Distance education school getting into arts, tech, engineering, robotics

A pair of new programs in line with 21st Century Learning are on the horizon for the North Island Distance Education School.

A pair of new programs in line with 21st Century Learning are on the horizon for the North Island Distance Education School. In conjunction with the Comox Valley School District, NIDES plans to open a Fine Arts eCademy and an eCademy of New Technologies, Engineering and Robotics (ENTER) in September.The former will accommodate 100 to 150 students from kindergarten to Grade 9 at NIDES’ Tsolum School campus while the latter is tailored for about 60 students from Grades 6 to 8 at Aspen Elementary in Comox. Both programs will offer blended learning that combines face-to-face instruction and online, distributed learning. “Up to now NIDES has only offered one day of face-to-face instruction and we’re stretching that to three days,” NIDES principal Jeff Stewart said Monday. “We can do things that other schools really can’t do. I think there’s a time for change.”The programs will offer personalized learning tailored to students’ interests and lifestyles. They will also appeal to parents who want to be more involved in the learning process.”We’ve got to realize that parents have diverse interests; they have different lifestyles,” Stewart said. “They’re not simply working nine to five, five days a week any more. We want to offer parents more choice.”We believe that, through the 21st Century Learning theory, we need to shift the learning on its head so we’re not simply trying to inject curriculum into kids’ brains. We’re trying to turn them onto learning and then we’ll attach the other pieces. And you turn them onto learning by going after what they’re passionate about.” Lucy Slater, a parent who teaches fine arts at Arden Elementary, feels the programs will offer a safe place for students to take risks. The Fine Arts eCademy, she added, will not just accommodate the elite but will appeal to all students who love the arts. “It can be for every child,” she said. “It (fine arts) joins all cultures around the world.”She advocates a greater amount of parent involvement, and mentorship involving older students who tend to get lost in the middle school years. “It’s more close knit here,” Slater said. “You’re looking at four to eight mentors that your child is going to be able to go to.”Helene McGall, retired district vice-principal for fine arts and aboriginal education, concurs fine arts is not about elitism.”What we’re exploring in fine arts is the process of exploration, we’re not focusing on the end product, and that is a huge, huge difference,” said McGall, who is not aware of any other Canadian school that is approaching the arts from this perspective. “We’re focusing on lifelong learning.”Students enrolled in either program will be integrated in the community by way of guest speakers and outside projects. “There’s so much out there,” Stewart said. “It is so rich, but we’re sort of living in different worlds and we shouldn’t be.”   Further information about both programs is available Dec. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. at NIDES and Dec. 8 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Mark Isfeld Secondary. Additional information nights will be held Jan. 16 from 6 to 8 p.m. at NIDES and Jan. 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Isfeld. For more information, call Stewart or NIDES vice-principal Alissa Pratt at 250-337-5300.reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com