‘Cool School’ comes to Whistler 

Online learning will be available this year at Whistler’s high school

Virtual learning is coming to Whistler Secondary.

Over the summer the school district joined the Cool School Consortium, a group of government-backed educators and their institutions that are pioneering the use of virtual classrooms.

"I think this is a wonderful idea," said district principal Michael Weeks.

He and other educators spent several days over the summer in Vernon learning about the system.

It sounds like it is tailor made for Whistler’s high school, which strives to give students who are also competing in snow sports, and thus are away from school for periods of time, access to programs.

In the past small enrolment in some classes has also meant it was impossible for Whistler to offer the course.

But now, said Weeks you could have students in both Whistler and Pemberton take the course together, although it would only be based in one school.

Students at the other school would do the course online, with access to the teacher and the other students. The teachers could also travel to the other location and teach there occasionally.

There might even be an opportunity for students to access courses offered outside the district.

"We could buy a seat in a school in Vancouver for example," said Weeks. "That way if a student wanted to get a course we didn’t offer at all they could."

Weeks is also hopeful it could bring home schooled children back into the regular curriculum.

The program is government approved and has been developed over the last four to five years by B.C. teachers.

Weeks has also spent the summer working hard to increase the number of foreign students coming into the district.

Last year Whistler only had a handful but this year there may be up to a dozen. Most are from Europe as one of the prerequisites for studying in Whistler is a good command of English.

Many come, said Weeks, during their gap year, a time traditionally taken to relax and learn before the crunch of university.

"They are encouraged to have a year off before they go on to university and so they are looking for places that are fun," said Weeks.

" It is the last chance they have to study, have fun, and relax before they hit university."

The district expects to welcome up to 70 foreign students this year.

Each student must pay about $12,000 for the year. The school they attend gets $5,000, some is used by the local school board to cover salaries and costs associated with the program, and the rest is shared between all the schools in the district.

The school board pays $800 a month to each household which welcomes an international student.

This year Weeks also went out and recruited students himself. Normally the district hires an agent to find students, which cost $1,800 a student.

The move not only saved the district money it allowed Weeks to personally meet the families of the students already here and the families of students thinking of coming here.

"That’s invaluable," he said.

"I think there is an advantage for an educator to sell our district. When you are face to face with an audience or family, even through an interpreter, people can tell by what you are saying if you are sincere and honest and there is no substitute in Asia for being face to face.

"They want to see who you are, shake your hand, and their questions are all educational."

The majority of the students from Asian countries come here to graduate from a Canadian school in the hopes of going to university here.

But students from European and South American countries come for the experience of living in Whistler.

"Some of these kids come from high end areas and they are fairly wealthy and their parents look for areas that are also high end, so they look at Whistler," said Weeks.

For Whistler the program not only brings money into the school it brings in a diversity of culture and experience which other students can benefit from, if they take the time.

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