Caden Nickel

Caden Nickel

SD 27 distance education program growing

Back to school is just around the corner but some students in the Williams Lake area won’t be going back to the traditional setting.

Back to school is just around the corner but some students in the Williams Lake area won’t be going back to the traditional bricks and mortar school setting.

More and more parents these days are opting to home school their children.

While many parents may choose a private home-schooling curriculum, parents who really want to spare the private school expense can opt for the public home schooling or Distance Education option.

School District 27 has offered a home-school program for about 20 years, says Distance Education teacher Ann Pilszek.

In the beginning it was mostly families living in rural and remote settings who took advantage of the option, but these days many city dwellers are also happily choosing to home-school.

Today there are about 65 students in the kindergarten to Grade 10 Distance Education program, which includes an interactive, on-line component for grades 8 to 10 students.

In addition to following Ministry of Education approved curriculum, the program includes support from district teachers and staff, as well as activities that bring schooling at home students together for group learning activities.

The students study natural sciences every second week at the Scout Island Nature Centre, visit Gavin Lake forest education centre periodically and participate in various group arts, cultural and sporting activities.

Next year Abby Shoults and her husband Daniel will have four children in the Distance Education program.

“We home-school because we think it is a better choice for our kids,” Abby says.

“We get to be their mentors and choose who their mentors will be and instill in them the morals and standards we have.”

She says they started home schooling when their oldest child was in Grade 5 and they found she was losing her love for learning because she had to do things a certain way in the classroom setting.

Now home-schooled in  Grade 9, she says her daughter has regained her love for learning because she is learning in a more hands-on way at her own pace.

She says each child has his or her own learning style and they like the fact they can tailor their study programs to their individual children’s needs.

A child can advance faster in one area if they are able and take more time in a study area they find more difficult. She says they also enjoy the opportunities for integrating studies such as writing with social studies or history, or combining math and science studies.

“Every parent’s philosophy is a little different,” Abby says. “We can create a learning environment that best fits our own children.”

She says they started home schooling with another program and then switched to the School District 27 program and enjoy the support that is provided with the program. She says a teacher comes to their home every other week for some one-on-one time with their kids and to assess their progress and to suggest study materials and extra curricular activities.

She also enjoys the fact that the program provides group activities with opportunities for their children to socialize and mentor and be mentored by children of different ages.

“If you can afford to have one parent at home it is the way to go and the district is there to help us,” Abby says. “The school district is willing to get the learning materials we want as long as they can be used by everyone.”

Jennifer Nickel has been home schooling her son Caden, 11, for two years but has home-schooled all six of her children at various times.

Caden goes into Grade 6 this year and says he doesn’t miss regular school at all because he gets to spend more time at home and participate in activities with other home-schooled students.

He especially enjoyed outings with other students at Scout Island every two weeks and has been able to participate in all kinds of recreational activities such as karate, fencing, yoga, pottery, gymnastics, swimming and more.

“I’ve home schooled through a variety of home schools and this one (SD 27) has been amazing,” Nickel says.

Nickel says all six of her children have chosen different routes to education. One attends Maranatha Christian School. Two attend Columneetza Secondary. One is home schooled and she still has two preschoolers at home.

She says her older three sons attended regular elementary school, and enjoyed being home-schooled and doing more things with their parents through their middle school years. Then they were ready to go back into the regular school system to finish high school.

She says Caden works three days intensely on academic studies and has two days a week for hands-on activities and field trips.

Every two weeks a teacher visits them to help with grading and curriculum support.

Pilszek says parents may have the option of having home visits or bringing their students to the Distance Education offices at GROW, relocated last year to the Marie Sharpe Elementary grounds, for the consultations.

This year Pilszek says some of the other group learning activities for the intermediate to junior high age group included scrap-booking, personal planning, CORE hunter safety for students 10 and over, geocaching in the Williams Lake River Valley, a hike at Horsefly, and building bird houses.

While the support teachers for the Distance Education program provide assessments and evaluations of student progress Pilszek says: “The parents are truly the educators and we are the support.”

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Gaeil Farrar photo

Betty McLennan (left) helps Abby Shoults and her daughter Bella, 5, check out new resource books.