by Monique Keiran
Six incredible educators and three amazing support staff who helped shape school life at SMUS for many years retired from the school in June 2018 to take up new adventures. The following tributes are excerpts from speeches given at staff recognition events last spring and interviews with School Ties.
We wish these colleagues, friends, teachers, leaders and members of the SMUS community all the best.
When Xavier Abrioux ’76 interviewed for the job of Middle School Director at SMUS in March 2004, he knew it was a long shot that the school would have work for both him and his wife, Bernadette. Things had worked out the previous time they had moved from teaching jobs in Quebec to Winnipeg in 1987 – Xavier had been offered a vice-principalship in the public system and, just before the school year started, Bernadette was offered a teaching position at one of the city’s high schools. However, there was no guarantee fortune would smile again if the family moved to Victoria.
So, at the end of the interview, Xavier asked Bob Snowden, Head of School at the time, “If I were to get this job, what is the market like for math teachers in Victoria?” – letting it be known that his wife would be a great candidate.
Bob’s response was not promising: “Well, the market is pretty tough actually… but when you get home, have Bernadette send me her resumé.”
Xavier returned home to Winnipeg, but failed to mention anything to Bernadette about a resumé. She says that when she asked how the interview had gone, he said, “The weather was really nice.”
What Xavier didn’t know – and Bob couldn’t tell him – was SMUS was also looking for a Senior School Math teacher. Four days later, Bob still hadn’t heard from Bernadette. He called the Abrioux residence and left a message on their answering machine. When the couple listened to it, they heard Bob asking, “Just wondering why I haven’t received Bernadette’s resumé yet…” According to Bernadette, that’s when she turned to Xavier and said, “Do you need to talk about that interview? Because this is more than ‘the weather was nice.’”
They faxed her resumé that evening. Three days later, she flew to Victoria for her own job interview. Bob offered both of them jobs the next day.
Over the 14 years that followed that eventful week, Xavier and Bernadette had many opportunities to touch the lives of students, parents, faculty and staff at SMUS. As Director of Middle School and Senior School Math teacher – later Head of the Senior School Math Department – they set high standards, fostered inclusive learning environments, went on adventures with students and colleagues, and left a lasting mark on the school community. Their compassion, caring, attention and commitment to students helped shape students, colleagues, the school and its direction.
Xavier Abrioux ’76
Last year, when Director of the Middle School Xavier Abrioux announced to staff and faculty his plans to retire, everyone attending the meeting in the Middle School library that day stood and clapped. They clapped and clapped and didn’t sit down.
“It was one of those applauses that was deep and had its own space,” says Assistant Director of the Middle School Dariol Haydock. “Words were not shared, but a moment was held that said ‘thank you.’”
Xavier’s retirement marks the third time he has left SMUS.
Born in Scotland to French parents who then immigrated to Canada in the late 1960s, Xavier attended the Senior School as a day student, graduated in 1976 and, after completing a degree in History at McGill, spent another three years at the school as a tutor and member of the SMUS boarding staff.
He obtained his teaching diploma from the University of Victoria and left SMUS for a second time in 1984 to teach at Stanstead College in Quebec. That’s where he met Bernadette, whom he would soon marry. After three years, they began their journey west. They spent 17 years in Winnipeg, where he obtained a Master’s degree and served in a variety of school and district leadership positions. Then, he finally circled back to SMUS and devoted himself to the Middle School, its teachers and – most of all – its students.
Xavier says he saw his role as director as primarily one of supporting the teachers so that they have what they need to do the best job they can to work with the students.
“With this kind of job, so much happens behind the scenes,” he says. He worked to establish structures and processes that would help all Middle School staff move forward as a team and pay attention to what others were doing. In addition, he immersed himself in most of the programs and events on campus. He helped organize school trips, assisted with school productions, helped run sports teams, and lent a hand to teachers wherever and whenever he could. That involvement helped him lead in his quiet way and allowed him to keep his finger on the Middle School’s pulse.
