Changes coming for alternate school

A drop in enrolment at Chilliwack’s alternate middle school programs means the Shxwetetilthet Sto:lo school portables will be closing.

A hefty drop in enrolment at Chilliwack’s alternate middle school programs means the Shxwetetilthet Sto:lo school portables will be closing.

The school offers a First Nations-based learning environment to middle school students, on Sto:lo territory. It is a sister school to C.H.A.N.C.E. on Prest Road.

Enrolment in the two programs has dropped from 68 kids in 2009/2010, to 38 this year, said assistant superintendent Rohan Arul-pragasam. And with such a resource-heavy program, it no longer makes sense to spread resources across two sites.

In the fall, he said, the “best parts of Shxwetetilthet” will be incorporated into the Prest Road campus and that the alternate middle school will continue to serve local students.

The amalgamation of the two programs will put more resources under one roof, Arul-pragasam said, adding that alternate programs remain an integral part of the larger education picture in Chilliwack.

“There is always going to be a need for alternate programs,” he said.

C.H.A.N.C.E. is what’s known as a Type 3 school, and the criteria for enrolment are laid out in detail by the ministry of education.

A student needs to have evidence of need of additional support services. There needs to be a detailed exit strategy to transition back to a mainstream school or to complete graduation requirements, as well as an individual learning plan.

The drop in enrolment is a sign of success in the mainstream schools, Arul-pragasam said. Schools are beginning to offer more “wrap-around services” for students, and teachers are working to ensure they are connecting with more students to keep them engaged in their own learning.

“I see this as a success story,” he said.

He points to seven different research students carried out in the past 10 years in the school district which have highlighted ways to support vulnerable students. Grad rates have gone up, overall and for First Nations students, and they’re continuing to add services that assist students in succeeding with a “meaningful Dogwood.”

Rather than relying on a centuries-old, industrial model of teaching that forces the same school structure on each student, school districts are now attempting to personalize learning for each student so when they graduate, they will be well-prepared for their own future.

“We’re really transitioning as a school district,” he added.

An important part of the process in the future will be to change the public’s perception of alternate programs.

They are not the “dumping grounds” for bad kids, Arul-pragasam said.

“We have to change the face of alternative learning,” he said, noting the many good programs and initiatives taking place at the middle school alternates, and at the high school equivalent, the Ed Centre.

jpeters@theprogress.com