It only started up last year, but the Vernon Community School has proven popular with students looking for a different way of learning.
The program, which operates out of Fulton secondary school, has been open to students in Grade 7, 8 and 9. Starting next fall, it will expand to include Grades 10 and 11.
In light of students’ and parents’ advocacy for continuation and expansion of the VCS, the Vernon School District commissioned consultant David Witt to conduct a review of the effectiveness of the program. In addition to six on-site observations in June, September, and October 2015, the review involved direct input from more than 20 students and more than 35 parents and other adults directly associated with VCS.
At a recent district board meeting, Witt presented his report, where he made a number of recommendations, including the expansion of the program. As well, Witt — former superintendent of the North Okanagan Shuswap School District — recommended looking at expanding the program to Grade 12 by December 2016.
Trustees have given unanimous approval to the expansion of VCS to Grades 10 and 11.
VCS co-creators and teachers Murray Sasges and Kim Ondrik, along with a number of students and parents, were in attendance to hear the good news at last week’s board meeting.
“Have you budgeted for seat belts on your chairs because what you approved is not just the growth of the school but the response to a community that is asking for this,” said Sasges.
“And so you will now have 20 or 30 more families that will be advocating for this kind of education in the community, so I know that you will be working with us as we co-create even a new way to administer this.
“I just think you’re very courageous in taking this up and I think it’s a way of education that families, especially in Vernon but across the province, are very interested in and are watching us.”
Sasges and Ondrik will visit every district elementary school in January to explain the program to potential students.
District superintendent Joe Rogers said new student intake will normally be limited to students entering Grades 7 and 8 to a minimum total enrolment of 80 and a maximum total enrolment of 90.
“We are at 56 to 57 students now, and I don’t think 80 will be difficult, but it will allow us to add a third teacher who has the same philosophical approach,” he said.
“And there are some kids with special needs, so there will be more than one new teacher, a full time math and science teacher and a special needs teacher, so those kid can learn and grow and get the support they need.”
VCS is a learning academy targeting district-wide students with diverse and complex needs who were unsuccessful in classrooms that lean toward traditional practices, and home-schooled students who might prefer a learning opportunity that is more communal.
In expanding the program to include Grades 10 and 11, Rogers made a number of recommendations to the board, one of which is to ensure the program includes the new Ministry of Education graduation program and assessment procedure when they are implemented provincially.
Board chairperson Kelly Smith said trustees will consider expanding the program to Grade 12, but said parents will have to wait until next year for a decision.
“At this point, we’re way ahead on even the ministry on this because they haven’t come out with the grad requirements yet,” she said. “Grade 12 will be considered next year, but we need to give the ministry more time. Even by going into Grade 11, that’s a big risk so we need to ask you to wait another year.”