Local students unhappy with program availability 

Independent learning labs will improve course selection next year

Local high school students are substantially less happy with the program choices available to them than are their peers in the rest of the province, according to a Ministry of Education satisfaction survey.

The survey, released June 30, shows Howe Sound School District lagging by 11 per cent behind the rest of the province in student satisfaction over program choices. This has been a trend for the last few years, most notably at Whistler Secondary where this year only 13 per cent of participating Grade 12 students said they were satisfied with program offerings "all of the time or many times." That compares to 48 per cent province wide and 37 per cent district wide.

Howe Sound School District students participated in the provincially administered satisfaction survey this last January. It shows that the number of students satisfied with the course offerings has declined steadily at Whistler Secondary, from 19 per cent in the 2001/2002 to the present 13 per cent. In the current survey, 43 per cent said that "at no time" were they satisfied with the available program choices.

Beverly Oakley, principal of Whistler Secondary, attributes this decline to the nature of a small school and the funding cuts that have occurred in the past three years. She said that the school is now funded per student and with the removal of the Community School Grant and the Small School Grant by the Ministry of Education, the school’s funding and ability to offer a large variety in classroom-based courses has decreased. She went on to say that she and the board of trustees have been looking for ways "…to get creative with (the) funding."

Andree Janyk, a school trustee for the Howe Sound School District, commented that although course availability is limited because of school size it "…is being addressed by the school district. It has been a long desire to offer to students the same opportunities… as in a school of 700."

Their answer for the 2005-06 school year is to introduce Learning Labs into the school timetable. "Our idea here was to utilize independent learning," said Oakley. The learning labs are computer-based courses where the students work independently at their own pace under one teacher.

For example, Oakley said that a classroom-based course requires 27 students to pay for one teacher; by using learning labs, 14 students are able to take three different courses under one teacher at the same time.

Oakley said that for 2005-06 Whistler Secondary will boast the largest course offerings in the past few years, based mainly on the addition of the learning labs. "We look at those (surveys) and evaluate what areas we need to improve on… flexibility was certainly one of them," said Oakley.

Classroom-based course availability will be the same as in previous years, but she believes that with the addition of the learning labs to the timetable students will have considerably more options in the coming school year. She is also confidant that with the strong teaching staff that is involved in the program, taking heavy senior courses will not be a concern for most students. However, she did stress that the learning labs were "not for everyone."

Emily Macalister, who recently finished Grade 11 at Whistler Secondary, says that she is happy with the course offerings for September although she agreed that they are limited. "Basically I am (happy). I’m really lucky that way. Lots of the kids weren’t because of our small school’s funding." Macalister added that she thought, "Small schools need to be recognized differently from big schools."

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