Jaslene Atwal at Sparwood Secondary School.  Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

Jaslene Atwal at Sparwood Secondary School. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

Sparwood vice principal honoured for her work

Jaslene Atwal, named Sparwood’s Citizen of the Year, talks school safety, new programs, vaping

Jaslene Atwal’s leadership in the school system is one of the reasons she was named Sparwood’s Citizen of the Year.

Born in Fernie, she moved to Sparwood at a young age, graduating from Sparwood Secondary School in 2004. Following this she moved to Edmonton to earn her Bachelor of Education, and came back to Sparwood where she taught for several years.

At this point, life took a different path. Recruited by Suncor, she moved to Fort McMurray to help with their training programs. Over the years, she worked to develop these for power engineers, managed all simulation training, and more. With two young children, Atwal chose to accept the position of vice principal at Sparwood Secondary School, and return to Sparwood where they will have more time with the children.

“Sparwood is always where my heart has been,” she said. “We always knew that we would come back, it was just (a matter of) when the time would allow us.”

“I always end up coming back to Sparwood; I love the community, the people here are very friendly, and I want my kids to grow up the way I grew up,” she added.

During the awards ceremony at the 2019 Sparwood Business Awards, a nomination for Atwal was read:

“Since she has come back to Sparwood, the high school has been way better; kids are safer, and she is kind and respectful,” read one of her nominations. “Ask any staff member at the school, and they say she is the best leader they have had at Sparwood Secondary School.”

Atwal said this is always her intent; to make the school a safe place for all students; both physical safety, free of harm, as well as emotional and social safety. She said she works hard every day to ensure their code of conduct is upheld.

Atwal said she is firm with this code of conduct, which has been communicated with students and staff. Day to day, she said it’s her job to uphold this.

“Sometimes, that is very hard, but I try to do things in an ethical manner; what is the right thing to do? Not always, what is the easier thing to do,” she said.

That being said, Atwal stressed that the framework for leadership was worked on for years before she arrived, and said she was lucky to come into a position where the staff is cohesive and added that it’s her goal to keep it that way.

“Many principals and vice principals have worked hard over the years to pave my way,” she said.

Each day, she said, school systems around the province are faces with challenges with regards to bullying, and vaping, and said Sparwood is no different.

Any time something is reported to her, she deals with it. Atwal explained that she never brushes anything off. Listening to the students, Atwal says is key.

“They tell you; if they’re not liking something, they’ll tell you,” she said.

Many of her ideas for improvements come from the students, stemming from ideas raised in student council meetings.

From a lunch program, to growing their own food, and an increase in sports teams, these ideas came from the students.

There are 265 students that attend Sparwood Secondary, ranging in age from grade seven to 12. Atwal explained that this allows them to bring youth of differing ages together. Homerooms that are multi-grade allow students to build connections, and allow senior students the opportunity to mentor.

Vaping is a challenge that high schools around the country are facing, particularly to do with the misconception that vaping is a safer alternative to smoking. Atwal says through open, but hard-hitting conversations, they are able to present all the necessary information about the dangers of vaping. They also include a crucial piece of information; how to quit.

Through collaboration with other surrounding schools, the school aims to give youth all the tools necessary to lead a healthy life.

Atwal said that vaping is a hard thing to police, which is why they have taken an educational approach to it.

“We look back on when smoking became more predominant in schools; policing it didn’t have as big an effect on reducing the amount of kids smoking, but education really did, so we’re trying to take that route,” she said.

That being said, vaping in the school is taken very seriously and comes with consequences.

“My philosophy overall… somebody once told me; the standard that you walk past is the standard that you’re willing to accept. So that’s what I ask myself; am I okay with them doing this? If I’m not okay with them doing that, I stop and I have that conversation.

“I don’t just walk past something that I’m not willing to accept all the time.”