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Limited course selection impacting students in small northern high schools

Students attending some smaller high schools in northwestern Ontario are having a tougher time finding the courses they need to further their careers.

Some Geraldton high students have to take courses online due to lack of students in the classroom

Students at Geraldton Composite High School have to take some classes online, due to a lack of students signing up for them in the classroom. (Jeff Walters / CBC)

Students attending some smaller high schools in northwestern Ontario are having a tougher time finding the courses they need to further their careers.

That's according to some students and staff at Geraldton Composite High School in Geraldton, Ont., a school that has to offer a number of classes, such as sciences in the higher grades, in different ways, like e-learning.

"Several students needed a [academic] physics course," said Daniel Barrett, a Grade 11 student who wants to become a teacher, and needs specific credits to get into university.

"We don't offer it in class, and our school board didn't offer it online either until the five or six students petitioned basically all summer to get that course."

Barrett said he'll have to take four of his courses online next year.

Despite the pressure that he said was needed to make that physics class available, Barrett said the school does a good job of providing e-learning courses, but they aren't available for every subject.
Daniel Barrett is a students at Geraldton Composite High School. He says he'll be taking four courses online next year. (Jeff Walters / CBC)

Offering a wide range of subjects in both applied and academic streams is a tough thing for smaller schools to do, said Geraldton Composite High School principal, Al Luomala.

"If you've got a class of four students, [and] you're looking at a class of 30 students and you're trying to decide what class fits on the timetable and which one doesn't," he said, adding that the subsequent challenge is working to accommodate those other students.

Luomala said the province needs to recognize that small schools need help providing more courses, adding that there needs to be new ways of staffing schools in the north.

Smaller schools will have classes with fewer than 10 students, and they need face-to-face time too, and not just technology, he continued.
Al Luomala is the principal at the high school in Geraldton, Ont. (Jeff Walters / CBC)

Taking a course through the use of a computer poses its own set of distinct challenges, Barrett said, including the need to be even more disciplined.

Several school boards in northern Ontario that encompass large rural areas — such as the Keewatin-Patricia, Algoma and Superior-Greenstone school boards — have had to continue to expand their e-learning capabilities, Luomala said.

"We can't offer every course for every student, because we do have our students at the applied and college level stream, as well as our students at the workplace level," he said.

"So, we try and provide a balanced timetable for all of our students."

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