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An unexpected jump in enrolment at the Abbotsford school district has resulted in full classrooms and $1.7 million in extra funding from the province.
Administrators had expressed surprise in September when a preliminary headcount seemed to show an increase in enrolment of around 20 students, defying a projected 48-student decrease in enrolment heading into the 2015-16 school year.
The final audited headcount for this year showed an even steeper increase, with enrolment rising by 190 students, from 18,763 to 19,563 students in local schools, including those taking online courses through the Abbotsford Virtual School.
The numbers mean Abbotsford has bucked a recent B.C. trend that had seen school enrolment decrease by 27,000 students across the province over the previous five years.
In the short-term, the increase is good for the district and has allowed it to hire more teachers and support staff.
The main challenge now facing the district is to find out why enrolment has jumped and whether it is a one-off occurrence or a sign of things to come.
Secretary-treasurer Ray Velestuk said two factors may be at play, both revolving around a generally increasing population. First, new students could be coming from either other Lower Mainland cities to Abbotsford’s west as families move eastward in the Fraser Valley.
Second, Velestuk said the district has heard of students coming from Alberta as its struggling economy sheds jobs.
Future increases will make school building and upgrades, which the district has already included in its capital plan to be sent to the ministry of education, even more of a priority.
The Abbotsford school district’s 2015-16 capital plan approved earlier this month asked for more than $50-million of upgrades and new schools over the next five years. The prioritized plan is then sent to the provincial government with the hope that funding will materialize.
The plan includes a new Eagle Mountain elementary school, new middle and secondary schools in the eastern part of the city, and upgrades to Yale and W.J. Mouat secondary schools.
The district’s enrolment numbers show schools in the Sumas Mountain area of Abbotsford are gaining students while many of those in the northern and western parts of the urban core are seeing decreases.
Demographic changes in different areas explain some of the growth, but the principal of the school with the largest percentage increase attributes the rise in students there with a popular program.
Abbotsford middle school, which actually projected a slight decline, saw a recorded jump in enrolment from 537 to 598 students.
Principal Ian Levings attributed the jump to the school’s unique International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Program. The program features what Levings described as “inquiry-based learning” and is similar to the new curriculum that students around the province will start experiencing next year.
“Parents are really excited,” Levings said. Dozens of students are now on a waitlist for coming years.
The jump in students has created some logistical challenges, Levings said, as teachers were shuffled in order to utilize every single classroom in the building.
“It’s a good problem to have,” he said.
Among elementary schools, Harry Sayers saw the largest increase in enrolment, with 27 more students enrolled.
In addition to Abbotsford middle, Clayburn and Chief Dan George middle schools also saw enrolment jump, by 32 and 27 students, respectively. The high school with the largest increase was Abbotsford senior, which saw enrolment rise by 78.62 student equivalents.
The elementary school with the largest enrolment decrease was Terry Fox elementary, where the number of students dropped from 262 to 240.
And the increase at Harry Sayers may be good news for nearby Eugene Reimer middle school and Rick Hansen secondary school. With a drop of 34 students, Eugene Reimer saw the biggest enrolment decrease among middle schools, while Rick Hansen saw the biggest drop among secondary schools, with 53 fewer students signed up. Velestuk said the west side of the city continues to see population increases, although many students from that area of the city attend schools of choice.
Although numbers for the rest of British Columbia are still coming in, the increase in enrolment would make Abbotsford one of just a few districts where more students are attending school, according to a ministry of education spokesperson.