Rocky View Schools (RVS) will continue to offer online learning options for students during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The RVS Board of Trustees announced a continuation and expansion of the public school division’s online learning program at a board meeting on April 1.
While RVS has offered online learning components to students since the early 2000s, the division had to shift its online offerings in a significant way after the COVID-19 pandemic began last year.
“In response to community need, we ramped up and went from a program which had a couple hundred students in it overall to over 3,000,” said Superintendent Greg Luterbach. “And we staffed that, we made that happen in a matter of weeks, and we did it all again in February when we said [to] families ‘You can choose to go back to face-to-face or you can come online.’”
According to Luterbach, RVS was “at the cutting edge” of virtual education 20 years ago, but enrolment for younger grades was “light and not very sustainable,” which meant the program eventually morphed into a high school program.
The online program was initially geared to students whose schedule did not fit with a traditional high school timetable. These students were able to take some courses online and some traditional courses in-person through a program called We Connect, with support provided at the school level. There were, at the time, only a few students who were fully conducting their schooling online.
“I think We Connect has been successful and we know it’s successful because it’s a supported program, and we don’t want to lose that,” Luterbach said.
The superintendent added that throughout the pandemic, RVS has been able to offer faith-based online programming, online French immersion and a full online curriculum for students in grades 1 to 12.
“Both staff, students and families have been asking, ‘Is this going to continue beyond this year’? And so, we’ve been listening to that, and trustees have been engaged in conversations throughout that,” Luterbach said. “From the administrative point of view, we are keen to continue the program into next year and beyond.
“We think it can meet a need for students and families and we think we have amazing staff that can support students in an online format.”
Luterbach said the continuation of RVS’ online programming will focus on the district’s students, families, and staff. The board has enlisted a task force to ask stakeholders about their experience and interest in the online program moving forward.
“We’re looking at how might the program look next year, and [looking to] move it away from just a pandemic response to being a proud and strong offering for Rocky View Schools that we offer to our families, and our students, and make this go on and be successful into the future as a sustainable program that works for everyone,” Luterbach said.
Ward 1 Trustee Shali Baziuk said she has heard positive remarks from parents regarding RVS’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is looking to see this continue.
“This is an option that was created with not a lot of time – I can’t even imagine what this new online offering is going to look like, and I’m pretty excited,” she said.
“I like that Rocky View offers parents this kind of choice.”
Similarly, Ward 5 Trustee Judi Hunter said she applauds RVS for its response to the pandemic, for taking a further look at expanding online offerings and for providing a survey to get additional feedback from students, staff, and parents.
“The pandemic has changed a number of things and the trend into the future will be an online option, and I just know the kind of innovation that Rocky View Schools has a history of, so I’m excited about this,” Hunter said.
The survey will be targeted to those who have been engaged in online learning so far, but will open up to a wider survey audience later, according to Luterbach.