I write about the changing nature of learning and school quite often, but I would also like to credit district staff and the community, that when offered something different, they take the jump and sign-up. In the West Vancouver School District, there is a lot of change occurring within the traditional school day. To be sure, there is an emphasis on inquiry, social-emotional learning. digital access, but not as many examples challenging when learning takes place. Generally, our schools operate from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m, Monday to Friday, September to June. And, while some students take online (Distributive Learning) courses from other school districts, we don’t offer these in the district.
That said, there are three offerings for the upcoming school year I would like to highlight for their unique partnerships, flexible schedules, and for the amazing interest each have generated. From Honours Choir, to Basketball and Entrepreneurship – the adage is “if you build it, they will come”, and it seems to apply nicely. At the time of each offering, I wondered if anyone would sign-up; in the end, the happy problem was more sign-ups than supply.
Music is a key component of each school’s program, and West Vancouver Schools proudly boast music specialists in each of our elementary schools — a rarity in BC schools. Until this year, we had not considered offering music beyond the school level because there are often opportunities for students within the community. This year, the Board of Education approved an Honours Choir course offered on Wednesday evenings. Many worried we wouldn’t have the 20-to-25 student enrollment required to run the course. In the end, over 100 students signed up for auditions and the one choir opportunity became two. These students are required to be part of their own school choirs, and will now extend and challenge themselves every Wednesday night, pursuing a passion and earning school credits while training with singers from all schools in the district.
West Vancouver has been well invested in sports academy programs for a number of years, from soccer to hockey and tennis to baseball. However, basketball is unique in that it is predominantly a school sport. So, the district has created a unique opportunity open to Grades 9 to 11 boys and girls from all three schools. This course allows students to earn credits while continuing to play for their “home” school, and to receive additional training in the mornings as well as other times outside of the school timetable. This will allow better access to the course for students from multiple schools. Similar to the Honours Choir, students can pursue a passion in greater depth while not having to leave their school to attend the program. One other key element of the program is we are partnering with Basketball BC, who will be providing the curriculum and expertise to support the program. Again, demand has exceeded capacity.
Entrepreneurship 12 is a Ministry of Education course offered in schools across the province. A challenge we often face with these type of specialty business courses (and other senior electives) is that about 10 to 15 students sign-up in each school, but not enough to offer a course block in the timetable – leading to course cancellations. Some creative thinking around format and scheduling has changed that. The course has been rebranded YELL (Young Entrepreneurship and Leadership Launchpad) and partners business teachers with community resources which currently include Rattan Bagga, General Manager of Jiva Organics; Amit Sandhu, CEO of Ampri Group; and Punit Dhillon, co-founder, President and CEO of OncoSec Medical. The course is offered after school, so students from all three schools can attend; students will connect with top entrepreneurial talent and participate in a business venture challenge — traditional business course meets Dragon’s Den. Earlier this week, when I attended the information session in the West Vancouver Secondary Library, it was jam-packed with over 150 interested people. Again, families are ready to embrace ‘different’.
So, what are some of my takeaways:
- The idea of connecting with community resources is a partnership we are just beginning to figure out, and the community is willing and interested
- There is a real interest in depth and specialization to pursue passions
- There are opportunities to go across-schools for collaboration outside of the timetable
- We can find more options for students to stay at their home school for the majority of their program
- Each of the three new offerings are guided by passionate teachers
- The lines of school/non-school activities are becoming increasingly blurry
The creation of these courses has been an interesting journey, more so that my internal pessimist has been proven wrong with all three offerings. While I wondered if they would gain traction, all three are booming with interest, which makes me also wonder, “so, what is next?”
Finally, my thanks to the outstanding teacher leaders: Suzanne Fulton (choir), Greg Meldrum (basketball) ad Jo-Anne McKee and Shawn Anderson (Entrepreneurship) who are leading the way with these offerings. I am looking forward to seeing their progress and success in about 12 months from now as we slowly open up more opportunities outside the traditional school day.