According to Dariol, Xavier “cares deeply about this institution, and he shows his care by consistently setting a high standard for all.
Xavier’s leadership is not overt, flashy or conspicuous – simply put, Xavier serves the school.”
At the heart of that leadership lie intense focus and a commitment to excellence. Although most teachers and educators do what they do because it is right for children, Dariol says Xavier always did it a little differently.
“He looks for small, practical and consistent ways to make things better for children. He’s the guy who takes the time with a Middle School boy who has done the kind of inexplicably stupid thing that only a Middle School boy can do. Imagine you are that boy, called into that big office. Xavier brings his chair close to yours, he leans forward, with his forearms on his knees, looks you in the eyes, and says, ‘We just don’t do that here.’
Xavier says working as Director of the Middle School was the most challenging and the most rewarding assignment of his career.
“It was rewarding, because I could see the results of what we do for the kids, in terms of the breadth and depth of opportunities and the way the teachers work together and continue to be so creative and work so hard for the kids.”
It was challenging, he says, because “when you look at the breadth of the programs and see all the things the kids do here, and when you work with such an able and skilled staff, there are always things you can do better. It’s a question of harnessing that momentum, energy and commitment to keep everybody moving in the same direction.”
But he says what he misses most about SMUS since retiring is the constant interaction with teachers, parents and students – always, with Xavier, it comes back to the students.
Read an extended interview with Xavier Abrioux ’76 at www.smus.ca/xavier.
by Evan Fryer
Bernadette Abrioux is a remarkable educator who has positively influenced thousands of students during her 35-year teaching career.
Born and raised on Prince Edward Island, she obtained her undergraduate degree in mathematics and chemistry at New Brunswick’s Mount Allison University and completed her education degree in 1983. She taught for a year at a school on a First Nations reserve outside of Montreal – an experience that tested all her skills as a new teacher. To this day, Bernadette’s care for vulnerable students, whether they’re struggling academically or socially, helps make her such an incredible teacher, leader and person.
She was next hired to teach Math and Chemistry at Stanstead College, south of Montreal. Her first meeting with another new teacher, named Xavier, did not go well. Xavier reports that the new Math and Chemistry teacher from PEI and the new French teacher from BC almost came to blows at a dinner party at the start of the school year. But within days of that inauspicious evening, the two were dating. They became secretly engaged three weeks later, announced their engagement in December, and were married the following August.
When the couple moved to Winnipeg in 1987, Bernadette taught high school Math and Chemistry. She eventually joined Manitoba’s Provincial Assessment team. The move prompted her to concentrate on teaching math so that she could better understand the province’s entire high school math curriculum and be better able to determine how it should be assessed. She made sure the prescribed assessment practices reflected what the students know, not what they don’t know.
That philosophy has remained at the core of her teaching approach to this day.
From the time she joined the Senior School Math Department in 2004, Bernadette wove herself into the fabric of school life. Her students, her colleagues and her family know how committed she is to her students. Throughout the last 14 years, she arrived at the school at 7:30 every morning and often stayed late into the evening to provide feedback to her students to help them develop confidence and self-efficacy in Math. She also volunteered every Monday night at the Academic Support Centre.
Her dedication to her craft was exemplary. Whether she was sitting down with fellow Math teacher Allison Higinbotham on weekends to write the math booklets for practically every course in the department or leading SAT exams on campus, she was working for students She created the best possible atmosphere in her classes. In fact, she created such a positive environment, many students who were not enrolled in her classes came to her classroom at lunch just to hang out and work on math.
Bernadette never had to worry about students using cell phones during homeroom period because she so effectively engaged her students in her pastoral care. Year after year, she and her class won the SMUS homeroom competition with their door decorating, book drives and fundraisers. She also assisted with countless school musicals, organizing props and creating many of them by hand – counterfeit money for Guys and Dolls, the Giant Stuffed Cow in Spamalot, and the human body that dropped from the rafters in
The Phantom of the Opera.
