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Alternative school closures


Two alternative schools on the Coast are closing this year. School superintendent Stewart Hercus called this a practical financial move, but some parents feel it's not the best decision for students involved.

"A lot of the students in the Beaver Island program are confused and disappointed that they won't be able to return to their school next year," said parent Valerie Verrall.

The closure of the Beaver Island Alternative Program in Pender Harbour and the Pathfinder Alternative Program near the Raven's Cry Theatre in Sechelt are the result of a mandate from the provincial government to no longer rent facilities which are not owned by the school district.

The Pender Harbour alternative school site is owned by the teacher there, Michael Gabriel, and the Pathfinder site is owned by the Sechelt Indian Band.

Hercus said the Pathfinder program will move to the Sunshine Building at Sechelt Elementary School for the upcoming school year, and students from the Beaver Island School will be individually placed in other alternative programs already running in district-owned spaces throughout the Coast.

But Verrall says the program in Pender Harbour has been "invaluable" to students and notes the unique greenhouse dome and gardening skills the students learn at the school are particularly worthwhile.

One student who attends the school, Asia Wright, said the school grounds at Beaver Island make her enjoy coming to class.

"I love this place because it's a nice property. A lot of work has gone in to making it this way. I'm upset that they're closing it because no other program has worked for me," she said.

But school district staff said they will be able to place all the students from the Beaver Island program into other alternative programs that can meet their needs.

"We're not trying to slam doors in kids' faces. We've been hauling kids all the way from Gibsons and Sechelt for the Beaver Island program, just to keep it going. When we started it, there were eight or nine students attending from Pender Harbour, but now there are only two from Pender and the rest are bussed in," said Hercus.

Alternative School principal Sally Thicke confirmed only two students who use the school are from Pender Harbour and added on average two adult students from Pender use the school on a drop-in basis.

"I feel very positive that the Alternative School and the school district will meet the needs of these students, and maybe it is time for them to leave this program and move forward in other ways," she said.