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Deh Gah starts year-round school

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, August 12, 2010

DEH GAH GOT'IE KOE/FORT PROVIDENCE - Students are back to school three weeks early in Fort Providence in a move that school officials hope will increase attendance and grade levels.

Deh Gah School has converted to a year-round school year on a one-year trial basis. The change brought students back to classes on Aug. 6 instead of the normal Aug. 25.

The change was made to support student learning, said Lois Philipp, the school's principal. While classes have started three weeks early, the school has added the same number of weeks of breaks to the school year.

"You don't have these long terms where you just start to dread school," she said.

Under the previous schedule, students received three breaks including two weeks at Christmas, a week in March and eight weeks in the summer. Under the year round schedule students will have nine days in October, three weeks at Christmas, two weeks in March and five weeks in the summer.

The year got off to a promising start with approximately 95 per cent attendance on the first day. The school expects to have 170 students, but the official number won't be known until the end of the first week.

"They don't mind coming back," said Philipp.

The school has set the criteria by which they plan to judge the success of the new schedule.

"We're hoping to see more students complete high school courses and increased attendance as well as increased literacy levels in English language arts and math," Philipp said.

Under the previous schedule, attendance declined as the summer holidays drew closer. This particularly affected high school students, who had one term throughout the year.

As part of the new plan, the high school curriculum has been broken into four terms with students focusing on one core academic course each term. The change means that if students leave before the last term is over, they only lose one term and can pick it up the next year instead of forfeiting a whole year of work, Philipp said.

Approximately one-third of the student body is in high school, which means the changes will affect a large percentage of students.

Before making the decision to change the schedule, Philipp approached the Fort Providence District Education Authority.

"We just though we'd take it to the community and see what they thought," said Shauna Clarke Canadien, the chair of the authority.

At a community meeting in March, a strong majority of the approximately 26 people in attendance voted in favour of year-round schooling.

"Lois presented a good argument," Clarke Canadien said.

Among the reasoning was the fact that with an eight-week summer vacation students find it difficult to retain their lessons from the year. A shorter vacation could improve retention levels.

Philipp said to her knowledge, Deh Gah is the first school to attempt year-round schooling in the Deh Cho and possibly in the territory.

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