Families who register for the New Westminster school district’s online program next year need to be prepared to work in partnership with teachers.
That was the message from New Westminster school district staff at a virtual forum held Wednesday night (March 31) to provide information about the district’s new Grade 2 to 8 online program.
The district will offer the program in the 2021/22 school year if there’s enough demand.
Maureen McRae-Stanger, director of instruction, learning and innovation, said the program is building on the district’s experiences with offering an elementary online learning program this year.
“We wanted to make sure we were listening to our parent community and trying to meet the needs of our parents,” she said.
McRae-Stanger said the new program will not be the same as this year’s online offering, which was set up as a transitional program for families in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic – with the goal of getting students back into in-class instruction during the year. In the end, about 80 students who registered for the online program ended up back in their classrooms this year, she noted.
This year’s program offered a combination of independent study and class-based, real-time virtual learning, with students grouped into single or combined grades with one teacher. McRae-Stanger said the intent was to mirror, as much as possible, a face-to-face classroom experience.
“If we have enough enrolment for this (2021/22) program, it’s going to look a little bit different,” McRae-Stanger said.
PROGRAM REQUIRES COMMITMENT
For starters, the new program isn’t transitional. It will be offered through the Hume Park Home Learners’ Program, and it’s designed as a year-long program that families commit to for the full school year. There will also be less focus on the real-time, virtual class learning and more on independent, at-home learning on the students’ own time. Teachers will set up lessons for the students and provide weekly learning plans, but it will be up to families to decide how that learning takes place during the week.
Some real-time connections will happen – such as teacher check-ins and one-on-one support when required – but the main focus will be on at-home learning.
“That’s why it really matters that people are looking to be in a partnership with the program,” said Jennifer Scorda, principal of the Home Learners Program.
Pam Craven, who heads up the district’s online learning, said taking part in the program can be demanding for families – who must be able to provide both technical and learning support for students.
“It is hard work. You can’t just do things at the last minute. It is difficult and challenging for some people,” she said.
That said, though, Craven said the program can be a “really good fit” for many students, and she said the level of parental involvement required tends to decrease as students get older.
The program isn’t offered for kindergarten or Grade 1 students, since McRae-Stanger pointed out the district found it’s too challenging for young learners to master the basics of literacy and numeracy in an online-only environment.
The new Grade 2 to 8 online program will only run if there are enough families prepared to commit for the coming school year, and after that the district will review it annually.
“We’re trying something new here. We’re trying to see how it’s going to work as the years progress,” McRae-Stanger said.
Online applications for the new program open at 9 a.m. today (April 1) and remain open until 4 p.m. on April 16.
The district will review applications between April 16 and 19 and then begin contacting families to confirm their registration on April 20. Families must commit to their spot by April 23.
By April 30, the district will make a decision on whether the program will proceed.
It’s not yet certain whether families will be able to opt in to the program after that date, but McRae-Stanger said there’s a chance families may be able to make the decision later in the year – though, again, only if numbers allow.
All the details about the program can be found on the district’s website. A video recording of the online forum will also be posted there.