Community welcomes new elementary school in Whistle Bend, Whitehorse


Dozens of community members gathered to recognize Yukon's next generation of doctors, nurses, teachers, tradespeople, leaders, parents and caregivers by ringing in the new Whistle Bend Elementary School on May 29.

Prior to the school opening to students in August, dignitaries, media and the public were invited to hear speeches, tour the school and attend a barbecue at 33 Olive May Way.

“I look forward to Whistle Bend Elementary School becoming a place of learning and growth where Yukon’s youngest people begin their journey of lifelong learning together,” Prime Minister Ranj Pillai told the crowd in the school’s auditorium.

Education Minister Jeanie McLean noted that the facility had been vandalized before the town hall meeting.

“The smudging ceremony was deeply meaningful to each and every one of us and to each and every one of you. We took the time to set a positive intention for this new space and extend our best wishes to all of the students,” she said.

“Schools are much more than just walls and classrooms. They are a canvas on which students paint their dreams, a stage on which they showcase their talents, a second home where they make friends and create memories.”

An information sheet describes the school as a “21st century learning environment with natural light, wooden materials and flexible common spaces” and “acoustic measures make the building noticeably quieter”.

The music room becomes a stage. Garage doors allow spaces to be opened for cross-class learning. There are individual toilets for all genders throughout the school.

According to the fact sheet, the school cost $42.8 million to build.

Amanda Leas, chair of the Ta'an Kwäch'än Council, said her government and its development corporation have been working to find housing solutions to grow the Whistle Bend community. The school is across the street from a nursing home.

“Having a school right in the neighborhood is a huge advantage for parents who have to juggle careers and personal lives. From kindergarten to 7th grade, I notice that there are many extracurricular activities and events within walking distance, which is beneficial for everyone,” she said.

Sean Smith, Chief of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, said this new, modern school thinks outside the box. It embraces different ways of learning and growing up. It brings cultures together in a holistic way.

“We used to have these standard boxes that they designed themselves, and we would put a whole bunch of kids in there and wish and hope that they would succeed. Sometimes those boxes didn't necessarily work. We have examples of that in our community,” he said.

Following the public addresses, Principal Jeff Cressman held a press conference together with Yukon ministers.

Reporters asked about a December 2023 letter from the Whistle Bend Elementary School Board of Education to the Prime Minister and Minister of Education. The letter expresses concerns about the school's sensory rooms, arguing that the sensory room is “unsafe, triggering, trauma-inducing and similar to a waiting room.” It suggests that the size of the room is inadequate and that the glass door is a concern.

Cressman said those concerns had been addressed.

“The school board is very pleased with the changes we have made,” he said.

“We worked with the school board and student services to put together a list of suggestions from the school board. And they're there. They cheered with me last week and are pretty happy with the space.”

An email statement from Julie Ménard of the Education Department's Communications Division says a second, larger sensory room has been added and equipment has been purchased to meet the needs of students requiring access to these spaces.

Cressman elaborated on the sensory rooms, which are basically quiet spaces for uncontrolled students when they are in the “red zone” and need to calm down.

“Often they just need a quiet place to go and work alone with someone for a while,” he explained.

Cressman noted that even the Prime Minister tested the “crash mat” in the larger sensory room.

“Basically, they’re places where students can go and let off steam,” Cressman said.

Cressman said teachers have already been hired and hiring of teaching assistants will begin in the next few weeks.

“We have enough teaching staff,” he said.

Currently, just over 200 students are enrolled, but the school can accommodate up to 425 students.

Minister for Highways and Public Works Nils Clarke said that unlike FH Collins Secondary School, which was “basically at full capacity on day one”, there was still room for the new Whistle Bend school to increase student numbers.

Contact Dana Hatherly at [email protected]