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Pender Harbour school finds a new way

Pender Harbour school finds a new way

ColumnHead-DaveMewhortPender Harbour Elementary Secondary is a very small school with only 75 students. This had created challenges including achieving full classes (especially in senior grades) and fewer opportunities for students. Rather than compromising their programs, the administration and staff embarked on a two-year consultation that ended with a dramatically modified timetable. The school changed to a five-period day and eliminated the bells. Direct classroom instructional time was reduced to two classes per week instead of the customary five. These two classes focus on concepts, the balance of course work is done in the library, under the supervision of two teachers.  These “seminars” include all grades and subjects with students deciding which subject to focus on in each seminar.

This is student-directed education at its best and earned PHESS an “Innovation Grant” in 2014-2015, one of 17 awarded in the province.  Patrick Bocking, Superintendent of Schools, commented, “the standard timetable assumes all students need the same time to achieve success in each subject.  This isn’t true; some need more time, others less.”

The approach is so unique that when the Ministry of Education’s auditors came to PHESS last month to count students and ensure all students are getting the prerequisite instruction, their template for counting didn’t work.  They loved the concept but couldn’t do the audit.  After a full day of brain-storming with school and district staff, they developed a process to complete their audit. When completed, they were elated with the concept and very supportive of the approach. The 75 students are taking the same number of courses that would normally be available in a school with 10 additional students.  Students can take virtually any course they want in this timetable. Principal April McKnight and staff will develop a course and offer it in the “Library Blocks”. The students help each other and learn from each other, resulting in a strong sense of community.

An “Energy Ambassadors” program is also offered in conjunction with the Sunshine Coast Solar Association and Clear Energy Solutions. The school is learning how to convert to a solar-powered school.  A solar trailer is on site collecting power from the sun and storing it in dozens of batteries. On Earth Day the school spent the afternoon on solar power alone. The school has also worked closely with the Iris Griffith Centre to offer courses on salmon research and coastal ecological stewardship.

Pender Harbour Elementary – Secondary has always been unique: they have a pool and start at Grade 7. Now they are recognized for innovation as well. As Director of Instruction Paul Bishop suggests: “kids explore their true interests, which helps them in school and in life”.

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