Independent schools across the region are experiencing a spike in interest, but little in the way of new enrolment since the teacher strike began.
Uncertainty surrounding the ongoing negotiations has some families scrambling for alternatives, such as the distributing learning program offered by CHEKABC, a province-wide Christian home schooling program.
Kevin Bernhardt, the superintendent responsible for both Nelson Christian Community School (NCCS) and CHEKABC, told the Star that the distributed learning program has been averaging 10 to 15 new students per day for the past few weeks, while their bricks and mortar institution has not picked up any new charges.
“There’s been significant interest in both our home education and online programs, especially from Grade 12 students,” Bernhardt said.
“That’s been going on since early last week, and it’s been continuing. On average, they’re coming in for two online courses. So far we’ve taken 60 to 70 students, and that’s directly as a result of the strike.”
The distributed learning program connects a student with a teacher. Work gets submitted and marked by that teacher, either online or in print. There is no charge for the program.
“Most of our high school students are cross-enrolled, so they’re getting a jump start on their high school courses. They come to us because they’re afraid of not achieving the credits, and what we’re hearing from students and their families is they’re anxious. It’s been two weeks off now. They feel like they’re missing out or they won’t get the credits they need to graduate.”
Bernhardt said though they’ve had an increase in parents expressing interest in NCSS, none have actually enrolled yet. Other private schools have reported expressed interest from the community, but few if any parents have actually pulled the trigger and switched their children into the private system.
“We’ve had nibbles and queries. I would say people have been curious, but not serious,” said Beverly Barcham, administrator at Nelson Waldorf School.
She said she doesn’t believe the teacher’s strike will be responsible for bringing new students to her institution.
“In my experience, people come to Waldorf because they want a Waldorf education,” she said.
Barbarah Nicholl, vice principal of Self Design High School, echoed the sentiment.
“Our enrolment hasn’t really been affected at all, but our phone has been ringing off the hook,” she said. “We’ve been hearing from a lot of distressed youth and parents. And our conversation with them is we’re not interested in having a youth come into our school in a panic, and then going back when school starts. We’re not interested in a role like that,” she said.
Their staff have been having conversations with parents about the personalized education they offer, but so far no parents have transferred their kids.
“It’s an ongoing, frustrating thing. We support them to hold their place,” said Nicholl.
She emphasized that their school is a non-profit registered charity, not a “profit-motivated business”, and that their primary concern is creating relationships with people in the community.
Art Therrien, the superintendent of St. Joseph’s, said their enrolment has increased by about 3 to 5 per cent from last year in all their schools, which are also located in Cranbrook and Penticton.
“We’ve got students moving into our area, and they may be choosing our schools because of the situation. I would say we have a number of students coming in because of uncertainty,” he said.
But there’s no way to know for sure, he said, and there are other factors leading to the rise in the enrolment.
“For us, we have a good relationship with public schools and we want to maintain it,” said Therrien.