Attendance is up by 10 per cent at Watson Lake Secondary School in the southern Yukon, and the principal and students say it's the result of a major change to the way courses are delivered.  

This fall, the school introduced an optional "blended learning" program. It offers most of the school's courses online.

Students still attend school and still have scheduled classes, but they can finish the work at their own pace. They earn standard high school credits if work is complete by the year's end.

Grade 12 student Jordan Dickson is primed to be the first member of his family to earn a high school degree if he graduates this year. 

Dickson says he likes the new program, and he's not alone. 

“Last year, there weren’t too many people in school but this year they have computers. Instead of, like, 30 kids, there’s been, like, 50 kids,” Dickson says. 

Jean MacLean

Principal Jean MacLean gives students a hand at Watson Lake Secondary School. The introduction of online courses for high school students has helped push the school's attendance rate to 80 per cent. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Jean MacLean, the principal in Watson Lake, says the school has struggled with low attendance and says the new approach is designed to keep students in school, while reducing the stigma that older students might feel if placed in a class of younger students. 

"What we do is take the best of traditional teaching, which is the teacher in the room, and the best of homeschooling, which is the self-directed pace and put them together," she says.

Maclean says the approach is especially valuable for young parents or students who participate in the traditional economy through hunting. 

“It was difficult before, in that students would get so far behind, they didn’t feel like they could ever get caught up again. They would just drop out,” MacLean says. “We also find that some students need to travel out a little bit. They be hunting or out with their family, and now they can do those things easily, because when they come back, they’re where they were before.”

One of the students attending the school this year is Emily Anderson. Four years ago her family opted for homeschooling instead of enrolling her in Watson Lake.

As a result, Anderson is missing credits. While students her age are working on Grade 12 classes on their laptops, there's no sign she is working two grade levels behind. 

Jean MacLean

Principal Jean MacLean: 'What we like to do is take the best of traditional teaching, which is the teacher in the room, and the best of homeschooling, which is the self-directed pace.' (Philippe Morin/CBC)

"Some people need a teacher at the front, but some people can't do that," she says. "I am one of those people. I really enjoy the fact that everything is right here when I need it, but I have outside help if I want it."

Brandon Sugdren, another student at Watson Lake, says much the same thing.

"It's actually very good for me because I can go at my own pace, and if I need help I can ask the teacher or one of the students in the same class," he says.

'I can go at my own pace and if I need help I can ask the teacher or one of the students in the same class, "- Brandon Sugdren, student

In the past, Watson Lake secondary has posted some of the lowest attendance and graduation rates in Yukon.

MacLean says the program is helping a troubled school turn things around.

She says overall attendance this year in Watson Lake is about 80 per cent compared to about 70 per cent last year.

The school has also launched a breakfast program, which supplies healthy food in the mornings. 

The school could also see about 21 students graduate this year. That's more than double the average number and compares to only four last year. 

Other Yukon schools, including Robert Service School in Dawson City, are considering a similar change.

Students at Watson Lake Secondary School

Students are Watson Lake Secondary School have the option of doing some coursework online, at their own pace. (Philippe Morin/CBC)