The School District 71 distance learning program has seen a big jump in the number of registrants this fall, including ones from all over the world. Image, Screenshot

The School District 71 distance learning program has seen a big jump in the number of registrants this fall, including ones from all over the world. Image, Screenshot

Comox Valley distance ed lands almost a thousand new students

International student visits down but students still signing up from all over for online ed

One of the outcomes from the COVID-19 pandemic on school district operations in the Comox Valley has been an uptick in distance learning.

For much of the first month of the school year, administrators have been trying to respond to a different demand for education. In some cases, parents are keeping children at home.

Distance learning provides one option for local families. However, the district has also been experiencing a large increase this fall in its distance learning (DL) opportunities, Navigate NIDES, from students from all corners of the world.

“It’s seem like a real testament to the value of our DL program and the quality,” board chair Sheila McDonnell said. A

At the board meeting in September, assistant superintendent Geoff Manning updated trustees on the district enrolment numbers.

“It’s really a great school year this year,” he said. “We’ve gone through so many challenges, but the news is extremely positive for us.”

In general, most students are back in the classroom working and playing in cohorts. The biggest news though has been the large growth in the numbers of students signing up for distance education from elsewhere, with 976 new students joining the online distance education program.

“That is like adding a school of Isfeld or Vanier to our district in DL,” he said. “Overall, the news for us is really positive.”

After the presentation, trustee Janice Caton asked about the origins of the more than 900 new DL students.

“That’s a really big bump,” she added.

Manning said they come from other parts of Canada, the United States and beyond.

“They’re actually from all over the world. Look at a map and start putting tacks on every country.”

The growth has allowed the district to add additional staff at secondary schools for the independent learning centres that help with remote learning, as well as staff for remote learning on Hornby Island and Denman Island and some additional equipment.

Of students already in the district, there were 211 students enrolled in distance learning locally through Navigate NIDES, while some opted for distance learning through other districts.

As far as student numbers for the return to school in September, about 90 per cent of elementary students returned to their neighbourhood or catchment area school. The numbers for secondary students was about 97 per cent. According to staff, the provincial rate for returning to school is about 85 per cent.

The downside right now has been a drop in the number of visiting international students this year, with pandemic travel restrictions in place. Staff were projecting about 220 full-time equivalent (FTE) students but as of the Sept. 22 meeting, they were at 86.

“That could improve in second semester, and we’re hoping that it improves,” Manning said.

However, the district has also seen an influx of new students moving here, with 65 newly enrolled secondary students and 181 elementary students.

RELATED STORY: Comox Valley board of education approves facility spending plan

Overall, in terms of a net gain for numbers of students in school buildings, the district is 90 students above what they had projected.

“We’re sitting pretty good from that standpoint,” Manning said.

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