Rick Hansen meets students during a June forum following the announcement that the school bearing his name will have a science and business focus.

Rick Hansen meets students during a June forum following the announcement that the school bearing his name will have a science and business focus.

Major changes launching in district for new school year

Initiatives include Rick Hansen transformation; shifting focus to new provincial curriculum

As parents, students and teachers prepare for a new school year, big changes are afoot at Rick Hansen secondary school, where a new cohort of Grade 9 students will be the first to take part in programs that focus on science and business learning.

The change of Rick Hansen to a “school of science and business” was announced in February and aims to prepare students for both university and a life in professional careers in business, science and medicine. The programs will be run with a focus on “problem-based learning,” an approach emphasized in a new province-wide curriculum that will be introduced in 2016.

At Rick Hansen, the hope is that the shift in focus will reverse declining enrolment numbers. School district superintendent Kevin Godden said there have already been indications that it’s working.

Godden said teachers and administrators have spent months preparing for the new focus, with teachers attending workshops and developing programs over the summer. The programs will be introduced gradually, with students already at Rick Hansen progressing through established programs while younger cohorts will enter the new science- and business-focused classes. The program will also see the school working with science and business partners, along with the Rick Hansen Foundation.

Godden said the school has also attracted interest from parents outside of its normal catchment area, although the number who have elected to send their kids to Rick Hansen is still modest.

But the key will be ensuring students in the school’s local area don’t feel like they need to send their kids elsewhere.

“More than anything else, I want to make sure that we serve the kids who live in the catchment and want to attend that school,” Godden said.

It’s not just at Rick Hansen where students and parents can expect to see changes.

With classes slated to begin next week, Godden said teachers will be laying the groundwork this year for the new curriculum’s province-wide introduction in 2016.

That curriculum aims to shift the focus of education from learning facts to building problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, while retaining an emphasis on fundamentals like reading and math.

“This will allow teachers to get kids to work on problem-based learning. They will do a lot more problem solving and critical thinking – the kinds of things that will allow them to be more successful in the world,” Godden said.

“The teachers’ role is going to change somewhat, because the teacher is not going to hold the answers to all the questions. The kids are going to learn how to ask the questions and learn how to find the answers to real-life problems.”

September will also see the opening of a new “Early Years Centre” at the Sweeney Neighbourhood Learning Centre. The program will pair StrongStart programs for pre-kindergarten children with resources and referrals to connect families with health, well-being and development assistance.

“It will be a one-stop-shop experience,” Godden said.