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New Nanaimo public school to open this fall

Class will be in this fall for students enrolled in Nanaimo’s new aboriginal-focused public school.

Vancouver Island West School District will be opening registration for a new one-classroom public school making its debut on Fifth Street in Nanaimo this September. The primary school is considered the first of its kind in B.C. and a potential solution to improve Nanaimo’s aboriginal graduation rates. It was proposed by the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre last year, and will include partnerships with the Mid Island Métis Nation and the Boys and Girls Club of Central Vancouver Island, which will host the school in its building.

Chris Beaton, executive director of the aboriginal centre, said the new Nanaimo Learning Centre will not only give children outdoor and culture-based education, but also “wrap-around” services. The programs, all offered under the same roof, will include childcare, early literacy programs and family support workers.

The school was previously anticipated to have multiple classrooms for 160 students in kindergarten to Grade 3, but the partners opted to start small at 20 spaces and one room.

“That’s one of the challenges of our traditional school model is that we put children into grades based on their age, not their ability and so a multi-grade classroom allows for flexibility,” Beaton said. “They could be doing Grade 2 level math but Grade 3 level English all in the same classroom.”

Families interested in signing children up at the school will have to register with the Vancouver Island West School District, which covers Zeballos, Tahsis, Kyuquot and Gold River, rather than with Nanaimo.

The partners reportedly approached the Nanaimo school district, which “felt it wasn’t something they could get fully behind at this time,” said Ian Kalina, executive director of Boys and Girls Club Central Vancouver Island, who added that the group then looked outside the box for ways to make the new school happen.

A Nanaimo school district spokesperson denies getting a public school proposal from the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre.

Lawrence Tarasoff, superintendent for Vancouver Island West School District, said his organization came on board because it saw a chance to improve education for aboriginal students. Nanaimo is also a good fit, with the district’s children and teachers going to Vancouver Island University. Future staff members could work in a “really strong aboriginal-ways-of-learning centre and then can bring those learnings and understandings back into our district and hopefully make a difference in learning for all of our students,” he said.

Tarasoff also points out his district struggles with aboriginal results and wants to find ways to have its students be more successful. That means changing the education system because what is being done not is not meeting the needs of students, he said.

“I think it’s one of those things that’s such a good learning environment and such a great kind of place to observe and try to do research that I think lots of school districts will be involved in it,” he said.

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