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Alternative learning provides Sooke students with a choice

Traditional schools not a good fit for all
Grad celebrations may be smaller at alternative schools, but students are spared the anxiety that large high schools can create. (Contributed)

Regular high school programs are not for everyone.

And while that has likely always been the case, Sooke school district has joined with other districts across the country to respond to that fundamental truth by offering alternatives for those students who have found that traditional schools have not met their needs.

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In Sooke, alternative education can be found at the Westshore Centre for Learning and Training.

“We’re a storefront alternative for students from grades 9 to 12, offering the same courses and education that they would get in a traditional school, but in a very different environment,” said Hammond Domenichelli, the head teacher at the Westshore Centre for Learning and Training.

“The kids who come to us are here for a variety of reasons, but whatever the reasons, it’s fair to say that mainstream school just didn’t work for them.”

One of the attractive features of alternative schooling is that the students can come and go as they please, within certain limitations.

“We have a morning and afternoon session, and all the students slot into one or the other when they register,” Domenichelli said.

“The assignments are all package based and they come in to pick up their work and can either stay and work and meet with the teacher or take the assignments home and return them when they’re done.”

The school employs only one head teacher but has a number of support teachers who are there for the students on specific days of the week. Included within the ranks of those additional staff are an aboriginal support teacher, a math and science teacher, a learning support teacher, and a student engagement facilitator.

That last position works to bridge the gap between the school and other community resources and will work in partnership between the school, the student, parents, and the service providers.

Keith Boggs, the principal of the Westshore Centre campus and a similar, albeit larger, campus in Colwood noted that, while there are a host of reasons for students to opt for an alternative school, some have simply found the anxiety generated by large impersonal schools to be a hindrance to learning.

“Schools are getting bigger, and more impersonal. We provide a smaller, more intimate setting where face to face, relationship-based learning is still possible,” Boggs said.

The enrolment at Westshore is 48 students, with a maximum capacity of 50 possible in the school.

“We don’t recruit students … they find us,” Boggs said.

And while the delivery of education is very different within alternative schools, the high school certificate received by graduates is the same Dogwood Certificate that conventional high schools award upon graduation.

“The stigma that alternative schools once had has changed in the past several years. Our students are just young people like any others but with life situations that make us a better fit. Some are with us because they work regular jobs, and it’s an economic necessity, for example. Others prefer relationship-based learning. I’m just happy that (Sooke school district) has made it possible to meet their needs.”

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