British Columbia

Vancouver School Board to increase in-person instructional time for secondary students

On Thursday afternoon, the district posted a letter online telling parents that all high school students will see an increase in in-person instructional hours beginning April 26 — the start of the academic year’s fourth quarter.

Parents say lack of in-class time is hurting kids' mental health, academic performance

The Vancouver School Board has been under pressure from the province and some parents to provide more in-class instructional time. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Still facing pressure from some parents and the province, the Vancouver School District has announced it will increase in-class instructional hours for high school students.

On Thursday afternoon, the district sent a letter to parents telling them all high school grades will see an increase in in-person instructional hours beginning April 26 — the start of the academic year's fourth quarter.

"The entire school year we've been listening, learning and reflecting," Supt. Suzanne Hoffman said. "And based on what we've been hearing, realized that there are some changes that we need to make."

The changes amount to an extra two to five hours of in-person instructional time each week, depending on grade.

The district said Grade 8 and 9 students will be in class for a mandatory minimum of 13.75 hours each week. Grade 8 students are currently in class for 10.75 hours each week, and Grade 9 students for 8.75.

Pupils in Grades 10 through 12 will be in class for 10.75 hours each week. They are now in class for 8.75 hours each week.

"[That] would be the minimum number of hours," Hoffman said.

Simmering issue

Parents have expressed concerns that a lack of in-person schooling is having profound impacts on the academic and mental well-being of teenagers. 

They say their children have become isolated and withdrawn without the normal experiences of school, especially as peers have not been able to see each other socially for months due to public health orders.

Parents have pointed to other school districts like Surrey, Burnaby and North Vancouver offering more than 20 hours of weekly instructional time — some blending online and in-person instruction.

In late January, some changes were made to students' schedules, primarily Grade 8 students.

In mid February, the deputy education minister sent a letter to Hoffman highlighting that Vancouver was one of only a few districts providing less than 75 per cent of instructional hours in-person.

Parents differ

When asked how Vancouver compares to those districts, Hoffman replied that there were many diverse opinions among Vancouver parents about how many hours kids should be in class.

"What we've tried to do is find a model that will meet the needs of as many students as possible," Hoffman said. "Getting them in for additional time whilst also honouring and recognizing those that are quite pleased with the model as it currently stands."

Nathan Hume has been one parent advocating for more instructional hours. He said the increase to minimum hours announced Thursday is a good start. He also wants to know what opportunities will exist for kids who want to be in school longer than the minimum hours.

"We've learned that the details do matter," Hume said. "So we're looking forward to hearing the full package of information over the next couple of weeks.

Teachers not applauding changes

Vancouver's fewer in-class hours, Hoffman said, has in part been driven by the fact the district has capped classes at 15 students to allow for physical distancing and better cleaning. Hoffman said the changes will not increase the number of students in classes.

Some teachers said the drive to increase instructional hours is overlooking the successes of Vancouver's approach.

Nikitha Fester is a French Immersion teacher at Van Tech Secondary. (Kevin Li/CBC)

Fewer students and less mandatory instructional time, said Van Tech French Immersion teacher Nikitha Fester, has allowed for teachers to spend more time with students who need extra help during "flex" time when teachers are present in the school but not teaching a set lesson.

She said she was able to use this time to help a failing Grade 12 student get on the path to passing.

"In a normal year, it definitely would require that student coming in either before school or after school," Fester said. "Which is a very hard sell when you're dealing with high school students."

Vancouver Secondary Teachers Association president Treena Goolieff said she is concerned that increasing the teaching load on the fly will lead to burnout among teachers.

"I just don't want teachers to have to, yet again, be faced with new challenges that really are unnecessary," Goolieff said.

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Liam Britten

Digital journalist

Liam Britten is an award-winning journalist for CBC Vancouver. You can contact him at liam.britten@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter: @liam_britten.

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