Teachers’ strike raises profile of alternatives to public school

The disruption of the regular school year left some families looking at alternative methods of education.

School resumed this week after the labour dispute between the teachers of B.C. and the provincial government ended with a negotiated settlement, but the disruption of the regular school year left some families in the valley looking at alternative methods of education.

“Our cross-enrolled program is three times bigger than last year,” said superintendent of BC Online School Greg Bitgood. “We had to cap our program because we just don’t have the teaching staff.”

Cross-enrolled programs give students the option of completing credits at more than one school. Students in Grades 10 to 12 were on standby during the strike, and without switching schools, online education allows them to earn credits on their own time for a fee.

He said that normally around 1,500 students have enrolled by this time of year, but that number had jumped to nearly 7,000 as of last week. With the strike concluding, Mr. Bitgood expects around 4,000 of those students to follow through with their online programs.

Mr. Bitgood said that full-time enrolment, which requires attendance at its Kelowna campus, has grown about 15 per cent over this time last year, but only attributes five to eight per cent to the teachers’ strike.

“We normally grow about seven to 10 per cent each year,” he said.

Because administrative staff were still employed at public schools, textbooks and learning tools were available for students and parents to borrow during the strike.

Scheduled study groups at the College of the Rockies Invermere Campus, which is adjoined to the high school, gave older students the opportunity to avoid falling behind while classes were out.

And the deadline for registering homeschooled students, firmly set for Tuesday, September 30th, had some parents considering the idea.

“B.C.’s really great at supporting homeschooling,” said Invermere resident Athena Hunt, who homeschooled her son Japhy (now a student at David Thompson Secondary School) from kindergarten through to Grade 7. “They give you great physical and online resources.”

Mrs. Hunt said that it was important for her son to study a personalized curriculum with one-on-one learning, and that five other homeschooled children around his age from the valley would meet once a week for a social learning activity. She and her husband decided high school was a good time for Japhy to begin public education, since everybody is new to the environment.

“Grade 8 was a perfect age for him to enter public school because everybody’s in the same boat,” said Mrs. Hunt. “They’re kind of lost in this big school and all going through the same thing.”

Once he was part of the public system, he had no trouble fitting in, she said.

“A lot of people see the social aspect as the biggest downside of homeschooling, but really it didn’t affect it all that much.”

The most crucial resource needed to homeschool is time on the part of the parents. Parents and the closest school both receive financial compensation for students learning from home.

To find out more, visit www.bced.gov.bc.ca/home_school.