Enrollment at both valley high schools is several students more than anticipated this year, but both schools are still wrestling with the realities of being small.

McBride Secondary is at 96 students and just over seven full-time equivalent teachers this semester. In Valemount the number of students is 71, with just over five teachers.

In Valemount, Principal Dan Kenkel is now teaching part-time after two staff members left at the end of last year and were not replaced. McBride’s principal is also teaching.

“We’re trying to do more with less, so we’re all feeling it, myself included,” Kenkel says.

Both schools are continuing their effort to promote online learning in addition to classroom-based. McBride Secondary Principal Derrick Shaw says in McBride one student found a Computer Science course out of Virginia that he wanted to take and staff found a way for him to take it for credit.

Secondary schools are funded for one block per year per student if a student takes distance education so the school can provide teacher support for that course, Shaw says. In these cases, attendance has to be taken and the distance learning still takes place in a classroom, though the curriculum is hosted elsewhere and the student does mostly self-directed learning. Shaw says they have 6-7 students taking distance education courses so far this year.

In addition to distance learning, Shaw says they are also using video conferencing technology, combined with one of the fastest internet connection speeds among rural BC schools (Valemount also has an ultra-fast connection) to bring experiences like live autopsies and surgeries into classrooms for students.

These video conferences are often used in classroom-based courses to enhance the learning, Shaw says. This December the Biology 12 class will have the opportunity to observe a live kidney transplant via video conference through Columbus University. There’s a nominal service fee that covers educational materials sent to McBride students for study prior to the broadcast.

The school has frequently used a free site called HECTV.org that gives schools access to live workshops on every subject under the sun, where local students can have their questions submitted to the speaker prior to the talk and have them answered on-air.

Shaw says McBride is nearly always the only Canadian school to take part.

McBride Secondary is also running an extended version of Health and Career Education 9. He says last year they had a lot of councillor time with Gr. 9 students. He hopes the course will help address the anxiety and stress that comes with adolescence.

They have opted to replace the semester-long information
technology course with the health and career course.

“I think the time in front of teachers is better spent addressing some of the social and emotional needs they come through the door with, more so than the lack of technological skills.”

“Everyone can benefit from the stuff they’re doing in there.”

A new counsellor has been hired for the valley, Sumeet Parmar. He has been hired to cover all four valley schools.

Shaw says there has been a need for a certified counsellor at valley schools for some time.

McBride’s Drama teacher is back this semester – residents should watch for a play likely later in the year.

In Valemount, students are beginning their mornings differently this year – with a morning gathering. Kenkel says he hopes students will take over the facilitation of these meetings which bring the whole school together before breaking off into classes.

They have opted not to do the advisory classes, which would have brought together students of different grades for a “home room” scenario in the mornings. Kenkel says they didn’t have time to implement both advisory class and morning gathering.

He says this year is the transition year that is headed towards more Moodle (a type of teacher-facilitated online learning) and project-based learning. One of the project-based learning initiatives that began last year – a 12ft x12ft log cabin – is nearly complete. Students, staff and log home builder Gordon Carson helped see through the project. They have not yet decided where the cabin will go, but Kenkel says they may auction it off.

The new greenhouse was also a success, Kenkel says. The harvest included spinach, cantaloupe, tomatoes, corn, and sunflower seeds.

“It was a really big success for our first year, especially starting as late as we did.”

Staff took turns looking after it over the summertime. The greenhouse will link in with a garden that is in the works behind the school and be setting for the Garden & Orchard course the school plans to offer. Kenkel says they are all looking at opportunities and seeing the potential despite declining enrollment.

“I’ve put some expectations on staff that we’re going to be experimenting and putting this into practice this year.”

“We know we have to do things differently and we have to change; sometimes that push can be a good thing.”

Kenkel also wants to counter the perennial rumour that the school is closing. He posted a “rant” on the school’s facebook page about the negative gossip.

“We are here to stay. Please. Do not fall into the irresponsible habits of gossip, speculation and fear mongering. It DOES have a negative effect and perpetuates the rumours and doubt about our school and community. At school, I hold students to account for what they say, and our code of conduct expects of students that they respect the reputation of the school. I would hope that parents and the community would set a positive example.”

He says there has always been a rumour that the school is closing and that has never been considered by the Province or the school district, given the school funding formula.