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Class changes planned for fall semester at W.R. Myers High School

Posted on July 2, 2014 by Taber Times

Students, staff and parents at W.R. Myers High School will encounter a redesigned class system during the 2014-2015 school year aimed at keeping pace with the needs of the 21st century learner. 

Students and parents attended a presentation last week at the high school, entitled “Moving Forward with High School Redesign” which detailed many of the changes they should expect in the new school year, and reasons behind the move to change the status quo.

“Primarily what’s new at Myer’s for next year is something that comes from high school redesign,” said principal Johanna Kutanzi.

“About five years ago, the province of Alberta started enforcing, started enabling, started allowing schools to meet some of the ideas and vision behind Inspiring Education. Inspiring Education was a huge undertaking by Alberta Education — some of you may have gone to focus groups, or filled out surveys — and they focused on what should education in Alberta look like by 2030. What does the educated Albertan look like in the year 2030? 2030 is only 14 years from now. So it’s not too far away. So Inspiring Education looks at Alberta and looks at education, and says what do we need to change?”

Under the new program, a student’s day will begin at 8:30 a.m. featuring an 80 minute learning block followed by a 10 minute break from 9:50 to 10 a.m. Another 80 minute learning block commences at 10 a.m. and will be followed by lunch from 11:20 to 11:55 a.m. Block three (80 minutes) will span 11:55 to 1:15 p.m., and will be followed by the integration of a 40 minute period of independent learning time, ending with a five minute break at 1:55 p.m.

The final 80 minute learning block of the day will begin at 2 p.m. and end at 3:20 p.m.

“The high school experience that your kids have currently may not look that much different from what you experienced when you went to school,” said Kutanzi.

“So Inspiring Education came out and said is that really reality? Is life today the same as it was in 1980? That’s the message that people gave Alberta Education, and Inspiring Education is pushing forward a lot of initiatives, and one of those initiatives is high school redesign. Initially nine schools in the province signed up for the pilot, and then it was 16 schools, and now it’s 200 or more schools, and we are one of them.”

On Fridays, students will attend four 50 minute learning periods in the morning, broken up by three five minute breaks, with school ending as usual at 12:05 p.m.

“One of the things that high school redesign really wants to do is cultivate a learner that is a little more independent, because let’s face it, your teachers do a lot for you,” said Kutanzi.

“It’s not that your teachers will stop doing a lot for you, but it might look different. We’re just baby-steps into this new road, this new road will take us three, five, seven years — it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. One of the first things that we’ve done is implement independent learning time.”

Independent learning time (ILT) is described as a place in the day for every student to meet their individual learning needs.

From Monday to Thursday, time is blocked for students to seek attention to their individual learning needs, and will be used to seek out teachers for help, make up missed work, complete course work, refresh or refocus, or complete extended learning experiences such as projects, labs and essays. 

“One thing that we found out really quickly from our students is that they are stressed, and the big place that they are stressed is time,” said vice-principal Mark Harding.

“Time relates to stress through school, their course work which they have to do outside of school time, they’re stressed because many of them are engaged in part-time jobs, they’re involved in numerous activities — they’re just very, very busy. It’s like the wired world doesn’t shut off.”

At the end of block three, teachers will indicate the beginning of ILT. Students will be required to attend unless they have been given permission (free pass) into the larger school to persue their own personal learning goals.

“One of the things that we’re really trying to do for them is integrating a little bit of time during the day for them,” said Harding. “This is new for us, and there’s going to be a lot of questions from our students, on the part of parents. There’s a lot of crossroads coming together at Alberta Education for change, and it’s an really interesting time to be teaching at this school, because it’s a game changer. We know that this current model doesn’t work as well for kids as it could. That’s why we created ILT for students. We’ve got it booked into our student’s afternoons every day.”

Far from being a traditional unsupervised “spare” period, every student will complete a daily journal and meet with their ILT teacher on a weekly basis.

Goals for each class are set and students will outline what they will do with their ILT. Communication between students, parents and teachers is viewed as vital for success.

“Most people don’t like change. We’re doing this because we think it will have a positive impact on our students,” said Harding.

“But we realize that we need to be flexible, that things need to be adjusted along the way.”

The success of the new system will be gauged through data collection on course completion rates, exam results, and survey results, which will help determine if ILT is effective and improving successful course completion rates. 

“The way that things are going to be changing over the next couple of years, and have started changing, is that there’s many pathways now,” said vice-principal Greg Thompson. “Our trades people are taking totally different pathways, and somebody that is university bound, college bound — it’s really different. So the question is how do we encompass 500 kids and get them into something that is all going to work for them.”

Some of the foundations and goals of the province’s high school redesign include mastery of learning, a rigourous and relevant curriculum, personalization, flexible learning environments, educator roles and professional development, meaningful relationships, home and community involvement, assessment, and the creation of welcoming, caring, respectful and safe environments and attitudes.

Parents and students can find out more about the provincial high school redesign at http://ideas.education.alberta.ca/hsc/redesigning.


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