- BC Games
Cover Story: Educational smorgasbord
How do we get kids hooked on learning?
In these changing times, educators have to adapt to keep children engaged and interested in the classroom.
The playing field has changed and students have become consumers searching for a tailor-made education that suits their needs.
“We are blowing up the old model,” said West Vancouver School District superintendent Chris Kennedy.
In West Vancouver, the teaching focus has shifted from prescriptive learning to personalized learning, which affords students more flexibility with their studies.
There are now programs of choice offered within the WVSD, including International Baccalaureate, sports academies, Super Achievers and West Vancouver Online.
The WVSD — shepherded by a superintendent who was named one of the Top 10 Canadian Newsmakers in Educational Technology in 2010 — is widely recognized as being at the forefront of digital learning.
Staying ahead of the curve is critical for this school district positioned among a cluster of private schools and looking to protect itself from ubiquitous declining enrolment.
A decade ago, an untapped resource in the Hollyburn Country Club ice rink, a stone’s throw from Sentinel secondary, sat empty during the day.
At the same time, Diane Nelson was at a crossroads in her life. Her husband had passed away suddenly, and the professional women’s ice hockey team she owned — the Vancouver Griffins — was folding.
Nelson, knowing she wanted to continue working with hockey players, went home one day and typed the word “academy” into Google. She learned of a pilot project in Alberta where school kids, after attending academic classes in the morning, were bused to an arena in the afternoon to sharpen their hockey skills.
The WVSD chose Sentinel, where student enrolment was low at the time, as the pilot project school for a hockey academy, after Nelson approached them with the idea.
Now all she needed was an ice rink. Nelson made the three-minute walk from Sentinel down to Hollyburn. There she met the club’s hockey pro Jack Cummings, who coincidentally was on the same wavelength as her.
“He pulled out a file and told me he had a similar idea — to try and partner with Sentinel to use the ice,” said Nelson.
That first year 16 students signed up for the Sentinel hockey academy. By the next year that number had doubled. And today, an average of 50 hockey players who come from all over the Lower Mainland, but mostly West Vancouver, attend the academy.
Nelson, who is the WVSD principal for premier academies, notes that hockey skills aren’t the only prerequisite for the program.
“We look at report cards to see what their character is like. We want them to maintain their grades,” explained Nelson.
Once entry is granted into the academy the players have access to national-calibre coaches and world-renowned sports psychologists, among other top-notch resources. There is also instruction around sports nutrition and team building.
Lending credibility to the Sentinel program is the approval of former NHLers Dave Babych and Tony Tanti who enrolled their sons in the Hockey Canada-endorsed academy.
Success stories include Griffin Reinhart and Morgan Rielly, who were both selected in the first round of last year’s NHL entry draft, respectively, by the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The WVSD has since opened up the academy program to include tennis, soccer — and, more recently, baseball and basketball. Nelson estimated a total of 150 students subscribe to these programs, where they attend regular classes in the morning, then practise — and receive a P.E. credit for — their respective sport in the afternoon.
And starting this year, afternoon blocks have been aligned, allowing students from all three high school schools — West Vancouver, Rockridge and Sentinel — to participate in the academies.
Sentinel soccer academy student Larissa Black said the program allows her to play the sport she is most passionate about every day.
“My goals are to see a real improvement on the field and to improve my leadership skills and coaching ability,” said Black.
Nelson’s ultimate goal is to see these students pay it forward.
“I hope they say, ‘Man, I got to play tennis or soccer every afternoon at school and now I give back to the community,’” said Nelson.
New this fall, the District Honour Choir is another program of choice the WVSD is hoping will hit a high note with students.
Choir director Suzanne Fulton pitched the idea earlier this year, in an effort to recreate the thriving choral community she grew up in.
“Kamloops, for such a small town comparatively, had such a rich music scene,” said Fulton. “My goal is to increase the awareness and presence of choral music in West Vancouver.”
This spring, 80 out of 100 of the most keen singers in the school district from Grades 7 to 12 who auditioned to be part of the choir were accepted. There was enough interest for Fulton to form a coed and a women’s choir.
“It was like finding diamonds in the rough,” said Fulton of the audition process.
The course, which will run on Wednesday evenings at West Van secondary, is worth four fine arts credits a year, allowing students to earn additional credits towards graduation before they hit their senior years of high school.
“These are students who are passionate about singing and want to make music at a high level,” explained Fulton.
There will be visits from guest clinicians as well as opportunities for the honour choirs to attend festivals.
The choir is a good fit for West Vancouver secondary student Larissa Schemmann who says she learned to sing before she could talk.
“I actually plan to pursue a career in fine arts or performing arts because I also dance as well. This [choir] will be an opportunity for me to make new friends and get involved with the school,” said Schemmann.
In North Vancouver, meanwhile, apprenticeship training and work experience programs offer real-world opportunities for students who declare their career path early.
“More and more students are engaged in the trades,” said North Vancouver School District assistant superintendent Mark Jefferson.
In the case of one student, he was able to start his industrial electrician training through the ACE IT (Accelerated Credit Enrolment in Industry Training) program — which gives students an opportunity to earn dual credit while attending secondary school.
The student began working as a journeyman for the NVSD before he graduated high school and managed to shave off two years of post-secondary training.
Between 700 to 800 students are enrolled in “enhanced programs” in the NVSD. And there’s an educational smorgasbord to choose from: a digital media academy, a culinary program, sports academies, as well as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs — to name five specialized areas of study in the NVSD.
The Distributed Learning program allows students to tap into NVSD courses online from anywhere in the world. It offers students, who can’t commit to classroom learning full-time, an alternate pathway to high school graduation.
Jefferson gave an example of one student, a model who travels internationally, that benefits from the distributed learning program.
Wherever possible, said Jefferson, the school district looks at bringing in diverse learning opportunities.
“If there is an interest in the program, if it’s compliant with Ministry of Education requirements and if it’s sustainable financially — we will pursue it,” said Jefferson.
The NVSD, looking to expand its enhanced program offerings at the elementary school level, recently announced Queen Mary elementary is a candidate school for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP).
Queen Mary principal Bill Reid said the school is looking to draw on the success of the Capilano elementary IB program. Capilano, the only North Vancouver elementary school with full IB accreditation, has doubled its enrolment numbers since starting the program in 2008.
As Queen Mary works towards IB authorization, beginning in September, staff will write and teach four IB units of inquiry.
“Parents are looking for a program that embraces 21st century learning, and IB is a very progressive, student-centered and inquiry-based approach to learning that develops the skills that many feel are critical to growth and success today,” said Reid.