By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman
Southern Alberta Newspapers
The Holy Spirit Catholic School Division has created a new e-learning program to provide students with a flexible learning environment, inspired by the way students had to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The e-learning program will be a school in itself, that will offer Grades 4 to 12 and Daniel Vanden Dungen has been appointed principal. The program is creating a supportive environment for students to learn and adapt into differences in attendance, location, and in ways of doing school. Vanden Dungen has previous experience in a similar environment. He was the principal of an outreach school for low German Mennonite’s students in Vauxhall, AB for six years. During the past year, students from the Holy Spirit have had the opportunity to learn at home. This resulted in many parents asking for the possibility of continuing to do so, as their children have excelled better than in-person learning.
“The teachers who were teaching the at-home learning were based out of several different schools. One suggestion was to put this all together under one principle, sort of a united program and so that was one of the goals of starting up this new school,” said Vanden Dungen.
Part of that will be the Trinity Learning Centre, which has been operating under Catholic Central High School in Lethbridge for about 18 years, according to Vanden Dungen. He said the Trinity Learning Centre has been offering flexible alternatives for high school students for a very long time. Some of that has been changed overtime depending on the needs and depending on staff, and it may be a little different again next year.
“We’re still working on some of the details for that, but we will continue to offer flexible alternatives for high schoolers as well,” said Vanden Dungen.
Some students prefer and excel doing online schooling for various reasons. The reasons differ from one family to the next, sometimes it’s support for the families who would like to be involved at home and sometimes there can be health related reasons.
“We had a number of families who found that online learning worked really well for them. They said this works really well for their children and they experienced a lot of success. This way is the way we can continue to do this in the future, so the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division wanted to able to meet that need.”
Vanden Dungen said there are students who have always needed an alternative way of getting high school credits outside the traditional school system for various reasons. Sometimes there are students who their high school might not offer the courses that they need, when they need it, or sometimes related to family issues or sports issues or just timetabling issues. Vanden Dungen also mentioned that sometimes students need credit recovery. They may have tried to take an in-person course that wasn’t successful, and they would want to retake the course.
“Some students simply function better outside of a classroom environment. They need a more self-directed learning where they are setting the timeline for themselves. That’s always been the case at high school level, now we have the opportunity to service school grade 4 to 12 that will focus on the flexible learning.”
Vanden Dungen said that there has always been challenges with the way students learn and there has been a lot of research in the last few decades about how to make that more successful, how to make sure students are getting that immediate feedback.
“When I say flexible but also supportive, I think that’s what we really want to focus on with this program. We can start to notice where students are starting to flounder a little bit and be able to respond to that quickly.”
The e-learning program will be offering the same courses that a regular high school would be offering.
“The intention is to offer all of the core courses now. There may be some missing because we’re just starting out this year, even staffing is still being sorted out right now. When it gets to the very specialized high school courses, I don’t know right now whether I will have someone on staff yet who can support say physics 30 or calculus,” said Vanden Dungen.
He said that even though they might not be able to offer some courses to begin with, they still have resources to outsource the necessary materials to help students complete those specific courses.
“Another big reason that this is happening now, is that Alberta Distance Learning which has operated for almost 100 years in Alberta is folding this year at the end of June. So, school divisions are looking for alternatives to providing their own courses.”
In this first year of operation, they are going to try and offer as many courses as they can, but they are going to be growing the program as they go. It will be offered to those who fit the criteria among those who have expressed interest. For example, there has to be Internet access and devices and a commitment to having students prepared to be online and do the work. He said there will be no limit on class size for online learning for the first year, but that might change in the future.