Stable footing for alternative school

From left, Michael Kimble and Peter Sabourin work together on subjects at Storefront, the alternative school program run through DJSS since 2009.

Teachers and students are breathing a sigh of relief now that funding meant specifically for the alternative school program, Storefront, has become more predictable. 

Storefront, an initiative launched by Diamond Jenness Secondary School (DJSS) in 2009, offers a more open, modular learning program for students who have had difficulties making it through the conventional education system. Since 2009, funding for the program, through the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, has been a bit uncertain, mainly due to a funding structure modeled after that of a regular high school.

“This began as an awesome idea meeting a demonstrated need,” said DJSS principal Geoff Buerger. “It served a population that we were losing, but it became a political issue because of funding.”

At first, the school was being funding based on attendance, like most public schools. But given the drop-in, modular style of learning, that didn’t make sense for the Storefront. So now the funds are being allocated in a different way – a new formula that’s based on student results. If students at the alternate school each complete 15 credits or more, they are considered full-time. Funding for each year will be determined by the previous year’s achievement.

“Now the funding is predictable,” said Buerger. “That’s great, because we need to know how much we can spend.”

There are currently 38 students enrolled in the program, which operates across the road from DJSS. Seventeen are mature students who work full time or part time. A few are parents with young children.

The school has a bit of a revolving-door concept, which students are able to use to their advantage.

Those who have jobs are able to come in throughout the day to complete work on their modules and access help from teachers. They are able to work at their own pace to earn credits toward a high school diploma.

Four of the students are working towards graduation this school year.

“There are many reasons why some Storefront students are not in (conventional) school,” said student services co-ordinator Kim King. “Storefront is a good program for those students.”

The programming this year has expanded its resources by having more accessible student support and making specific subject teachers from the secondary school available to help out. That means students have access to help from teachers who specialize in specific subjects.

“That puts them at the same advantage for final testing for their diploma,” said King. “We know that our students are getting the same message as the students at (Diamond  Jenness).”

Although students can complete their work from home, they are asked to display their progress and can come and go when they need help.

Storefront student Michael Kimble can usually be found doing his work beside fellow pupil Peter Sabourin.

“We bounce ideas off each other,” said Kimble.

Sabourin said he’s advanced since coming to Storefront.

“I notice a huge difference from last year to this year,” he said. “This year, I’m just flying through. I’m learning more. Last year, I wasn’t really into it.”

Sabourin is also looking into taking music and shop at DJSS while continuing to complete his staple subjects through modules. Upon graduation, he wants to look for a carpentry apprenticeship. When it comes time to have a family, he wants to be able to find a stable job that he likes.

He’s open about how he may not have made the best decisions in the past, but he is now looking forward.

“The past is the past,” he said. “You can’t go back and change it, but you can change your future.”

Kimble, in his late teens, is also leaning towards the trades, but has some more thinking to do. When he’s not at school, he is working at a full-time job.

“Right now, I’m just trying to do whatever I can to get through,” he said. “But here, I’m actually getting work done. Here I’m able to get help.”

Supervising teacher Lenny Hill said the program is invaluable for the community, and students who were slipping through the cracks.

“Our students have accomplished things that wouldn’t have happened for them in a normal school setting,” said Hill. “We need to keep this program alive.”