When Nightingale elementary school first opened in 1912, its grounds included an orchard and stream. The school’s janitor lived in the property’s relocated farmhouse and reportedly paid modest rent in return for five tons of coal and one double load of wood each year.
A hundred years later, the red brick school near East 12th Avenue and Kingsway is a designated inner city school that serves a multicultural, urban population of 240 kindergarten to Grade 7 students. Babies can be found at the school as part of a new StrongStart Early Learning program while mature students take adult education classes.
As the community and alumni are set to celebrate the school’s centennial Oct. 11 and 12, some things have come full circle at the institution, named for nurse Florence Nightingale who tended wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War and was a key figure in the development of modern nursing.
In its early years, the school included a medical room and a dental clinic. A few years ago it became home to a new dental clinic run by the University of B.C.’s dentistry department. “They chose us partly because we’re an inner city school,” said principal Jenny Chin Petersen. “We had a high number of students who didn’t have dental insurance or dental care or who had access to a dentist on a regular basis.”
The former orchard hosted a horticulture program when Chin Petersen started as a teacher at the school in 1988 and a garden now sprouts in a back corner of the property.
At its peak, Nightingale supported 400 pupils and in 1950 its population included five sets of twins. Over the past five years, the school demographic has shifted with gentrification in Mount Pleasant.
Nightingale was designated an inner school in 1990, when it welcomed high numbers of refugee students. Now its population is mainly Filipino-Canadian, followed by English, Chinese and Vietnamese speaking students. Inner city schools receive extra staffing to boost the development of language and literacy, social and emotional learning and family and community involvement.
Chin Petersen is pleased Nightingale has maintained enrolment while numbers at neighbouring elementary schools have dwindled.
“Some of our families are struggling financially, but the school is wonderful,” she said. “It’s been through word of mouth by our family members and our parents who have really supported the school in the neighbourhood that we’ve maintained our population and we’d like to see that continue. We’d like people to come and see for themselves.”
Chin Peterson is particularly proud of the partnerships Nightingale sustains with a long list of organizations that include KidSafe, Boys and Girls Clubs of South Coast B.C. and the Sarah McLachlan School of Music.
Current Nightingale families and community partners can celebrate the school’s centennial Oct. 11 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Alumni are invited to visit the school Oct. 12 for festivities that run from 4 to 8 p.m. Register in advance. Tickets are $25 beforehand or $30 at the door. For more information, see nightingale.vsb.bc.ca or phone 604-713-5290.