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Chilliwack’s brand-new Imagine High welcomes students to class on opening day

School administration have worked hard to create a community and a sense of belonging
Greenlee Welsh (left) and Yoelle Martinolich (right) are Grade 10 students at Chilliwack’s newest high school, Imagine High. (Eric J. Welsh/ Chilliwack Progress)

Chilliwack’s newest high school opened its doors Tuesday morning (Sept. 7), with smiling teenagers flooding through the doors of Imagine High. Excited chatter filled the hallways as Grade 9 and 10 students explored every nook and cranny of a building that is almost-but-not-quite complete.

Most of the construction was finished in late August, but there are still works in progress, like the culinary arts and shop areas.

A large, open gathering area inside the front doors of the school proved popular, with students flopping and talking on big green u-shaped couches.

“This room is the hub of the school, and the minute the kids came in they nested,” said Imagine High principal Brooke Haller with a chuckle. “The thing I love about this building is how when you walk in, it feels open and airy, and I think this gathering place is really exciting.”

Yoelle Martinolich and Greenlee Welsh are part of the history-making Grade 10 class which will in time be the school’s first graduating class.

They had mixed feelings as they walked into the building together.

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”It was terrifying and exciting at the same time,” Welsh said. “There were lots of kids crowded by the door, picking up name-tags and talking to the office, and that was chaotic. But I had one of my best friends by my side and I knew more were waiting inside, and the year ahead of us is going to be great.”

“It was really great and the teachers were really nice,” Martinolich added. “They’re so understanding and nice and kind and they just want to make sure everyone fits in and feels like they belong.”

Martinolich (15) and Welsh (14) knew each other before walking into Imagine High, but many of the teens are new to each other.

Sort of.

One of the things Haller, vice principal Stacey Parsons and program director Janet Carroll did was hold online get-to-know-you and game nights on Zoom for months in the lead-up to opening day.

“One of our goals was to not wait until we got into the building to build a community,” Haller added.

Those Zoom meetings led to students connecting on Instagram and talking all summer long. So while Welsh hadn’t met several of her newfound friends in person until Tuesday, they didn’t feel like strangers.

“It was really nice talking to new people, and it probably helped me branch out a lot,” Welsh said. “I made a best friend online and it was nice seeing them in the real world. Even if we didn’t get a chance to interact today we waved at each other.”

Ushering a new school into existence is a once-in-a-career opportunity for Haller, who started planning/dreaming 13 months ago. Haller, Parsons and Carroll wanted to make sure students’ voices were heard in every phase.

“We didn’t want to build a school and just hope that our students fit in,” she said. “We really wanted to build a school that reflected our kids, and engaging in that Zoom process let us hear about their experiences and what their hopes and dreams for their school were really guided what we were going to do.

“So often, you have a school and so much is already embedded in it, but here we had this really unique opportunity to talk about what we want to keep, what we want to discard, what we want to amplify and what we want to create.”

Topping the wish list from most of the students was the need to belong, and if first impressions are lasting impressions, mission accomplished.

“In other schools, it’s harder to make friends, but here it’s really easy,” Martinolich said. “They create a great environment. Everyone’s so respectful and nice and funny and it’s the greatest environment to be in.”


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Eric Welsh

About the Author: Eric Welsh

I joined the Chilliwack Progress in 2007, originally hired as a sports reporter.
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