The Citizens of Tomorrow

An Interview with Mr. Irfan Sheikh, the principal of Pt.Grey Secondary

Interviewed by Lauren MacFarland

One of the oldest schools in the area, firmly embedded in the history of Kerrisdale, Point Grey Secondary is an impressive institution, not just for its beautiful Gothic façade, but for the hundreds of eager, driven students whose main focus is making their school and community a better place. What was once a small school in 1929 has grown considerably into the modern high school it is today, it has seen generations of families attend over the years, and built a reputation for excellence. Principal Irfan Sheikh is now at the helm of this very busy ship, overseeing a multitude of programs and activities ranging from academic to athletic to community based. The school boasts numerous accolades in just about every discipline, Mr. Sheikh attributing these awards to the school’s emphasis on creating a “well rounded individual.”  Besides core academics, the school offers various elective programs such as drama, foods, music among others, all of which are found appealing by both parents and students alike. 

For a school with such a rich history, it has adapted effortlessly in the modern world, successfully creating several online platforms for students and the community to remain engaged and informed on the school’s many events and programs. From the official Facebook pages to the Twitter feed, blogs for the music and art programs, Point Grey has created a vibrant online presence to ensure it never loses touch with its 21st century students. “We’ve got to react to what’s going on in the environment,” says Mr. Sheikh, “the school looks a little like Hogwarts, and what goes on is the magic of education, the connection to kids, the leveraging of technology, the approach that says ‘this is what the environment is telling you about learning, this is what we need to do to engage more’. Despite the fact that this is an old and traditional building, we can’t remain old and traditional, we have to move in the direction our kids are moving and create programs and opportunities for them to reconnect with content  in a modern 21st century way.”

           Point Grey places a lot of emphasis on learning beyond the classroom, teachers are dedicated to making their curriculum come alive. “They’re in an environment where students’ attention are being competed for by media, pop culture, social media, so we compliment traditional instruction with field studies and project based studies,” explains Mr. Sheikh, “we can’t rely on the old ‘chalk and talk’ method, it doesn’t work for the students and we want them to be able to pursue their passions. This notion of the flipped classroom and blended learning exists, where students direct their own learning.”

On community engagement, Point Grey counts active citizenship as one of its core principles, with a focus on social responsibility and social justice. “It’s not just about academic learning; it’s about academic learning in the context of an ethical framework,” explains Mr. Sheikh. Out of the 40 clubs at Point Grey, a number of them are attached to external organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society, SPCA, and Free the Children, among others. The school’s Service Club provides any needed service for the school community, externally or internally.” All these areas are sponsored by teachers but driven by students, driven by their care and passion for that particular area.” Any interest a student may show can be turned into a positive change, as Mr. Sheikh reminds us in the words of Margaret Mead, “a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The students of Point Grey are active citizens in Kerrisdale and the surrounding neighborhoods, Mr. Sheikh notes that the values learnt at home are well reflected in their community engagement.  “They learn that it’s important to be a part of the community they’re in, caring for the community, and being socially responsible with something as simple as not littering. They go to the community centers, the senior centers and give back. The reason kids come to our school is because we are part of a larger community.” The school does a lot of community volunteering, they help promote community based activities, and getting involved is a regular feature of academic life.

The BC graduation program requires a set number of volunteer hours as a requirement for graduation, but the students of Point Grey are eager to go above and beyond what is asked of them. Service Awards are prestigious honours at the school, and students are eager to engage in active citizenship, many of whom receive these awards over several years. The Kerrisdale Community Centre especially, is a big part of the students’ lives, says Mr. Sheikh, many find are involved in the local programs, further making the community a big part of their lives. The students at Point Grey Secondary hold strong values that motivate them to stay active and involved, becoming integral parts of their schools, their neighbourhoods, and their city, knowing that active citizenship is the driving force behind a better future.