Prairie Land Online focuses on community, looks to further international growth

Brian Giesbrecht goes over Prairie Land Online Schooling and its progress to date. ECA Review/Screenshot
Written by Terri Huxley

Brian Giesbrecht goes over Prairie Land Online Schooling and its progress to date. ECA Review/Screenshot

Brian Giesbrecht, head of Prairie Land Online School shared exciting insights into Prairie Land Online in terms of the past, present and future.

Approximately 50 students enrolled in the online schooling option but have since dropped to 35.

Superintendent Cam McKeage shared that some of these students come from outside of the division or did not make it into Hope Christian School while the rest were from the area.

Giesbrecht highlighted that both students and parents who are steadily involved are grateful for the new learning option, finding the benefit in flexible times and more one-on-one sessions.

“This works well for a varying array of parents and students and I’ve kinda been surprised by all the different parents and students that we have from ranchers who want a little more flexible schedule for their kids so they can help out at home, to students that really just don’t fit in,” said Giesbrecht.

“They don’t get what they need from the traditional brick and mortar school and they feel this is a better way for them. 

“We’ve had quite a few special needs students which I was surprised at as well – that really fit in well with an online school.”

“We wanted to create something that wasn’t just to watch and be done. We wanted to create a community and build relationships.”

He stressed the importance of making individual students feel like they are part of something bigger which he has found to be successful in a number of ways.

One is celebrating a ‘student of the month’ where everyone in the program including teachers and parents join one large video conference to share in celebration of the student’s achievements.

The online schooling option came to be in response to COVID-19.

Giesbrecht is confident he has a good base of teachers who wish to continue providing this form of education.

Looking toward the future, Prairie Land is leading the way in terms of online delivery and enrollment.

For the international program, the division is looking at encouraging high school students from Alberta as well as other countries to use the online format for their final years in school or to gain credits needed to pass a certain course using live and pre-recorded lessons or simply diploma exam preparation.

“I think it’s very safe to say that there is a need for Prairie Land online school and we are really looking at the international piece and how that will work online,” said McKeage.

Trustees were impressed with the presentation, sharing their excitement for the future and how making students feel a form of togetherness was key to this.

“This is another example of Prairie Land leading the province. 

“I do see a future to it especially with tying it to the international program,” said Trustee Scott MacPherson.

McKeage added that the division is also in the process of building a repository of all the curricular data which ‘that in itself will open up so many doors.’

School rebuild updates

Superintendent McKeage and Assistant Superintendent Nielsen visited the new Delia School recently.

The pair met with the supervisor to get an idea of progress made.

The workers did shut down for the week of cold weather before resuming again. This has not held them back in terms of timelines.

Nielsen added there are between 30 and 40 trades workers with all different skill sets working on it at the moment.

Trustees enquired about hiring local contractors for these positions which Neilsen shared that the division was required to go through a proper process but shared the main contractor advertises for these positions and selects themselves.

As for Morrin School, architects are close to finishing off a structural design.

A soil sample conducted on Feb. 15 was expected to yield results shortly on the contaminated portion of the area where the school is set to be constructed.

Nielsen shared that the architects are eager to get started but wanted to ensure the contamination was taken care of beforehand.

The division is looking to the province for extra funding to remove the soil.

Trustee Barry Davis asked if the design connects the old with the new building at all.

Architects have envisioned a breezeway so students don’t have to go outside to get from one side to the other.

Draft calendar adopted

Trustees took their time determining what the best course of action was for Prairie Land come the 2021-2022 school year.

Four hundred twenty-seven responded to a recent survey that went out to gain feedback on whether to pursue a blended option, a nine-day cycle option or strictly non-blended opinion.

Trustees suggested the public needed more background information to make a decision.

The panel of board members agreed to stick with the second draft of the calendar, choosing to make no changes at this time.

A total of 47 per cent asked to keep the status quo in the survey.

Trustee Shauna Davies shared that she felt many parents didn’t enjoy the online learning option.

“That’s one we can rule out. They weren’t for it, it’s hard to teach them and do their work while at home. I still like the nine day cycle. I think it can work and I think that it was a closer matchup to having the normal calendar. 

“I know a lot of parents have some struggles with it but I do think that in the long run I actually feel like we can plan out dentist appointments, medical appointments all on that day so that way kids aren’t missing a school day.

Trustee Scott MacPherson shared that he received an overwhelming no to the online but personally saw both sides with the benefit of having an online option available.

“There has to be a cost savings and if it isn’t this where is it going to suffer?

“I’m dead set against cutting teachers. That would be an absolute last resort and if we had to do this go to Scenario 2 to save teachers and EA’s. 

“I’m all for it and I do believe that parents would be too because one less teacher in a school is a lot bigger kick than one less day at school,” concluded MacPherson.


Terri Huxley

ECA Review

About the author

Terri Huxley

Terri grew up on a grain farm near Drumheller, Alberta with an eye for the beautiful and uncharted. Living in such a unique and diverse area has helped her become the photographer and reporter she is today.

Coming from the East Central region getting this newspaper on her dinner table growing up, it helped her understand the community she now serves.

In May 2019, Terri was awarded Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association (AWNA) Canada's Energy Citizens Photographic Awards Sports Action – First Place as well as first for the same sports action image nationally with the Canadian Community Newspaper Association (CCNA). Fast forward to 2020, she has won second in the same category for the AWNA.