Two innovative education programs in the Comox Valley are proving popular with parents and students.
"ENTER, (eCademy of New Technology, Engineering and Robotics), all the kids that could re-register for next year have re-registered, so they're all coming back that can," says Jeff Stewart, principal of Navigate powered by NIDES' (North Island Distance Education School). "At Fine Arts eCademy (FAE), about three-quarters of the parents so far have responded to the re-registration, so there'll be some spaces for new students next year but not a huge number.
"So if that's a measure, things have gone very well."
Piloted in September, each program uses students' natural interests to help them learn; FAE is offered to kindergarten to Grade 9 students and uses fine arts, while the Grade 6 to 8 ENTER program uses science and technology.
The programs feature three days per week of in-class project-based learning, and two days of distributed learning, (previously called distance learning), through Navigate. FAE is based out of Navigate (located at the former Tsolum Elementary School site), while ENTER is based out of Aspen Park Elementary School.
Grade 9 FAE student Dale Hollands attended another Comox Valley school before starting the FAE program at Navigate this year. She said she struggled in school before but really enjoys it now.
"It was just a busy class and it was difficult to learn, I have some learning disabilities so it's difficult for me to learn kind of the way they were doing it, but this way it's easier for me, and I get a lot of questions so it's easier for me to ask them," she says.
"I really enjoy our class and how it's like a family, and the different things we do at school."
Stewart adds the school wasn't expecting that feeling of family and interconnectedness to be such a large part of FAE.
"The social emotional piece around the children is a part that we hadn't anticipated as being so big, but it's absolutely huge," he says. "So that sense of belonging, that sense of being nurtured, that sense of interconnection between the kids and the faculty, because all the teachers know all the children, they don't just have their own class."
Multi-age classes, parent-teacher-student meetings every six weeks to look at each student's progress, teacher collaboration, and community integration are all important aspects of the programs.
Parent Advisory Council executive member Gesa Ward already re-registered her two children in FAE. She says the personalized learning and the freedom of the program are what attracted her.
"It gives us more breathing space so it's not rush, rush, rush all the time," she says during the FAE grand opening celebration and open house this week. "I've seen kids that were so shy that suddenly were up on stage singing and have no qualms about it. It's freedom to be who you want to be."
She says most of the parents she talks to are really happy with the programs, but some have struggled with the distributed learning aspect.
Stewart agrees the distributed learning part of the programs needs to grow, but he says the school is working on it and things are coming along well.
He also notes the Ministry of Education recently completed a quality review, and it was impressed.
"They were very big on the programs — they said, from their words, 'This is the future of education,'" recalls Stewart.
For more information on the programs including how to register, visit www.navigatenides.com.