It is hard to believe that one of the key tasks of January is to begin promoting our program offerings in our schools next September. This past month, our Board approved a series of new secondary school courses and programs. It is exciting to see a culture of innovation come to life in the program offerings that teachers, principals and schools are bringing forward – I absolutely love the passion-based offerings for students.
We have been offering academy programs for just over a decade. It started with hockey and soccer. For many years, students interested in a particular academy program would have to transfer to one of our high schools to participate. We have changed this over time.
About four years ago, we began to talk about the idea of “one district, three campuses”. This is based on the principle that students should be able to attend their local secondary school with their friends, but have access to programs for part of their schedule at another site. It has not been a simple move. There have been logistics to overcome – calendars had to be aligned so high schools all had the same professional development days. Timetables also had to be coordinated. In our case, we now have timetables at each of our high schools where the blocks in the morning rotate and the afternoon blocks are fixed. So students have the same last period class each day. This allows us to bring together students from multiple sites each day in the afternoon.
Our school schedules are built so students can complete core areas in the morning, and if interested, pursue specialty programming in the afternoon.
This coming year we now have 10 different academy-style programs open to students from all schools. We continue to be strong with sports – offering academy programming in soccer, hockey, basketball, baseball, rugby, field hockey, and tennis. We have also now added mechatronics robotics and dance for next year. The majority of these programs occur in the afternoon, with some classes before school and on weekends. In addition to these programs we have several courses that are open to students from all schools – YELL (an entrepreneurship program that runs after school and partners students with business leaders in the community, FAST (First Aid Swim Training, where students earn credentialing towards becoming a lifeguard) and a District Honour Choir (that practices in the evening and performs locally and beyond). In Art West 45 students can attend their own high school one day and every other day participate in a program that allows those passionate about arts to get extended time in this area. It is the same principle for ACE-IT Carpentry where students attend the program every other day working towards their Level 1 carpentry credential.
In all we are now at about 15 and growing in the number of options we have available that allow students to pursue their passions as part of their school program – coming together with students from across the district who share these interests.
There is wonderful value in students attending their local school but we also need to find creative ways for students to pursue their passions. Five years ago none of the programs existed that would allow students from a variety of schools to attend. Now they are part of our culture. A culture where talented teachers share their passions with students who are thirsty to pursue these areas.
I am not sure that what we are doing is transforming our system. I can hear my friend Yong Zhao in my ear that we are maximizing the current system and not changing the system. We are continuing to find ways for students to pursue their passions which is all part of building a system that is relevent, connected and engaging for our learners.