David Manuel is the principal at Fraser Valley Distance Education School.

Getting a little closer to distance education

Fraser Valley Distance Ed is making an impact with distance learning in Chilliwack and beyond.

Fraser Valley Distance Education is often the forgotten school of the district.

Located way out on Prairie Central Road, and with hardly any kids on site compared to other schools, it’s hard not to forget that it is in fact part of the Chilliwack school district.

And yet, Fraser Valley Distance Ed is the largest school in Chilliwack.

And it’s only going to get larger, said school principal David Manuel.

The distance learning school currently has 1,071 full-time equivalent students, which actually represents about 5,000 students who take one, two, three or four courses at any time throughout the year.

It is also the third highest grossing distance learning population in the province, just below Vancouver Learning Network and Surrey Connect, which have 1,235 and 1,212 students respectfully.

The difference with those schools, though, is that the majority of their students come from within their community. At FVDES, 50 per cent of students are from Chilliwack and 50 per cent from elsewhere in the province, country and even the world.

With “personalized learning” the popular buzzword in today’s education circles, Manuel believes the sky is the limit for his school.

The B.C. Education Plan, which was released earlier this year by the ministry of education,

emphasized five components needed to advance B.C.’s public education system from good to great. Those components included personalized learning for all students; quality teaching and learning; flexibility and choice; high standards; and learning empowered by technology.

“We fit right in the centre of that,” said Manuel.

“I truly feel that we are a school that goes and meets our students where they are – we bring our school to you.”

Case in point, their student clientele.

Fraser Valley Distance Ed serves home-schooled kids; students attending regular bricks and mortar schools who want to get ahead in their studies; Canadian kids who live overseas, and want to continue with the B.C. education program; and adults upgrading for post-secondary programs. It also caters to special needs students with educational assistants traveling all over the Lower Mainland to meet those students needs. And it’s the chosen school in the Lower Mainland’s prison system.

With a year to complete courses, Fraser Valley Distance Ed provides flexibility for students to work at their own pace and on their own timelines.

And while it is on the leading edge with technology, it’s not all online. The school also offers blended courses, where students come in to the site once a week to work. It also organizes  several different field trips throughout the school year to bring its student population together.

And because several “classes” are conducted online, where teachers and students interact and discuss lessons, bullying, judgements and stigmas, which are prevalent at most other schools, are non-existent at FVDES.

“Because connections have been made before students meet in person, there is no judgement,” said vice principal Sharon Bernard. “For many of these students, they become instant friends.”

The current shift towards a more personalized style of learning in public education is a shift towards distance learning, said Manuel.

And Fraser Valley Distance Ed is ready for it.

kbartel@theprogress.com

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