Whistler Secondary School (WSS) is looking to pursue a soccer academy after receiving approval from the provincial Board of Education on April 15.
The decision is contingent on "substantive enrolment," said WSS principal Nolan Cox, explaining 24 students would need to sign up to make it a go, as that's the number of students that covers the cost of putting a teacher in a classroom. A cap of 30 students would be put in place.
The academy would be run by Squamish-based Pelada Soccer Academy, which is piloting a program for Grade 8 and 9 students at Don Ross Secondary School this year.
Academy head coach Charles Impey noted the WSS program would be extended to students from Grades 8 through 12, though he doesn't anticipate many older students signing up.
Because of the class size, Impey will have an assistant at the WSS academy — this will allow for the group to be split into two when necessary.
"It will make it a bit easier to differentiate between abilities and age groups as well," he said. "It might be half are Grade 8 and 9 and half are Grade 10 and 11.
"We might split it down the middle and work on varying things for varying abilities, or we might find that every single person in the program can benefit from playing someone older, or someone younger, and there's a dynamic that can work for everyone. We'll just have to wait and see with the numbers where that really goes."
Impey noted there are two groups at Don Ross, with about 20 students in each. The skill level of the players is similar and so programming hasn't been as difficult as it might be if that hadn't been the case. He explained there's no set level of ability with which a player needs to arrive, but he does hope to see "excitable, responsible, hard-working students" make the commitment, noting he saw some who were more reluctant this year.
"I definitely found that (that type of) player at the Don Ross academy didn't enjoy the program," he said. "It's a big decision to make. It's a lot of commitment and it's a lot of responsibility that we put on the students."
He doesn't expect the programming will differ much from the Don Ross offerings aside from having a more intense schedule and adding a strength and conditioning component.
Cox noted for the sake of efficiency, the soccer academy's dryland programming focusing on nutrition, psychology and training will be held at the same time as the hockey academy, which debuted at the school this year.
"(The sports are) similar in terms of performance standards, so we're really looking forward to what that's going to look like," he said. "That should be a dynamic part of the program."
School District 48 superintendent Lisa McCullough explained some are concerned about the disruption of timetables, especially in a smaller school like WSS. Acknowledging the division will never be able to please absolutely everyone, she favours student control over their own learning as much as possible.
"Generally speaking, I support student choice," McCullough said. "If students are collectively saying 'This is something we'd like to see offered in our school, whether it's an academy, or a course or otherwise, I support our schools trying the best they can to do that."
The cost of enrolment is $1,050 in total, with $750 for the academy itself and $300 for a staffing offset fee. Cox said the latter fee is "consistent with the rest of our academies in the district."
He explained the budget for the academy is based on the minimum of 24 students with the provincial student allocation sitting at around $550 per course. That funding, along with the staffing offset and academy fees, will help cover WSS and Pelada Soccer staffing funds, strength and conditioning coaching, any required equipment and a small contingency fund.
McCullough supports a district policy that prevents turning away any students who may not be able to pay the full cost. Any interested families can meet confidentially with Cox to work out an arrangement.
"We do anything from payment plans to a reduction of the costs to a free offering, and we just work on that with the families confidentially," McCullough said.
Cox said he and Pelada would work from there to find a solution.
Registration is slated to begin in the second week of May, though an exact date hadn't been determined at press time.
Hockey academy successful
The proposal comes on the heels of the school's first year with a hockey academy. The Pacific Rim Hockey Academy (PRHA) teamed up with the school for the first semester of the year, and is planning to offer programming in both semesters in 2015-16.
"It went exactly as well, or better, than we expected," PRHA owner Craig Millin said, adding the academy had 24 students.
Millin explained those who have been through the program will have a chance to renew for the next session next year. He noted 60 potential participants took part in an information night in February.
The academy costs $1,200 per session, including a $244 deposit at the time of registration. Enrolment for the September 2015 to January 2016 session is open at www.rpmhockey.com.
"The general consensus was that the kids were more engaged in school. There was a marked level of improvement academically," he said.
This year, the academy held three one-hour on-ice sessions per week as well as two dryland sessions. Millin said the program is always being adjusted to maximize results for students, and that's no different heading into next year.
"We're going to spend a little more time in the area of sports psychology," he said. "We'll have a guest presenter come up and talk a little more about goal-setting, accountability, mental preparedness, being responsible and accountable for the decisions you make and how to overcome challenges in the classroom, community and on the ice."
As well, Millin said concussion management is a major area of focus for the academy, as it is working with Maple Ridge's Golden Ears Physiotherapy to bring presentations to better educate students.
In a previous interview, Whistler Minor Hockey Association president Steve Legge was thrilled to have the academy take root. Millin said the feeling is mutual.
"We support the minor hockey model. Our goal is to keep kids in their communities, allow them to enjoy the technical skill development the hockey academy can offer and play hockey in their community," Millin said.
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