Stakeholders mull future of learning alternatives

NANAIMO – Hands-on, project-based learning and the establishment of a centralized trades academy in Nanaimo part of long-term vision.

More hands-on, project-based learning and the establishment of a centralized trades academy in Nanaimo school district are part of a vision for the future of the learning alternatives program.

School officials want to bring the program more in line with 21st century learning practices such as applying classroom-gathered knowledge to real-world problems and allowing students to pursue areas that are applicable to career goals.

“It’s about meeting the needs of our students and offering educational options that are different from a regular classroom environment,” said Tim Davie, principal of the learning alternatives programs. “[Learning alternative students] have opted for a different learning environment.”

The district has both junior and senior learning alternatives in separate buildings, but the proposed facilities plan recommends relocating these programs to Nanaimo District Secondary School.

Davie said the proposed restructuring includes one alternatives centre encompassing Grades 10-12 students and adults; Grade 8 and 9 students would remain in their catchment schools, as decided by trustees during next year’s budget deliberations.

Phase 1 of the proposals also includes project-oriented trades programs, a mental health day treatment program, a parent-tot learning centre, and a natural resources-focused education for students in the aboriginal outreach program.

Davie said these proposals are basically an enhancement of what is already being done.

Learning alternatives already has woodworking and automotive shop classes; in a project-oriented trades program, the student would be doing woodworking or automotive all day for a semester instead of simply taking a class and all other subjects would be taught based around that project – the students would do a math lesson and then immediately apply it to the project.

The health treatment program aims to bring youth psychiatry, family therapy, youth addiction and other services together under the same roof as education services.

“Education is really only one piece of the puzzle,” said Davie. “We’re trying to put the focus on the multi-disciplinary approach. It’s something senior staff have been working on for some time.”

He said teachers are already going to integrated case management meetings for students with diagnosed mental illnesses, but having other agencies working out of the learning alternatives building will ensure more collaboration and comprehensive planning.

The parent-tot learning centre proposal – site not determined – is to have a childcare facility in the same building as educational services for parents or expecting parents. While there is currently a daycare next to a secondary school that teen parents can access, this proposal would have parents and children in the same building.

Davie said this will allow the district to offer healthy living and parenting courses alongside the education program and hopefully entice some young parents back to school.

“It’s really providing an opportunity to increase the life chances for both the young parents and their infant children,” he said.

The proposed change to the aboriginal outreach program is to orient education around natural resources projects.

Davie said projects could include stream restoration work or horticulture. As in the trades proposal, students would do the work all day, every day for a semester, with all the curriculum based around the projects.

A long-term goal for the department is to have a centralized trades school in the district.

“The drive for this is really coming first of all through the B.C. Jobs Plan,” said Davie.

He said school officials want to build a vision for a trades school with the help of shop teachers, Vancouver Island University and industry stakeholders, and pointed to the decrease in secondary shop programs over the past two decades as supporting the need for a centralized program where resources can be focused.

Trustees gave preliminary support to the proposed direction at last week’s education committee meeting and Davie hopes to move forward with at least some of the Phase 1 proposals in the fall.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said trustees who spoke at the meeting spoke in favour of the learning alternatives vision, particularly the effort to improve trades training programs.

“It’s moving the district forward, responding to a need that staff have identified and it opens up more opportunities for students,” he said