It’s 9:30 a.m. on Monday morning and students and teachers are getting ready for their day at the VAST education centre.
Teacher in charge Sean Petersen logs off his computer, has a word with a co-worker then strides into a classroom area full of students, some yawning, but all with books open and working.
The regular school year in School District 70 may have ended for some students but not for these ones.
VAST is home to the district’s summer school program, which runs from July 11 to Aug. 11.
More than 250 students from Grades 9-12 are working towards completing 370 course upgrades this summer.
“This is a huge number for a four- to five-week time frame,” Petersen said. “But it’s consistent with how many students were here last year.”
Summer school courses have been taught at VAST for the past four years. There is no other summer school in the Alberni Valley.
Previously most if not all summer courses were taught at Alberni District Secondary School.
The summer program at VAST is extensive. Courses in Grades 9-12 math, English, social studies and science are all taught. And courses such as Planning 10 and PE 11 are taught as well.
“It’s a lot but its also a strong offering of courses,” Petersen said.
The summer program is ideal for students who didn’t achieve a 50 per cent mark in a course at school.
“But it’s also for kids who may have achieved 50 per cent but need a higher mark to get into a post-secondary program,” Petersen said.
VAST gets a breakdown of where students were at in the course in which they didn’t achieve a passing mark.
Based on the breakdown, teachers target areas in the course students had difficulty with.
Up to 80 per cent of the students who are attending the summer session are from Alberni District Secondary School and 20 per cent of the students attend VAST regularly.
The students are spread across all grades and the gender break down is 50-50.
The summer session operates on an open area concept in which students from all grades work in a common area.
Classes are from Monday to Thursday.
Math, social studies and English are taught in the morning and science is taught in the afternoon.
Students work in a self-paced fashion as opposed to a mass churning through lessons every day.
Unlike regular school most students don’t attend school all day, and may attend either in the morning or afternoon depending on the courses they are taking. Some do attend all day.
Teachers Al Seredick, Nick Seredick, Ian Thomas, Des Reddick, Erik Waldriff and Monica Pearson joined Petersen as instructors for the summer session.
“We try to bring in dynamic people who are experienced in teaching specific courses and who students will gravitate towards,” Petersen said.
Pearson is teaching science courses for the summer for the second year.
She teaches biology and chemistry at ADSS and finished in June.
“I had June 30 to July 11 off and helped with the canoe journey,” Pearson said.
Monica is married to RCMP Const. Boyd Pearson, who coordinated the Pulling Together tour.
“And I only teach for half a day so I still get to enjoy the summer,” Monica Pearson said.
She teaches Grade 9-12 summer sciences but her heaviest concentration of students comes from Grade 10, she said.
A lab isn’t available at VAST so students work on science theory.
Most of the students are boys “but not moreso than in other years,” she said.
Summer school can be challenging for students, with studies taking up summer months that could be spent with friends.
But it pays off in other ways.
Students get that little bit of extra time to finish a course or boost their marks.
One-on-one help is more readily available in summer school that it is otherwise.
For students in Grade 11, passing a course via summer school means the difference between graduating with their peer group or not.
Grade 10 student Hannah Schumhmann wound down the end of the school year at ADSS when she found out that she didn’t do well in either Math or Science 9.
“I had a feeling in the last term when I had trouble with chapters seven through nine in math and science,” Schumhmann said.
Faced with going to summer school all day she chose to make the best out of it.
“I didn’t have anything else to do so I’m trying to improve my grades,” she said. “I find it’s easier to understand it the second time around.”
Schumhmann gets a ride to and from school from her mother, whose work hours are the same as Hannah’s school schedule.
A French Immersion student, Schumhmann finds it easier to learn science in English than in French, something she looks forward to continuing in Science 10 at ADSS this fall.
“I just seem to understand it way more in English,” she said.
Watching a student like Schumhmann click, get it and grow is intrinsically rewarding, Pearson said.
“When a student finishes with success, and it may take only a couple of weeks, them I’m pleased for them,” Pearson said.
“They start to realize that they can do this – that they can finish.”