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Low enrolment raises questions about School District 8’s alternative education program

REACH currently only has five students
School District 8’s alternative education program REACH is based in Central School. Photo: Tyler Harper

School District 8’s superintendent says the Nelson-based alternative education program REACH is not being considered for cancellation despite low enrolment.

The district gave an update on the program at its Dec. 13 board meeting after trustee Murray Shunter inquired about the state of REACH.

The program for Grade 10-to-12 students, who have social, emotional or educational needs not being met by conventional schools, has annually had 13-to-22 pupils enrolled. But participation dropped from 13 to six students for the 2021-2022 school year, and only five students are currently in REACH.

Superintendent Trish Smillie told the Nelson Star that programs are evaluated early in the new year as the district puts together its annual budget, but there has been no discussion about cutting REACH. Shunter’s inquiry, she said, was based on incorrect information.

“It’s a conversation that’s been brought up by others but not the district,” said Smillie. “So it’s not even a thing on anyone’s radar at this point.”

REACH isn’t the district’s only alternative education program. Sequoia, based out of Mount Sentinel Secondary, offers the same supports and currently has 15 students enrolled.

Smillie said she didn’t know why there is a disparity in enrolment between the two programs. She speculated a focus on inclusive supports in Nelson’s schools were helping keep students in the main education programs.

“We assume, because we have the same entry procedures for both Sequoia and for REACH, that it’s just the population in [the Mount Sentinel] area that is requiring that support at this time.”

The district’s response to Shunter’s inquiry stated the only change to REACH was moving its youth care worker in September 2021 over to Sequoia in response to the low enrolment. (Long-time teacher Travis Sherstobitoff remains with REACH.) Program referrals can still be made by teachers, families or even students themselves.

Students aren’t expected to stay with the programs through graduation, although some do.

REACH and Sequoia are considered Type 3 Alternate Programs by the Ministry of Education, which requires an exit plan to help each student transition either back to their neighbourhood school or online learning program. The ones who do graduate are also assisted with work or post-secondary education options.

Questions about REACH come as the district faces scrutiny over changes to its outdoor education programs.

In November, SD8 announced the popular Adventure, Tourism, Leadership and Safety course also known as ATLAS would have its avalanche safety component moved out of the backcountry in order to comply with WorkSafeBC regulations.

Parents, students and alumni, who have said the change will ruin what is regarded as a vital part of ATLAS, spoke during the Dec. 13 board meeting during with Smillie agreed to a meeting with stakeholders in January.

A petition against the changes had 1,846 signatures as of Dec. 15.


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Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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