certain academic standard were given the right to choose whether or not they attended classes. At the time, having this kind of revolutionary approach to education in a small-town high school was remarkable. The provincial, national and international media was drawn to the story. May Tuningley recalls working with John Young, “He was in demand as a public speaker inside and outside the province. Canada took a new and different view of its schools with a focus on the students…The more John said that schools were like jails, the more teachers across the country knew that their schools could be better and they looked at students with new eyes.” Although the approach to education has changed, Toal feels that the school has maintained it’s culture of respecting students. “At this school we focus on the things that are important – that is people. We understand that in education we are in the business of taking care of people. Students are pretty much accepted for who they are. They are celebrated for their strengths and diversity – that has always been the unique part of this school.”
Carihi hosts a diverse student population – with students coming from the outlying islands, including Quadra and Cortes, the French Immersion and Francophone programs, and local First Nations communities. In the 1990’s Carihi was one of the first three schools in British Columbia to establish a First Nations Studies program. In recognition of the close connection between Carihi and First Nation’s communities in Campbell River and on Quadra Island, Bill, Junior and Greg Henderson carved the totem pole in front of the Carihi library for the school. “We really are a bit of a melting pot of diverse thinking” describes Toal. “People’s backgrounds at the school are quite diverse. What really makes the school is how the students approach it. They really do look for the best qualities in people and celebrate that.”
(This article was written by Erika Anderson)