Bernadette provided clear expectations, held students accountable, and used her wit to tease out every bit of effort she could from her charges. Because she cared so much about them, they cared about math and about life in general. One year, students even created plastic Livestrong bracelets that said, “What Would Mrs. Abrioux Do?”
Bernadette took on the role of Head of the Senior School Math Department. There, she flourished and helped her colleagues flourish. The way she held all of us Senior School Math teachers to a high standard has made us all better educators.
It’s hard to tell what someone’s legacy will be. But I know that, for the rest of my teaching career, whenever I face a difficult situation or tricky decision, I will hear Bernadette’s voice in my head challenging me to think, “What is best for the students?”
After 39 years of teaching – including 20 years at SMUS – Terence Young has closed the book on his education career. The Head of SMUS’s Senior School English Department retired in June, leaving behind a highly successful Creative Writing program, dedicated and talented colleagues, and many students inspired by literature and the power of the written word.
Terence’s first experience at the school was as a creative writing instructor for a two-month-long evening class in early 1998. Bob Snowden, Head of School at the time, had sought him out. Terence had already made a name for himself by developing the creative writing program at Saanich’s Claremont Secondary School and by starting the Claremont Review, an international magazine for young writers and artists.
“I met the members of the English Department and conducted a two- to three-hour workshop after school for nine weeks in the school library,” Terence says. “It was a lot of fun.”
But SMUS hadn’t finished with Mr. Terence Young, English Teacher. Bob approached him again, offering him a job to teach English at the Senior School, beginning that September. Terence had to turn it down – he had just received a Canada Council grant to finish his first book, a collection of poems he’d started writing while working on his Master of Fine Arts degree at UBC in 1994–95. (The Island in Winter is the first of five books he has published.) Bob said, “That’s okay. It’s a six-month grant. You can start in February.”
Flip forward two decades: SMUS now has its own Creative Writing program – one that has launched many students towards careers as published and acclaimed writers in their own right.
Terence decided fairly early in his career that he wanted to incorporate creative writing in his teaching. It was his way of reinventing English Literature and revitalizing how he approached teaching the subject. It also changed how students engaged with literature.
“I discovered that students respond well when they’re allowed to write what they want to write,” he says. “If you give them licence to speak about their lives in a way that’s meaningful to them, they will write remarkable things and engage with the process. And when they do that, they care more about the quality of their writing and basic things like punctuation, grammar and so on.”
His enthusiasm for creative writing fuelled the program. Teachers travelled to writers’ festivals, and writers such as poet P.K. Page, performance-poets The Fugitives, novelist Leon Rooke, and SMUS alumni Kenneth Oppel ’85 and Claire Battershill ’04 visited SMUS to read their work and speak to students about the craft and process of writing. The school also hosted its own mini-literary festival in 2009.
Terence’s approach to teaching was recognized in 2008 with a Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence. That’s just one of the highlights of his career at SMUS.
The kids are another. “One of the great joys is just meeting really interesting people who are at a point in their lives where everything is possible. They’re eager, they’re optimistic and they’re curious.”
His colleagues are a third highlight. “I feel really privileged to have worked with a lot of really wonderful teachers over the years – both in the English Department and outside of it – and to have worked with extraordinarily talented and hardworking people who take their jobs seriously and who contribute to an overall ethos of excellence throughout the school. They really kept the bar high.”
by Beth Johnston
When Monica Jackson retired last June, her official title was Lab Assistant, Senior School Science. She held this position from 1986 to 1992 and then again from 2007 to 2018.
However, if we were honest about what Monica really did at the school, her title should be Director of the Senior School Science Department. For 30-plus years, she helped guide, facilitate or support most of what went on in the Senior School Science building. She knew exactly where everything was and what everyone needed.
To the chemists, she was the Potion Master. She always knew the correct ratios to mix everything from realistic fake blood to carboys of acid and base solutions. She was the department’s litmus test, its universal indicator.
