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Principal says downtown school has big challenges

Published on

Cathy Dobson

Chris Mitchell

A lot of time is spent teaching resiliency and how to resolve conflict at London Road Public

School where the principal says there is no “magic bullet” to fix a challenging situation.

“We are resilient as a staff, resilient as a school, and show our kids how to persevere,” principal Chris Mitchell told members of the Sarnia-Lambton Golden K Kiwanis Club Tuesday.

Among those challenges is a growing level of homelessness and what Mitchell described as drug activity in the neighbourhood since the pandemic started.

“It’s frightening to me,” he said. “We’ve talked to Mayor Mike Bradley and the chief of police about the real challenge to ensure, sometimes, safe walking to and from school.”

With 168 students, London Road School near Christina Street, is in a very busy downtown neighbourhood, Mitchell said. 

“We have a small population…and we have difficulty raising funds to provide extras for our students.”

The pandemic has had other impacts including cancellation of the school’s breakfast program. Even before the pandemic, the breakfast program ended in the morning before many of the students who needed it got to school, said Mitchell. So it’s been replaced with a snack bin in each classroom as well as a small kitchen with nutritious food.

Mitchell had high praise for his staff members who emphasize kindness and coping skills with their students. 

But when students from Grade 1 – 8 are asked in a twice-yearly survey if they find other students polite and kind, school officials learned London Road kids struggle with conflict management.

“We noticed our staff gave them a lot of solutions and that the kids were not solving small problems.”

Students are taught that solutions are often not easy but “we have to bear down and persevere and that’s hard for a lot of our kids.

“I’m going to tell you, we work on that a lot.”

Golden K Kiwanis members regularly volunteer at the school, engaging a small group of Grade 7 and 8 students in a “Builder’s Club” to encourage community service and leadership.

The Golden K also hosts “Terrific Kids” at London Road School to build character, self-esteem and perseverance. 

Mitchell thanked club members for bringing their programs to the school and said he believes they have a lasting impact and “set the tone” for future leaders.

London Road School has been at its current location since 1922 but was rebuilt in 1977.

Forty-six years ago, it was considered the latest in design and innovation but that’s no longer the case, Mitchell said.

For instance, it has two floors and no elevator, making it inaccessible. 

The playground is in dire need of upgrades, he added. 

“Quite honestly, our kindergarten yard is not good, it’s basically non-existent,” Mitchell said describing an empty fenced tarmac for the youngest students.

There continues to be a moratorium on school closures and amalgamations, so there are no immediate plans to move the dwindling school population, Mitchell said, responding to a question from the audience.

“Quite honestly, we love our kids,” he said. “We don’t want our kids to give up. There is no can’t. We have to show our kids that we can do it, that they can do it and we’re going to do it.”

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