The choir room at Oak Bay High features risers, a piano and shelves of sheet music that create a comfortable room for teens to study or hang out.
It’s carefully curated to create a space that provides opportunities to lift the voices and smiles of the students who enter it, all carefully honed by teacher Tina Horwood. And, done well according to 2021 grad Jacob Wilkinson.
“The choir room she creates is such a safe place for really anyone to be,” he said.
Wilkinson credits Horwood with developing him into a “choir room guy” from a ninth grader who didn’t have a clue what he wanted to do. Now he studies music at UVic.
It’s a safe place to be and to sing with no space for negativity, said Horwood. It’s a philosophy shared in her choral program as well, both in curriculum and extracurricular. Eight of her choirs are open, welcoming all.
Horwood figures it’s her job to teach people to sing.
She is among 34 education professionals named as finalists in this year’s Premier’s Awards for Excellence in Education.
The awards honour public, independent and First Nations school teachers, principals, vice-principals, school and district leaders, and support staff who go above and beyond to make life better for K-12 students in B.C. The Oak Bay High choir teacher is nominated in the extracurricular leadership category alongside Abbotsford teacher Joe Frew and Vancouver teacher Jaswinder Sodhi.
“I think she deserves it. I don’t know anybody who is as busy as Tina. I don’t know how she manages it, I don’t know when she sleeps, to be honest,” said Grade 12 student Roxy Goody.
Horwood’s extracurriculars naturally blossom from the love of music that has become her career, as well as the athletics that formed her youth.
She started teaching 30 years ago at a private school in Shawnigan Lake and immediately set out to start adding to student lives. They didn’t have a choir, so she started one, coached the senior girls’ basketball team and then put together a water ski club.
“I’ve always lived for the outside-the-classroom relationships where you can really get to know the kids and what they’re about and make a difference beyond the academic world,” Horwood said.
She was busy teaching math at all levels but remembers the most about music and sports.
Among her longest enduring activities is the ensemble Island Ukuleles, where she is currently director, taking only a small break when she had four young children.
All four attended and graduated from Oak Bay High where she now works. All four are now in university.
As they went through school, the Horwood kids encouraged mom to add things such as the ski and snowboard team, which grew from nine kids to 60 over a handful of years.
That’s on top of the myriad choirs. There were 10 last year, Wilkinson remembers because he had to pare down his participation to six – in order to focus on academics.
For Makaio Mcknight, singing outside the regular school timetable is a pleasant reason to be at school late, or sometimes really early. And it’s not just the singing, but the leadership.
“No one feels left out in Tina’s class.”
Another unusual extracurricular that returned in September after a two-year hiatus is the choir sleepover. Conveniently coinciding with a grad spirit activity where Grade 12 students wore pyjamas to school, choir members roamed the halls the night of Sept. 16.
It’s an event Roxy Goody has been looking forward to it since Grade 9, seeing as it has been cancelled since
“It’s really good for the Grade 9s to get comfortable in the school,” said Roxy Goody a Grade 12 student sad over the two missed years.
That impact is what Horwood shoots for.
It’s about team bonding, with a couple of sessions of singing. But the main goal is for Grade 9s to feel at the end that Oak Bay is their new home.
Horwood is known for going above and beyond, all the students say.
“She spends hours and hours organizing and just being there for everyone,” McKnight said.
Horwood credits her family with the support, from the kids and her husband up to parents and inlaws who share their Shawnigan spaces with students for retreats and trips. Being nominated is humbling.
“I feel honoured that people feel the way they do but I don’t want the award to be about me,” she said, noting one nominator had three children in Island Ukulele. The ensemble highlights what she’s about. Musicians there include super talented kids – some who’ve been in every music lesson imaginable while others come in with little to no experience.
“To me, it’s about touching chose kids who would never have had the opportunity without something like Island Ukuleles.”
The 10 winners will be announced at a ceremony at Government House in Victoria on Oct. 14.
Each winner receives a $3,000 personal bursary for professional learning, a $2,000 contribution to their school for professional learning and a commemorative trophy. Runners-up receive a $1,000 personal bursary for professional learning and a $1,000 contribution to their school for professional learning.