BC Photos·Matheson

Take a look inside Surrey's Matheson high school

A special series by CBC Vancouver’s Jason D’Souza looks at the lives of students at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, B.C.

The Early Edition broadcasts live from L.A. Matheson Secondary School Friday, May 31

Reporter Jason D'Souza, who's 28, described the experience of returning to high school as "terrifying." (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

CBC Vancouver's Jason D'Souza went back to school for Matheson, a new special series on the lives of students at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, B.C. 

D'Souza, who enrolled in a Grade 11 schedule for a month, and described the experience of returning to high school as "terrifying," took a deep dive into the lives of the school's teenage students, exploring issues ranging from the role of technology to the latest slang.

L.A. Matheson Secondary School is located in Surrey's School District 36 — one of the most ethnically diverse in the province. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"There was some wariness at the beginning but gaining their trust was part of the process," D'Souza told the CBC's Stephen Quinn in a tease for the series, which began May 21.

To combat tardiness vice-principal Stefan Stipp makes a habit of greeting students at the door each morning. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
English teacher Kyle McKillop keeps an open approach to the use of phones in class. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Facing Surrey's reputation head on

The idea for the series arose from the question of how to tackle the community's stigma. As D'Souza noted in his series, Surrey has struggled with reputation issues throughout its history. As a suburb that was traditionally lower on the socio-economic scale compared to Vancouver, stigmas have always been attached to the city and its residents.  

Embedding in a high school was the response.

L.A. Matheson Secondary School is located in North Surrey's ethnically diverse School District 36 — the largest in the province with nearly 72,000 students. North Surrey itself is one of B.C.'s fastest growing communities but, ask around, and one theme is bound to come up: gang violence.

The association of being a "Surrey kid" and being in a gang is a reputation Matheson's students want to dispel.

"The students are aware of Surrey's reputation and they want to rid themselves of it," D'Souza said.

A large segment of Matheson's student population are ethnically South Asian. The languages available for study reflect that. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
From fist bumps to handshakes, hallway greetings are a major part of the social dynamic at Matheson. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Series stories came from students

The stories that make up the series emerged from conversations D'Souza had with the students during his time in the school's classroom and halls.

Along with dismantling Surrey's reputation, the series explores themes of friendship, the role of technology — both in class and students' social lives — cultural dynamics and even the prevalence of vaping.

Matheson is a multicultural school. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
Students attend L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, B.C. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The presence of cellphones in class and how students use social media are other themes explored in the series. One major takeaway: students seem to be better at keeping themselves out of potentially career-derailing pitfalls than their parents give them credit for.

How to watch and listen

Matheson airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition weekday mornings from May 21 to May 31 at 7:10 a.m. PT with a special live broadcast from the school on May 31 starting at 5:00 a.m.

Tune in to your local CBC Radio One, or listen live at cbc.ca/bc or via the CBC Radio App.

A minor tragedy on display in the halls of Matheson. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
Friendships, both fleeting and lifelong, are the indelible memories of high school. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

This story is part of a series called Matheson, examining the lives of students at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, B.C. CBC journalist Jason D'Souza was given unparalleled access as he spent a month embedded at the high school in order to hear unfiltered stories of students today.