Independent school in Surrey sees intake double, offers alternative to public system

SURREY — An independent secondary school based in Surrey has seen its enrolment numbers spike by 200 per cent this September.

Since many high school-age students who might normally attend public school haven’t started what would be week three of the school year, I Learn DL — a “blended learning” secondary school that incorporates partial in-class lessons and online classrooms – has been taking in a higher volume of students than normal.

The school’s principal, Saima Naz, said that for the first time, the institution has actually had to turn away some would-be students.

“It’s so intense, so we just have to work through all these requests, but it’s so sad to say no to a lot of them because our blended learning programs are full,” Naz told the Now last week. “It’s been really busy. Just from our website alone, we’ve been getting 50-plus inquiries a day.”

In a blended-learning environment, students are on the school’s campus (located on the corner of King George Boulevard and 62nd Avenue) two to three times a week and are learning online for the rest of the time, Naz explained.

“That’s a really popular program and we have 23 students in each class and we’re booked. The only spots we have available (are) for the pure online class,” she said.

The school isn’t a private one; it’s tuition-free and is funded by the Ministry of Education, but as Naz explained, an independent school receives about 50 per cent of the funding that a public school would. Its teachers are

B.C.-certified, but do not belong to the British Columbia Teachers Federation, and the school is required to follow the standard curriculum set out by the province.

Though I Learn DL has maxed-out their blended learning courses, Naz said there’s a positive to the conundrum resulting from the BCTF’s strike in public schools across the province.

“I think the strike has a lot to do with it because the students don’t have other options,” she said, “so it’s kind of a positive because the parents are informed about other options and another way of learning. I think that it’s kind of a positive thing because maybe they didn’t think their child had an option, so now they’re looking for an alternative and perhaps they’re thinking, ‘Well actually, this fits my child’s needs better than the public system.’”

In September of 2013, I Learn DL had 250 courses that students were actively enrolled in. This year, Naz said, that number has more than doubled with 510 active courses.

“The 510 course count is really high for us. I’ve never seen it in the four years I’ve been here,” Naz said.

The school’s principal also sided with the students who are getting hit the hardest by the strike – those who are graduating from public school or were hoping to get accepted to post-secondary programs.

“I have one student… she can’t get into the BCIT program because the strike happened two weeks before grade 12 was ending and she wasn’t able to write some of her classroom tests,” Naz said.

“Some of her projects weren’t marked, so her mark ended up being lower than it should have been and then she didn’t make the cutoff to get into the program. She had a conditional acceptance that got taken away, and she couldn’t do the course in the summer because there was no summer school. So, she found us and now she’s doing the course again to update her mark. Now she has to re-apply and try to get into the program 12 months later.”

Naz said that I Learn DL has a focus on technology-based education, but unlike many independent or private schools, it is not faith-based.

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