Cranbrook to Cranbrook: A matter of principals

Educators from schools in two Cranbrooks mutually mull reviving a dying art.

It was an early morning for Gordon Terrace Elementary principal Michelle Sartorel on January 21, and a late one for St. Martin’s School head teacher Tanya Beard.

The two educators met via a CBC interview on Monday, as a relationship between the new Cranbrook in Devonshire, England and Cranbrook, B.C., takes form. The time difference made for a challenge: Sartorel had to be interviewed at 6:45 a.m., while it was seven hours later for Beard.

The relationship between the two Cranbrooks is blossoming thanks to local historian Dave Humphrey, who discovered the new Cranbrook on a recent trip to England.

The interview was stalled for several minutes as Beard, still at school, met with a student. Once she called in, however, she gave B.C. a glimpse into student life in the new Cranbrook.

The English school is built for 420 students, but for now only has 73 students as the new community grows.

“Cranbrook is a town in an initial stage of development,” Beard explained. The town is located in Devonshire, southern England, between Exeter and Honiton.

Sartorel hopes the Cranbrook name will give the children in both schools the chance to develop life-long connections.

Beard agreed, suggesting they trade letters back and forth.

“I think there’s a lot we can learn from each other,” she said. “Our children are very keen to share their new school with other children.”

Sartorel said in the CBC interview that the new partnership is interesting for the Kootenay school, as they teach their students about environmental issues and sustainability. At St. Martin’s School, the students are connected to nature via their own private wooded area on the school grounds, where students attend Forest School every Wednesday.

Beard explained in the radio interview that the students spend the time outside learning about the woods and cooking on a rock fire.

Sartorel told the Townsman on Tuesday that the school will be looking into forming pen pals between the students. The idea has not yet been brought to the student body at Gordon Terrace Elementary as the teachers figure out how the exchanges will work.

Sartorel said the pen pals could be a way to save a dying art — handwriting — now that technology and computer communications have taken over.

“I would hate to see (handwriting) go by the wayside,” Sartorel said. “There’s many ways to reach out through many avenues, and still be teaching the curriculum.”

What started as an idea has gone somewhat viral — Sartorel has had emails coming in from all over wanting to talk about the schools’ connection.

“This is so brand new.”

So far, the Kindergarten and Grades 2, 3, 5, 5/6 classes are on board, for a total of 200 children at Gordon Terrace (GT). That means there will be more than two pen pals for each child in the English Cranbrook school.

They are also thinking about sending along templates for their Virtue Trees that each GT student has created and displayed around the building. That project would go well with the St. Martin’s Forest School.

Humphrey plans to head back to England in the next month or so, and Sartorel said perhaps the school could send along something from the students to St. Martin’s.

Sartorel originally thought  her students could have a Skype night with St. Martin’s, but it turns out the time difference works the other way: the English students would have to stay up late to meet with GT.

“That definitely poses a challenge but I don’t think it’s a road block,” she said.

The Kootenay principal was impressed by Beard’s plans for the young school, which opened on September 14, 2012. It teaches students from Kindergarten, (which is called nursery) to year (or Grade) 6.

“I think I’d like to meet her,” Sartorel said.

This isn’t the first time GT students have connected with a school elsewhere in the world. Last year the students ran a Canadian Tire money campaign to support a school in Nepal. Sartorel said the project was very much enjoyed, but there were cultural and technological differences. For example, the Cranbrook students filmed a video of them performing their school song, but the Nepalese students didn’t have the ability to play it. The students in England will give the GT children a great opportunity to see life in a different country, while still having a few things in common.

“I could see this becoming an opportunity for life-long pen pals,” Sartorel said.

Another idea is sending out post cards from Cranbrook, B.C., to Cranbrook, U.K. That would go in well with a postage stamp collection being developed by Janet Levang’s GT class.

“You get so much from a picture,” Sartorel said.

The possibilities for this new burgeoning relationship are endless. Visit the St. Martin website online at for more information on this unique school.