About our School
Correspondence education has had a long and distinguished history in BC. The Branch was established in 1919, in recognition of the vast sparsely settled areas in the province. The B.C. Correspondence School is the second oldest public correspondence system in the world, predated only by the New South Wales system.
One of the problems that faces any correspondence system is the “turn around time”, which is simply the period between the date a student sends out a paper and the date he receives it back marked. In the 1930′s, this problem was particularly acute for those taking correspondence in this area. Completed papers had to be shipped to Dawson Creek, conveyed to Edmonton via the N.A.R., transshipped to Vancouver on the C.N.R.; finally arriving in Victoria by ferry. After being marked, papers were returned by the same torturous route. In recognition of the unreasonably long “turn around time” (approximately 6 weeks) this system entailed, a satellite Elementary Correspondence Branch was opened in Dawson Creek in 1941. This branch was successful in its objectives of decreasing “turn around time”, improving student motivation, and increasing the success rate.
In 1984, the Ministry approved a pilot project, operated under the auspices of School District #60, to extend the regionalization concept to secondary correspondence education. Chuck Froese, a Fort St. John Principal, was selected to head up the project. It was so successful that Chuck was later seconded to the Ministry to coordinate the regionalization of correspondence throughout the province.
In 1988 the regional elementary school in Dawson Creek was moved to Fort St. John and combined with the new secondary school that Chuck had developed. The new school was operated by School Dist. 60. The Northern B.C. Regional Correspondence School was established in the old dormitory building where it expanded until it occupied one entire two-floor wing.
Soon all Correspondence in the province was handled by one of nine Regional Correspondence Schools with Victoria being responsible for overall coordination and course development. Over the years, “Distance Education” has been moved from one department to another within the Ministry of Education. It has even spent a brief time under the umbrella of the Open Learning Agency.
A change to the School Act in 1992 initiated a fundamental change. Before this, Correspondence had been limited to true distance families without access to public schools, and a few exceptions for illness or disability. The new School Act opened up Correspondence as a choice to people who had been restricted to private, commercial home schooling programs if they wanted to teach their children at home. Families across the street from schools could now enrol. Since that time the clientele of the Correspondence Schools has fundamentally altered. While the number of traditional isolated families has gradually declined, the number of urban folks opting out of the public schools has increased. Reasons for using our programs vary from dissatisfaction with the public school system for social or curricular reasons, to wanting to attempt to provide special services at home that they feel their children are not getting in the school. Some simply are choosing to educate their children at home, but wanting to use a structured program that meets provincial curriculum goals. An additional group worth mentioning is those children whose behaviour has become so disruptive that they have difficulty coping in the classroom. To some extent we are becoming the alternative school option. Our school also provides services to hundreds of adult who use our programs to work towards completing their high school graduation or to upgrade for career purposes.
In the summer of 1998 the school was moved to The Key Learning Centre, where it operated in conjunction with the Opening Learning Program and the Junior Alternate Program.
In 2002, the Ministry of Education changed the funding for distributed learning students that allowed NBCDES to focus on teacher led education.
The school staff currently consists of the principal, the vice-principal, five full-time K-9 teachers, three secondary advisors, fifteen markers, six secretaries, and two technical support who serve about 130 full time K-9 students and approximately 1000 secondary students taking over 2600 secondary courses. We have responsibility for secondary and elementary distance education in the northern third of our province as well as the Yukon. Our territory covers such remote locations as Telegraph Creek, Dease Lake, Atlin, and scattered Yukon towns and villages.
Twice a year an administrator and some of the teachers visit as many of the Distributed Learning students as possible. This encompasses visits to construction camps, ranches, trappers’ cabins, gold mining operations and outfitters’ headquarters. On one occasion, due to heavy rains, the Jeep could not ford the Minaker River, so the crossing was accomplished on horseback. As one teacher observed, “This isn’t your typical school teacher’s day!” Students and their parents look toward these visits with much anticipation, as do the teachers. Strong bonds are fostered by these visits and, this often provides the student with additional motivation. In many cases, friendships develop between the parents and the visiting teachers. It is not uncommon for teachers to receive invitations to visit during holidays. We visit many northern schools that use our programs to supplement their course offerings on these trips. This is a growth area of our school.
Technology has had a tremendous impact on the nature and delivery of distributed learning. ‘Distributed learning’ is coming to replace the terms ‘correspondence’ and ‘distance education’. Beginning with an early project called the Small Schools Project introducing ‘fax’ delivery to improve the service to small northern schools, the regional school was able to increase course offerings and reduce the “turn around time” to 48 hours.
The introduction of computers was the next step. At first only a few families were able to borrow a computer and software to use briefly in their homes. The New Directions in Distance Learning project in which the Open Learning Agency made some courses available via computer followed that in 1994/95. Since 1998 the Provincial Connect Program has existed, with thousands of computers placed in homes. Internet connections link the student, parents and teacher, not only to each other, but also to the ever-expanding electronic information world. Courses can now be taken over the Internet; contact with markers and an instructor is on line, students and teachers are in daily contact using audio, video, or email. In the midst of all this quickly evolving electronic technology, hundreds of traditional paper and pencil courses continue to be used.