Parent Educator Newsletter Vol 1 Issue 1
NOTE: This newsletter is posted as an interesting historical look at educational options in the Haida Gwaii School District in 1999. Also, although 15 years or so have passed, many of the options and suggestions found in this newsletter are still viable, and will be of interest to those looking for information on educational alternatives in British Columbia.
N. Hill, Pub. Volume No. 1 Issue No. 1 Jan. 1999
What is a Parent Educator?
If you are a parent – or grandparent or guardian – you are an educator! The Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 10th ed defines an educator as “one skilled in teaching.” Before you protest that your teaching skills and experience are minimal or nonexistent, answering the following questions:
Who taught your child to eat, dress, tidy up, use all kinds of tools (pencils, scissors, fork & spoon), practice cleanliness, talk, look at picture books, make things? You – of course! And di you require years of special training and certification? Of course not.
Still protesting your ability to teach? Who knows your child better than you do? Who cares about your child more than you do? Who knows your child’s background and circumstances better than you? Who then is most qualified to make important educational decisions regarding your child?
In terms of formal scholastic education, parent educators may take a wide variety of roles, ranging from simply keeping track of a child’s public school education, and helping with homework, through active involvement as a parent volunteer in the school system, to providing special tutors or enroling the childing extra educational programs, to placing the child in different public or private shools, or even removing the child from the public system and home schooling. Parent educators also often become involved in Parent Advisory Committees or other educational organizations, or even become school trustees.
Public School Options in SD 50
School District 50 (Queen Charlottes/Haida Gwaii) is one of the smallest districts in BC. In the recent reorganization and consolidation of BC School District, the Islands were left as a separate district due to their geographical isolation. There are presently 2 secondary schools, 1 elementary-junior secondary, and 3 elementary schools. Because of limited numbers of students and staff, there are also limited options in course selections, specialized staffing (counselors, remedial teachers, ESL, etc), although the district is to be commended for attempting to compensate in as many of these areas as possible. These situations, and other factors, such as cultural and economic difference from the “average” BC school, have resulted in standardized test scores which appear to be among the lowest in the province. Yet this district is at the same time noted for locally developed programs such as the Outdoor Recreation program, and the Haida Studies program. The school in Sandspit has an outstanding record for Science Fair accomplishments. There has been impressive cooperation between the Haida Nation and the School District in many ways. Still, many parents have found that there is a local of alternatives for the particular needs of individual children. In the past this has led to many children attending off-island schools, entire families moving away, and other children home schooling. Recently, the district has tried to address these issues with several initiatives.
Alternative Public School Programs
In 1996, School District 50 introduced the EBUS (Electronic Busing) program, a home-based, computer-assisted K-10 educational program which uses the BC public school curriculum, and is under the responsibility of the local School District. Parents teach their children at home, using the computers with educational software provided by the District. They also have an “EBUS teacher” at a local school who is available to assist them from time to time, as well as access to the school library and various textbooks and other learning materials. Some local schools also encourage student participation in school activities ranging from sports teams to science and art fairs, and even certain school classes such as PE or Haida Studies. As students complete their EBUS programs each year, they are given public school equivalent report card credits.
A second alternative, mostly for senior secondary students and adults, is the computer-based “Learning Centers.” Here students may pursue individual courses, or work to complete their secondary diploma. The Learning Centers provide not only the courses taught in the schools locally, but also other courses which students may need for specific future career or educational objectives, providing a greater degree of equality of choice with students in larger centers. The flexible hours of the L.C. are helpful for students who must work or raise children. Teachers are also available along with the computers and other learning materials provided.
A third option, available this year for the first time in a number of years, in some areas, is an “Alternative School” program at both elementary and secondary levels. Fully qualified special education teachers work intensively with children for whom the normal classroom situation has failed. The program concentrates on teaching strong basic learning skills and also on teaching useful life skills and employment preparation.
