Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools chairman Steve Rae and Education Minister Rob Fleming chat before a group photo at John Barsby Secondary School. The minister was on a mid-Island tour on Monday. TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/News Bulletin

Education minister stops in Nanaimo during mid-Island tour

Aboriginal education, dual-credit program and wellness centre highlighted

Nanaimo school board chairman Steve Rae didn’t roll out the district’s wish list when B.C. Minister Rob Fleming stopped in Nanaimo on Monday.

The visit was all about building on relationships and celebrating district successes, according to Rae.

“We wanted to talk about the things we’ve accomplished over the last four years to move this district forward in a positive way and to talk about a little bit about the future,” he said.

Fleming was in Nanaimo to visit Vancouver Island University and John Barsby Secondary School as part of a mid-Island tour.

The tour started by looking at trades training partnerships and dual credit programs at VIU that are getting kids to seamlessly transition from high school into trades at the campus, said Fleming, who called it impressive and noted the goal is to do more to expand the scope of dual credit programs.

“We’re interested in that as a ministry, working with all school districts in B.C. to build on some of the strengths that have been established to give more kids a pathway to higher education,” said Fleming. “We really have to start thinking of this as a K-16 education system. Every time we fail a kid getting into higher education we’re really limiting their choice in the labour market and their ability to find a suitable career that will be a family-supporting job and will allow them to live in a strong, prosperous province.”

As well, Fleming looked the school district’s work with reconciliation and aboriginal education and also toured the John Barsby Wellness Centre, where students are able to get sexual health support, see doctors for antibiotics or talk about mental health without leaving the school.

Fleming said it’s an innovative model other districts are looking at, pointing to a recent mental health symposium that included education leaders and medical professionals and generated ideas around a mental health strategy.

“One of the things that we hear about in terms of what classrooms are like today, what adolescence is like in British Columbia is there’s a lot of stress and anxiety that often prevents student success,” he said, adding there’s a need to be more proactive and children in early grades are being taught to identify what may worry them and that it’s OK to talk about it. “Reducing the stigma around mental health is one of our key goals and this is a school that has done it incredibly well and it’s seamless, its integrated, you don’t have ministries arguing who should pay for this, it just exists and it’s doing really well.”

NDSS is full for next year and has turned away out-of-catchment applications for sport academies. Asked if it’s realistic to expect the ministry to help, such as with funding for infrastructure or expansion, Fleming told the News Bulletin the ministry will look at the district’s new capital plan.

He said there are tremendous demands on capital funding around B.C. with a lot of neglect and backlog on much-needed projects.

However, he also said when districts have key ingredients, such as the partnerships NDSS has, its potential and how well it’s working with local government and post-secondary providers, and when they can demonstrate the new building is needed for seismic safety reasons and goals around education and choice they can offer different kinds of students, those are the kinds of things that lead to “investment decisions that might be favourable.”

“So we’ll certainly look forward to hearing more from the district,” he said. “I understand it’s now their No. 1 priority so we’ll look at that and we’ll look at the demographics of growth in Nanaimo too to make sure that that’s factored in.”

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