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Blog: Friday, December 6th, 2019

Achieving Graduation, One Course at a Time

Bakerview Centre for Learning is Abbotsford School District’s home for alternate and adult education. We are home to approximately 250 youth students (aged 14 through 19) and 1,000 adult students (aged 19 and above).

For our youth students, attending Bakerview is rarely a choice. In most cases they are referred here from Abbotsford’s mainstream secondary schools because they are failing to thrive. One or a combination of factors such as poor attendance, spotty work habits, challenging behavior, addiction, compromised physical or mental health and family breakdown are preventing them from successfully engaging in their education. In most cases our students have gaps in their schooling; many arrive feeling discouraged, having fallen behind their peers. Amongst our first steps with them is getting a realistic picture of where they are at, then putting together a plan for how they can get to graduation.

Over the course of grades 10, 11 & 12 students have to complete a minimum of 20 courses to graduate. For many this number seems overwhelming, especially if they are at the beginning of grade 10 or are arriving with 10 courses remaining when they are already 17. For each of them there are no short cuts – the only way to get from where they are to graduating is to put in the work. But for people whose recent (or in some cases long-term) history of learning is filled with failure, the work is difficult. To keep them pushing forward through this difficult work they need to experience the feeling of success in small doses – they have to teach themselves that they are intelligent, capable and worthy of achieving good things. In recognition of this, we don’t make students wait for two or three years for graduation to magically arrive before giving them a pat on the back. Rather, we celebrate successes along the way.

In our School Plan for 2019/20, our school committed to focus on course completions as the primary measure of student success. If completing courses is important, then we decided to raise the profile of the value our school places on completing courses. We did this by deciding to identify course completion goals in each student’s personalized learning plan and by consciously celebrating each and every course completion throughout the school year. Starting this September, every time a student completes a course at Bakerview our Principal and/or Vice Principal visits that student’s class to personally congratulate them, present them with a chocolate bar and take a photo of them which gets posted on a bulletin board in our main hallway. As students complete more and more courses, a list of their success is attached to their photo. In addition, an email is sent to their parent/guardian/caregiver notifying them that they are one step closer to graduation.

At the beginning of the year we weren’t sure how our teenage students would respond to being rewarded publicly for their successes, especially with something as “elementary” as a chocolate bar and having their picture posted in the hallway. Well, any trepidations we may have had were quickly erased. People now know and look forward to the arrival of the bucket of chocolate bars in their classroom. Students routinely ask, “How can I get one of those chocolate bars?” and the answer is both simple and reinforcing of what we want our students to do – complete a course and we will be happy to present you with one. 

What we are learning from this is that it is never a bad idea to tell people that you are proud of their accomplishments and that you want them to feel good about their successes. Of course, life isn’t about getting a chocolate bar every time you achieve something. But small celebrations contribute to a person’s belief that they are capable, and they make the hard work required to complete 20 courses a little more possible for students like ours who have more experience with failure than success.

PHIL COOKSON
Principal, Bakerview Centre for Learning