A fourth option, which has been used by parents in this district for many years, is “BC Correspondence School” education. Although this K-12 program is not directly controlled by the local district, the Correspondence Schools closely follow the BC Curriculum, and provide an education equivalent to that of highly academic BC secondary schools. Recent changes in the program are introducing the use of computers and other modern technology, in addition to the traditional correspondence course approach. Almost all materials required for the program are provided by the Ministry of Education through the Correspondence Schools. The program does require a high level of motivation and persistence, but can be a very rewarding home learning option within the public school system
Options Beyond the Public Schools
Over the years, Islands’ parents concerned about their children’s educations have either moved away from the Islands, or sent their children to boarding schools, or to live with friends off-island where they would have access to other public school options. However, for many families this option is economically, socially, or philosophically unfeasible.
A group of parents in the Queen Charlotte City area joined together in the past few years, therefore, and started a private community school. This school, which emphasizes parental participation and strong student community, has been very successful for those who have chosen the option, and the parents who developed it and who are maintaining this option are to be commended. Parent groups in other communities have also been looking into the possibility of these alternative schools. Port Clements, for example, proposed a School District/Community joint venture for a junior secondary school, but the District found themselves unable to work toward that goal at present.
A third option which a number of Island parents have exercised over the years, is independent home schooling, which is a legal option under the BC Schools Act. These families may operate very independently, or may join other home schooling parents in well-organized support groups. Finally, parents often provide extra educational help for their children by tutorial means (themselves or hired tutors outside school hours), or involvement in initiatives such as the Old Massett Homework Night.
According to the BC Schools Act, parents may provide their child with an education in the home. The act states that “A parent…may educate the child at home or elsewhere…and shall provide that child with an educational program.” An “educational program” is defined as “an organized set of learning activities that, in the opinion of…(c)the parent, in the case of learning activities provided to a child registered under section 13 [the Home Education section], is designed to enable learners to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy, democratic and pluralistic society and a prosperous and sustainable economy.” The term “parent” refers to the child’s legal guardian or person who usually has care and control of the child. Home schooling parents are required to register their children as home schooling students each year before September 30 at a public or private BC School, or correspondence school. After that registration, the parent is free to develop the educational program which they feel will be best suited for that child in terms of his or her citizen ship in our society.
Independent home schoolers’ approaches vary widely, just as do the needs of their children and families. Some home schoolers use a “school-at-home” approach in which they follow a (usually commercial) curriculum in a manner very similar to the school classroom example. They may purchase a curriculum which they teach to their children themselves (usually either a workbook correspondence type curriculum, or a text-book directed curriculum, although there are also “video classes” also available, wherein the student watches a video of an actual class, and does the assignments the class has done), or may be under the guidance of an “umbrella school” which will do marking, testing, give guidance, and provide the successful student with a recognized graduation certificate.
Other home schoolers may pick and choose from a wide variety of educational materials available from home school and/or public school suppliers, and arrange their own curriculum, or loosely follow the provincial curriculum.
Still others may totally design their own curriculum and make their own materials, or use materials available through the library or commercial suppliers. They may set up the curriculum as separate subjects, or as a “unit-study” approach, or perhaps take the “classical” approach. Some home schoolers take what is referred to as an “unschooling” approach in which the child is encouraged to follow his or her own interests, and in exploring these interests in great depth, learn from a wide range of subject areas.
Getting Involved as a Parent Educator on Haida Gwaii
The purpose of this newsletter is to reach out to all parents on Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands who are interested in their children’s educations, and wish to become move involved in helping their children in their educational pursuits. It is also to provide a forum for discussion of various educational alternatives, and a place for parents educators – as individuals or as groups – to share what they are doing, and to help us work together to improve education for all children on the islands.
A number of parents are already involved in their Parent Advisory Committees at the various schools, and/or as parent volunteers in the schools. Some parents are tutoring their own and/or other children. Some are helping out with “homework nights” and other initiatives. And still others are involved in various types of schooling-at-home, both those programs administered by the District or the Ministry of Education, and independent home schooling.
Another purpose of this newsletter is to share resources that you are aware of locally. For example, you might do a review of a book you have read recently about education; or let others know about good learning materials you’ve had experience with; or tell us about sources for materials such as home school (or school) supply companies for curriculum fairs. You might share what you or your group have been doing to help students in your community. If you find good resources on the internet, send along the web address.
If you would like to tutor students, or start a home educator’s group in your community, or have a special skill you could teach to our Islands’ children, this is the place to let us know. If you wish to share ideas of how local schools could be improved – constructive criticism please! – this newsletter can be your forum.