To the physicists, she was the multi-meter that kept the current flowing and increased their potential. She gave their vectors direction and magnitude and, without her steady hand, pigs would not fly and lenses would not focus.
To the biologists, she was the nucleus of their cell, the mitochondria powering it, the Golgi bodies organizing it, and the lysosomes cleaning it up. She dealt with everything from fruit flies to beef hearts.
To the Earth scientists, Monica was both the stable rocks beneath their feet and the stars over their heads.
In other words, Monica made the Senior School Science teachers look good while they shared and explained the wonders of science to our students. But this is not everything that Monica did for SMUS and its community. She and husband Mike, who teaches Science at the Senior School, were houseparents at Barnacle House from
2000 to 2008. She was a trusted daycare provider to a number of staff children, a seamstress who has made costumes for school musical productions, a talented photographer and card maker who documented life at SMUS, and a party co-ordinator and baker of birthday cakes.
And all of those activities are eclipsed by her role as SMUS parent to Jenny ’08 and Claire ’10. During the last 32 years, Monica has made SMUS her life, her job and her community. She touched many lives here during that time, and her retirement leaves a wide wake that will be felt at SMUS for many years.
However, we are reassured to know that the Jackson legacy at SMUS will continue. Monica has promised to help the department transition to her retirement by making cakes for five special birthdays in 2018–19. Husband Mike remains a respected fixture on staff, providing part-time technical support to the Senior School. And, in September, daughter and SMUS lifer Claire took up the lab-technician reins her mother set aside, ensuring we will be able to draw on Monica’s impeccable memory for where to obtain strange potions for science labs and where equipment and materials are stored.
When Gordon Clements started teaching full time at SMUS in 2012, he had just retired from 40 years of teaching music in Victoria-area public schools, at Shawnigan Lake and Brentwood independent schools, at the University of Victoria and Camosun College, and at Victoria Conservatory of Music. He had also performed all genres of music as a wind player over five decades, recorded many albums, and worked in both the classical- and jazz-music worlds.
The timing of that 2012 retirement was perfect for the school, says Senior School Choir director and fellow music teacher Peter Butterfield. “We and our students were the ones to benefit from his many earlier years in teaching, and from his amazing variety of talents and skills as a musician.”
As Band Director at our Senior School, Gord directed the music for two memorable school musicals, Legally Blonde and Catch Me If You Can, and coached students as they prepared for each concert during the year. Students in the orchestra and bands learned a great amount from him during the months of rehearsals.
“I really tried to show them that everything I asked them to do was what I had also done,” Gordon says. “That all of the challenges that they have, I continue to have – even now – as a professional performer.”
When asked what the highlights of the last five years have been for him, Gord says every concert by SMUS students in 2017–18 stands out.
“We did some amazing things from a pure listening-excellence point of view,” he says. “The cross-curricular concert was the hardest piece I’ve ever conducted. Ever. And the kids were phenomenal. The Jazz Band kicked butt, and the Junior Jazz Band – they stopped being a junior jazz band. They’re playing senior repertoire, with kids doing solos.”
He says teaching music at SMUS has been one of the most rewarding and most fun experiences of his career.
“It is so remarkable to have music included within the timetable in a school and to have it structured in such a way with such a strong feeder program and compulsory music in Grade 9,” he says. “The raw results of those decisions speak for themselves.”
For 15 years, every student who entered the Middle School needing help with communicating, learning and living in the English language went through Bob Newman’s class. Until his retirement in June, Bob was one of SMUS’s English Language Learners (ELL) teachers. He worked with students from around the world to help them improve their English to the point where they could easily work, live and play within the SMUS community and go on to study at the Senior School.
At times, Bob says he felt like he was teaching at the United Nations, and that he could track general changes in economic prosperity around world by the nationalities of his students. “At first, we had lots of kids coming from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, and Korea,” he says. “Then more started coming from mainland China and Mexico. And even in mainland China, they came from Beijing and Shanghai at first, and now they’re from less well-known cities.”
