Program counteracting ‘fire-hose’ teaching method in Comox Valley School District

A pilot program helping students struggling through the traditional school system is back because it's working well.

A School District 71 pilot program helping students struggling through the traditional school system is starting its second year this semester because it worked well for the first.

“It was very successful. We took in 15 students. Out of those 15 students, 13 re-enrolled in Vanier,” said teacher Dave Munro, adding that attendance was improved by 57 per cent. “They’re passing all their courses, which is a far cry from where they were last year.”

The Building Essential Skills Today (BEST) program, piloted during the 2010/2011 school year, was designed to offer struggling students an alternative way to learn. These Grade 10 or 11 students then go back into the regular school system the following year.

The students came from Vanier Secondary School, Glacier View Learning Centre, the Nala’atsi Program and Navigate, (formerly North Island Distance Education).

Munro said he started by helping students figure out why they weren’t doing well in school.

“Probably 65 to 70 per cent felt that they were being fed with a fire hose,” said Munro. “The information was just coming too fast, they couldn’t process it as fast as the teacher needed them to before they moved on.

“Thirty kids in the class doesn’t give the kids enough time to make connections with the teachers to get their issues addressed, so they start falling behind, they start getting lousy marks, they start not caring, they start not showing up, and clearly falling off the rails.”

The program uses 21st-century learning methods like project-based learning and giving students more freedom to choose what they will learn. Students take Communication 11, Science and Technology 11, Industrial Design 11 and Work Experience 12A for a total of 16 credits towards their high school diploma.

Students spend their full school day in class with Munro and are not part of the regular school system at all for the duration of the semester program. Munro said he is more of a facilitator than a teacher, and the projects are designed to teach students core skills, while using topics they’re interested in.

“For example, one of the girls, (registered for this year), I know is really interested in horses, that’s what lights her fire, that’s her passion, so I’m going to connect all of the curriculum to that for as long as she’s interested in that,” explained Munro.

He said research projects could be what makes up a healthy diet for a horse or an investigation into possible careers working with horses, and work experience could include helping out at a local stable.

According to Munro, the goal of the program is to change the way these students view learning, and recondition them to do better in traditional classrooms.

Vanier student Tamara Tasche took the program last year and said she is finding school easier this year.

“I feel more motivated or maybe more confident, but either way I’m doing good in school,” said Tasche. I’m “learning to manage my life more and appreciate the values of school.”

Comox Valley Record