High school may not gel with every student, which is why the Pacific Coast School exists.
For students who need more flexibility and who are looking to graduate, the second chance school is an alternative option.
Before entering the multipurpose room replete with leather couches, computers, a TV and even a gym, students pass under the Pacific Coast School sign in the hallway that reads Su Sit’aatk — or “new beginnings” in Kitsumkalum.
The high school follows the B.C. curriculum and is designed to be a shared site for all students who require more flexibility, said the principal and part-time teacher, Susan Kobza.
“We have some teen parents, we have students that work and live on their own and have a hard time making ends meet so they need to be able to deal with things sometimes and can’t be here everyday for five hours a day and can’t meet that rigorous schedule,” Kobza said.
The school is funded through the Ministry of Education for alternative students. There are three full time teachers and Kobza to instruct and assist around 100 students. There are three classrooms where students may be studying math or science simultaneously through an online program through different units and levels. The teacher is there for students when they need one-on-one assistance.
Courses run all year round. “Some may go away for two weeks to do a course out of work and when they return they can basically continue where they left off from. There’s no bookends, there’s no ‘It starts Sept. 8 and you’re done by Jan. 29 and if you’re not done you fail the course’ like at the regular high school. So they can continue on until they finish the course,” Kobza said.
The Pacific Coast School doesn’t have all the electives available at Charles Hays Secondary School so students have the option to cross enrol in both traditional and alternative schools. Some students go to Charles Hays to take wood shop or automotive and then take English courses at Pacific Coast.
Another cross-enrolment program was added this year for students who want to take the welding program at the Northwest Community College. Three students are keeping busy trying the option out and there may be more in the future.
The school started out at the Friendship House with only approximately 15 students in 2007. Jan Currie, has been working for the school since its inception and is now the secretary. She remembers when the partnership ended the students went to Charles Hays for a semester that didn’t go well.
“They’re just not as comfortable there,” Currie said. The school relocated near Tim Horton’s but soon outgrew the space there. For the past four years the school has been at the Ocean Centre Mall on Second Avenue West.
“I say this is a place too where students who do have anxiety get comfortable here and then they’re willing to take some risks like go on the treks and go out of town for a day trip or do outdoor things that at first they’re kind of reluctant to do,” Currie said including that the school runs an outdoor trek once a month.
Each year Currie and Kobza are seeing improvements in graduation rates. In 2015, 18 students graduated and this year they’re hoping for 20.
“We have some that go to post secondary trades, some are working. We’ve had a real change in just our students being more focused and structured. We’ve had a lot that have applied for summer jobs and been successful,” Kobza said. The teachers provide a reference for the students and help them with their resumes.
“I think it’s the work that we’re doing here getting them ready, improving their skill set for going into the real world.”
There are some students enrolled, such as 18-year-old Kendall Clark, who needs to upgrade his science credits but also decided to take the opportunity to study visual media arts. He has plans to get into sports broadcasting or even start his own YouTube channel.
Clark said he feels more relaxed at the Pacific Coast than he did in the traditional school system. “I like that I get to do things at my own pace,” he said, whether it’s faster or slower. He also likes that the teachers are more accessible.
One of Clark’s teachers is Jeremy Janz who focuses on project based learning.
“Rather than having a teacher heavy course the students themselves direct it and the teacher facilitates the students’ projects,” Janz said. He pointed out a current project his students are working on for a technology course.
The students are attempting a smaller-scaled version of the China’s Ubuntu OpenStack computer operating system. The project involves taking six donated computers and running their systems parallel to create a supercomputer.
Clark said the project is a metaphor for the school. “If you come here you weren’t compatible with your high school. We’ve taken past opportunities and reformed them into something new.”