Sask. Rivers celebrates end to final DLC school year

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Saskatchewan Rivers trustee Alan Nunn was presented with the art piece “Under One Sky” during the Sask Rivers DLC closing celebration on Tuesday, June 13.

The Saskatchewan Rivers School Division’s Distance Learning Centre (DLC) celebrated their success at a farewell celebration in the Education Centre on Tuesday, June 13.

The DLC is closing because of the new Saskatchewan DLC coming next school year. Principal Jenna Cross, who was in her first year with the DLC, said they wanted to celebrate the school’s success before shutting down.

“We were able to support students in in a lot of different ways that it’s hard to do in in your regular face to face schools,” said Cross, who will move to John Diefenbaker School next year with the DLC closing down. “That ability that we had and flexibility to support students differently really made a difference.”

Between students in Prince Albert and schools in the surrounding area there were around 300 students who attended the DLC. Cross said the school’s flexibility is what made it a success.

“(It’s) adaptability and recognizing other students need different things because they’ve been through some things,” she explained.

Cross said the school helped students through the pandemic. It also helped create a community mindset among staff members.

Since it started in August 2020, the school has served 750 elementary students and 338 secondary students. It also employed 17 teachers and eight support staff.

It currently has students in Grades 7 to 12 and offers more than 60 courses. Roughly 20 students will graduate on June 23.

Director of education Robert Bratvold echoed Cross’ sentiments. He said the closing celebration was a chance to reflect on the fantastic things that the DLC accomplished.

“Sometimes it’s hard to pause and celebrate,” Bratvold said. “This gives us an opportunity to look back and say, look at the fantastic things: the program development, the course development, but really that support and success of students. That’s great.”

Bratvold added that the schools credit attainment success was possibly unmatched by schools in the province.

He said it was also an opportunity to reflect on how the DLC served students and their needs.

The celebration included speeches by Bratvold, Cross, Elder Liz Settee, DLC trustee representative Alan Nunn, parent Karen Ferguson Dodge and student Ella McBride.

Students from the DLC presented Nunn with a piece of art called “Under One Sky” that represented all of the students, superintendent and staff member connected to the DLC. It will be displayed in the Education Centre.

McBride has been a student since the beginning and will be graduating from the DLC this year. In her speech, she said that before entering the DLC, she was shy and struggling with classes.

“What I didn’t expect was the amount of love and dedication that would come in this little newly born online school that appeared out of nowhere,” McBride said. “The DLC introduced so many online students like me to a community of staff that are passionate about what they do.”

McBride said that the staff of the DLC made her feel like part of a community.

“It breaks my heart to have to say goodbye,” she said.

Despite the sadness, McBride noted that it was a day of celebration and not regret.

“Remembering everything that the DLC has done for staff, for parents, and for students, especially those memories, those lessons, those people, they will always remain in our hearts and in mind. I’m so grateful to be part of the DLC legacy, and I’m so grateful to have seen firsthand all of the great things that my school has done.”

Michael Olekysn/Daily Herald Grade 12 DLC student Ella McBride spoke on how the DLC impacted her life during the Sask Rivers DLC closing celebration on Tuesday, June 13.

Along with Cross, former DLC Principal Carrie Grant-Walker was also in attendance, as were senior administration from the division. Cross gave credit to Grant-Walker for building a culture that she could continue in the DLC, and for doing so almost overnight.

“It really has been a fantastic success in all kinds of measures like culture,” Bratvold said. “We talked about credit attainment, like high school credit and I don’t think there’s a school in the province who would match their success rate, so really, really good stuff.”

The DLC was located in Carlton Comprehensive High School. Bratvold said the school was very accommodating.

“They had to move some programming, some space elsewhere, so they did some accommodation in terms of adjusting. That was great, but there was a one core space that had some offices and some meeting space and another part of Carlton had classroom space and those sorts of things,” Bratvold said.

Along with connecting virtually, there was space for students to come in and connect as well.

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Saskatchewan Rivers DLC Principal Jenna Cross spoke during the Sask Rivers DLC closing celebration on Tuesday, June 13.

The concept came out of the COVID-19 pandemic and Bratvold credited the board of education for adapting on the fly.

“At that time there were hundreds of kids who had this need because COVID was prevalent and so we knew we needed to do it,” Bratvold said. “We had some sense of how, but not much. It was, ‘here’s where it was going to be. Let’s build the support around it.’”

Bratvold said McBride isn’t the only student who spoke positively of the DLC. He added that the impact of the whole DLC concept in Saskatchewan Rivers will endure.

“I think kids’ lives have changed because of the DLC,” he said. “Kids’ lives have changed, and that impact will go on for a long time. I think the structure and mechanisms and processes of a DLC have been substantially different than what was experienced elsewhere, and I think that will have an impact on the Sask DLC. I think there’s some enduring capacity there.”