Calgary private schools report spike in enrolment as back-to-school looms

As anxious parents weigh their back-to-school options for September, some are looking for alternatives — even if they come at a price.

Parents may not be comfortable with provincial re-opening guidelines or want guaranteed smaller class sizes

Concerns over COVID-19 may be driving an increased interest in private schools in Calgary. (CBC)

As anxious parents weigh their back to school options for September, some are looking for alternatives — even if they come at a price. 

Private schools are reporting a spike in enrolments.

Denise Dutchuk-Smith, the head of school at Delta West Academy, says one of the reasons parents are looking at private schools is smaller class sizes.

Delta West caps class size at 15 students.

She said the school recently held trial runs to test whether physical distancing was possible.

"Although the students hated it, you know we have big, beautiful classrooms that can accommodate 30 to 40 students if we wanted to put that many in it, which we don't," Dutchuk-Smith told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"But for us, spacing is not an issue — it's just not."

Dutchuk-Smith said the admission director at Delta West has reported an increase of 15 to 20 per cent in inquiries.

"Usually it's quiet in July, and she'll get a lot of calls in August, whereas this year she was constantly getting calls," Dutchuk-Smith said.

Neil Webber, founder and head of school for Webber Academy, said it's the same at his kindergarten to Grade 12 school.

"We've had a lot of calls this summer," Webber said. "Before the summer started we were thinking there might even be a reduction in the number of calls because of COVID. And so we were financially planning for 940 students, but at this point we have over 990."

As to the reasons that parents are providing, Dutchuk-Smith said there seem to be two main concerns.

"I think it's one, the number of students that are going to be in their classes," Dutchuk-Smith said. "They're also concerned that the teachers are not going to be able to adequately enforce some of those social distancing rules. I think it's just a fear that they're not sure what's going to be going on." 

That has parents looking for a school that already has small class sizes.

"They're looking for someone or a school that already knows what they're going to do and has plans in place, and has provided for some of those social distancing measures, especially with the older children," Dutchuk-Smith said. 

Webber Academy has classroom sizes of 18 to 22 children on average, Webber said, and will practice all the same physical distancing plans as the public system. 

But Webber said some parents have other reasons for seeking out a private education for their children.

"There's a few that I've talked to who were not very happy with the online learning that occurred during the end of the last year," Webber said.

"And then we had been talking with some of our parents, and our parents were much happier with what their kids are receiving … and so because they felt that we were providing better service."

Private school in Alberta can run from $10,300 to $18,350 per year.

"We have a lot of parents who work full-time, work two jobs to have their kids at the school, so they are making choices to send their children there," Dutchuk-Smith said.

Two of Dutchuk-Smith's own children are in the Catholic system.

"I'm confident that the teachers are going to be able to look after them. I've read the rules very carefully, and if enforced and if we practice hygiene education, I believe our kids are going to do very, very well," she said.

Dutchuk-Smith said she's taught her own kids to wash their hands frequently, wear their face masks and try to be six feet apart.

"You know our parents are very lucky because we have small cohorts, and we're going to [give] them that extra level, but also as a parent sending my child off a class — my son's class was 34 last year — I have taught my kids to take responsibility for themselves. And so I feel that they're going to be fine."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


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