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UPDATE: Vernon parents petition to keep alternative program at Fulton

Awaken Inquiry and Adventure Okanagan closing at high school
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Clarence Fulton Secondary’s Awaken Inquiry and Adventure Okanagan (AIAO) program is closing.

Principal Mike Edgar informed parents on Jan. 11 that the Vernon School District (SD22) program will closed for the upcoming 2024/25 school year.

Citing a decline in student registrations with the middle years grades over the last three years, Edgar said all affected students will be supported in the transition.

“We want to assure you that this decision was not made lightly, and we understand the impact it may have on your child’s academic journey,” Edgar’s letter reads.

Jonathan Jones received a distraught call from his 13-year-old autistic daughter ahead of the letter being sent home.

“As a community we need to stand up and have our voices heard by the SD22 board of trustees that this program was the last in Vernon that provided a safe and inclusive space for students to have a community of their peers who understand what it means to be autistic, have ADHD, have anxiety disorder, having learning challenges,” Jones said. “While also providing them the space to thrive in a project based curriculum that has encouraged them all to graduate secondary school with their dogwood diplomas and have the education to move onto post secondary programs.”

Jones calls the Grade 7 to 12 AIAO the only Montessori-style program in the region, and a stark contrast from his daughter’s experience in elementary school.

“She thrives in this environment, she comes home at night bursting with information to tell us, jumping right into her projects, filled with so much hope and happiness.”

The closure, he said, is “throwing current students into turmoil and eliminating parents of students in the SD22 Montessori (Grade 1-6) program options to continue in the approach that recognizes children learn best when teachers encourage them to use their natural creativity and intelligence to gather information and make discoveries.”

To facilitate the transition, Edgar said individualized meetings will be scheduled with families.

Meanwhile a petition has been started to keep the program going.

“If you were planning to enroll your child in AIAO, or seeking an alternative but didn’t know where to look, or you have been involved with our students in any capacity, we need to hear your voice,” said Sandra Karn, who has started the petition at https://chng.it/krT9LwbWRv.

“Inquiry, community and experiential based education has provided the most rich and diverse learning opportunities for our daughter,” said Karn. “There are no words to express what losing this program means for my child, the other students as well as the many other students and families who planned to register.”

Those interested in learning about the program, particularly parents of students in Grade 6 to 12, are urged to visit https://sites.google.com/sd22learns.ca/aiao and email the program for more information.

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Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

Vernon has always been my home, and I've been working at The Morning Star since 2004.
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