Adults and high school students now have the opportunity to take online courses at Houston Secondary School being offered through an Ontario agency called Contact North in collaboration with Coast Mountain College.
A portable at the school has been made available and equipped with desks and computers, one of 20 anticipated locations to be set up by next year across the north with the assistance of a $1.5 million provincial grant.
“Our portable has become a classroom designed to support online learning,” said School District 54 superintendent Mike McDiarmid.
Adult students not in secondary school will have the option of taking Coast Mountain College courses and those from other post-secondary institutions, making it possible to earn credits without the need to travel outside their home community and undertake the expense that results.
But it also has advantages for secondary students in Houston.
“The program is designed to support students working with any post secondary program across the country and Houston Secondary School students could be eligible for dual credit depending on the course they are taking,” said McDiarmid.
That’s an advantage for high school students, particularly at smaller schools where, because of the school size, options may be limited compared to larger centres.
“Houston Secondary School is often looking to provide more choice for their students and with such a small enrollment of under 200 students, partnering with other educational institutions is often the only way they can deliver some of these choices,” McDiarmid noted.
Classes are tentatively to get underway in April meaning it may be too late for this secondary school year for Houston Secondary students to take full advantage of the expanded course opportunity, he added.
For Coast Mountain College, the Contact North project brings it the opportunity to once again have a presence in the community.
Houston and area is on the eastern edge of the college coverage area but it closed its Houston campus several years ago when student enrolment fell below what was financially viable.
The District of Houston council and others have since then been urging the college to reconsider.
Houston is one of 20 locations through the north where Coast Mountain College will set up a space for online learning and one of five now in operation.
“We expect once COVID restrictions are lifted that others will become operational relatively quickly,” said Sarah Zimmerman, a Coast Mountain College official.
The $1.5 million provided by the province is good for one year and expenditures include paying people at each location to assist students as needed.
The idea to bring Contact North to B.C. and adapt it for regional use came from Coast Mountain College’s First Nations advisory council which wanted a way for people to take post secondary courses without having to leave their home communities, said Zimmerman.
“When the First Nations Council saw how successful Contact North was working in Ontario, they indicated that was exactly what they wanted and unanimously asked for funding to make it happen,” she added.