Bob started teaching at SMUS in 1998, taking a temporary position to replace French teacher Penny Richards. He had more than a dozen years of experience teaching French, French immersion and Phys Ed to elementary and Middle School students on the Lower Mainland, as well as two years of teaching English as a Second Language in eastern Quebec. With that wealth of experience, even when Penny returned to teaching, Bob remained on campus, subbing here, coaching there and helping out until a full-time position to help new English language learners opened in 2003.
In the years since, he continued to teach Phys Ed. He coached rugby, track and field, and basketball. He became a key member of the SMUS Health & Career Education program. He used his experience and training as a carpenter to build memorable sets for the Middle School’s annual musical and theatre productions.
Through it all, the ELL program at the Middle School remained his core role at the school, allowing him to help students grow and learn to function as student visitors and residents in Canada.
“I love running into alumni who have been away and who still recognize me, even though I played a minor role – a very small role – in their development and their education,” Bob says. “It’s a great feeling to see them doing so well.”
After 28 years of teaching, Junior School teacher Pam Yorath has packed up her books, paints and pencils, and moved on to new adventures with her family. Pam began her career on BC’s Gulf Islands, and moved to Collingwood School in West Vancouver a couple of years later. She was known as Miss Hayley then.
It was when Pam returned home to Victoria in 1989 that she first started teaching at SMUS. At the Junior School, Pam taught students in Grade 1 for three years before leaving to raise sons Jamie ’10 and Mark ’13 – both SMUS Lifers. After re-entering the workforce and teaching at local schools, she returned to SMUS in 2006, teaching Grade 5 for eight years and Grade 2 for another three.
Even years after she taught them, students remember her passion for teaching and the warm, supportive environment she created in her classroom. They remember her sense of fun, humour and kindness. They remember her love of reading, and how she shared many excellent books with them.
They also remember the learning activities she prepared. At the time, the students thought these were designed for enjoyment and fun. Pam’s real purpose, however, was to actively involve and engage the children in their own learning, to challenge them, and to encourage them to think critically and creatively.
Greek Day was one highlight of being a student in Ms. Yorath’s class. Plunging whole-heartedly into the Grade 5 Mythology unit, students learned Greek dancing, held chariot races and costume parades, took part in Greek trivia team challenges, and shared their research in symposia. Pam always arranged for a sumptuous, delicious Greek banquet to end the day, ensuring the students experienced Greek culture with each of their five senses.
Pam’s classroom was always filled with rich and meaningful experiences for children – with music, drama, art and good books. She worked countless hours to plan her teaching before a year even began.
Amidst the joyful fun and the laughter, Pam took her teaching very seriously. “I believe teachers must respect every student and view each child as an individual,” Pam says. “It is my role as teacher to create a caring, supportive atmosphere for my students. I also believe that children blossom with encouragement, humor and kindness, and that it is my responsibility to help students recognize their own talents and abilities.”
“Pam is a passionate and caring teacher,” says Kathleen Cook, Assistant Director of the Junior School and a close friend to Pam. “She loves children and believes in their capabilities. She truly sees children as intelligent and competent, and she inspires them to learn.”
Although Pam looks forward to retirement, she says she’s proud to have been associated with SMUS. She credits the school for “igniting a thirst for knowledge, preserving important traditions while incorporating innovative practice, valuing the uniqueness and talents of every child, and supporting teachers through outstanding professional development opportunities.”
Leslie Snarr and Pat Benbow
SMUS recently said goodbye to two stalwart workers in the Finance Office who have retired from the school. Leslie Snarr took care of Accounts Payable at the school for 26 years, and Pat Benbow assisted with Student Accounts and Accounts Payable. We thank them for their dedication to keeping the school running smoothly and wish them many happy years of retirement with family and friends.