The identity of NorKam

By the time Al Bailey retires in June 2010 he will have spent at least all or part of six decades at NorKam secondary.

In fact, the only time he's been away from the school since his family moved to North Kamloops in 1966 was to get a bachelor of commerce degree from the University of B.C. and to complete a three-year teaching stint at Kam High.

"I've known the North Shore for a long time. Almost all my life," said Bailey, 59, the school's librarian.

He remembers a time when City of North Kamloops trucks were common on the north side of the Thompson River and much of Brocklehurst was orchards.

Then, in 1967 - the same year NorKam opened - Kamloops and North Kamloops amalgamated. Since then, both the school and the community have shared a bad reputation Bailey believes is unjustified.

The reputation has garnered some press lately. Parents and students from Brocklehurst and Westsyde have made derogatory comments about the possibility of sending their Grade 11 and 12 students to NorKam as part of school district reconfiguration plan.

He said he is disappointed to hear these comments come from NorKam's sister schools considering Brock and Westsyde are usually lumped in with North Kamloops.

"NorKam is a great school. That's why I have been here so long," he said.

Bailey has been at NorKam long enough to have taught 10 of the school's current teaching staff.

He's also taught some alumni he believes Kamloops should be proud of, like local politician John O'Fee, CFJC-TV reporter Raffelina Sirianni, City sport development and business operations manager Jeff Putnam and many former Kamloops Blazers who have done well in the NHL.

"We have a list. It just happens a lot of the people decided to stay in Kamloops. It gives me a lot of pride."

Bailey was in Grade 10 when his family left the Kootenays. His parents bought a house on Duncan Avenue and he enrolled at North Kamloops junior-senior secondary.

NorKam was under construction at the time and took two years to build. Bailey was among the first graduating class in 1968.

He has every yearbook ever made at NorKam on a shelf in his office. He flipped open one volume and showed a picture of himself taken during his grad year.

In the photograph, Bailey's hair has no grey in it and there is no moustache. The one constant is the glasses.

"You'd hardly recognize the guy," he said.

A lot has changed since Bailey arrived at the school. As a student, he and his cohort enjoyed sock hops in the hallways and danced to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

The building wasn't as large then. There was no gymnasium - students used the gym at what is now the Kamloops Christian School - and the entire north wing was built years later.

The school was a senior secondary at the time. Bailey said it became a Grade 8 to 12 facility in the early 1980s.

He started teaching at the school in 1978. Back then, he used the slide rule and taught with manual typewriters and adding machines.

"Everything is done on computers now. There were no computers when I started. There were no Xerox machines either," he said.

One thing that hasn't changed is the students. Sure, clothing and hairstyles have gone through phases, but the youth remain a diverse and accepting crowd.

Being around the students keeps Bailey young at heart. He knows all about the latest music and trends and stays on top of what is popular.

What surprises Bailey is what was in vogue when he was a student is popular again. He said students are listening to Led Zeppelin, the Stones and Bon Jovi - a popular band with students from the 1980s.

"I guess music is cross generational."

Grade 12 student Jessica Matthews said NorKam has always been about being an individual.

"If you are all the same, it's a bad thing. It's better to be different," she said.

She said the school is full of people from all walks of life, which she appreciates.

"You are friends with someone because of what they are like and if they are nice, not because of where they come from," said Jessica.

Jessica is upset at all the bad press NorKam has received lately. She believes any student who comes to the school will be welcomed no matter where they come from.

"It's a really great place. There is nothing to worry about," she said.

Bailey knows his time at the school is drawing to a close, which makes him sad. He's been a part of NorKam for so long that much of his identity is tied to it, he said.

"I will miss it hugely," he said.

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