FTLComm - La Ronge - November 11, 2000
By: Timothy W. Shire

not meet
the needs

Throughout the years I served as a high school and K-12 principal there was a general awareness that the kind of setting and sort of education that we provided in most high schools in North America was meeting the needs of most students. However, in every community, some more than others, we know that the convention high school just does not meet the needs, or the students do not conform to the organisation, of the conventional high school.




Alternative high school programming has a long history and it is surprising that after about twenty years of experimentation most programmes are still "trying" like the medical and legal profession, alternative education programmes for high school students are still practicing, searching for a formula that will deal effectively with the slim but steadily growing minority of students.




Chris Todd (seen in picture at bottom of page coming toward camera in the hallway) had been principal of Churchill High School in La Ronge for eleven years and this year moved from that role to become an instructor at the Churchill Learning Centre. In an interview on this week he was able to share some of his views on this interesting growth of alternative schooling. He, as principal of Churchill had been instrumental in setting up the storefront Learning Centre several years ago and is very happy to be working in that special setting now.



the setting

Perhaps the most important thing about this kind of alternative programming is the setting. Mr. Todd explained that there are substantial numbers of young people who want to get an education but are either not suited or find themselves uncomfortable in the conventional high school. He explained that the structure and environment of an institution is in itself a form of instruction and it appears that the model that presently exists in most communities may not be relevant to the society and social structures of the individual.



of choices

Society has changed enormously, the factory, assembly line model of the workplace is simply vanishing and with it the need to produce individuals who can survive in that environment. Similarly, the diffusion of choices, the assertion of the wants and needs of the individual are becoming far more paramount in the society we are seeing evolve than was the case in the past.



Marion Andrews

Marion Andrews has been a part of the Learning Centre from its inception is committed to the work she is doing and told me in an interview this week that she truly loves the working environment, the atmosphere between she and her students and the rewarding experience of seeing young people make important and life changing decisions that reshape their future almost over night as they make that decision to commit themselves to a formal education after having abandoning it, or allowing their attendance to make it slip away.



store front education

The Churchill Learning Centre is not unique, similar facilities have developed many years ago and continue delivering specialised education to special people. About ten years ago Winnipeg began opening store front education centres in various neighbourhoods to serve those young people who were dropping out or being ejected from the conventional schools. One would expect that the majority of these people would be First Nations young people whom we might expect to suffer more than others discomfort in the structured environment of a conventional high school. However, both the Winnipeg experience and La Ronge's Churchill Learning Centre seem to attract a wide mix of people, certainly some are First Nations people, but they are no more a proportion of those going to these alternative programmes than their demographic proportion in their communities.




Chris Todd explained to me that as he views the trend in alternative school programming it may mean that we have to, as a society reevaluate the way we are running our conventional high schools. The compartmentalised approach to subject matter is one of the many problems in today's high schools as students need a much more holistic comprehensive experience that opens rather than closes doors for them in terms of opportunity and development.




What had begun in La Ronge as a means of dealing with dropout students has become something far more extensive and is reaching the point where it really is becoming a parallel system or way of going to school. The first and foremost obvious condition is that the teacher pupil ratio is about five to one and the focus is on personal development first and academic skills second. The programme involves extensive outdoor and group planned experiential events that develop sharing and caring which moves directly to independence and the positive growth in personal self-awareness and self esteem.



greatest problem

In this programme and others, the conventional world has not found a way of recognising the individual development in Centres like this one and students have to meld back into the regular high school to get the credits, grades and diplomas, that are accepted in the commercial and educational institutional world. It would seem that this is the greatest problem with the process. The Manitoba Department of Education developed a set of certificates and skill related mastery based levels for students in alternative programmes that permit their development in the store front alternative schools to be recognised by business and post secondary educational institutions. In Saskatchewan there has been talk of connecting alternative school programmes with apprenticeship programmes but only a few schools have been involved with this process. Cochrane High School is in reality a huge "alternative" high school and it has been involved in these apprenticeship programmes.



why the problem

The issue that seems to be evolving is that the popularity and definite need for alternatives is abundantly clear and perhaps the development of special schools and programmes will address the problem but should we not be considering why the problem exists in the first place. Are there things that need to be done to the traditions and formation of conventional high schools rather than producing another form of schooling?