Tofino councillor Cathy Thicke believes commuting to Ucluelet is a barrier for local high school students and is lobbying for a change to the West Coast’s current education model.
“We’re losing families. I can’t even tell you how many families have left because of the high school situation,” Thicke said during June 13’s regular council meeting. “I’m not saying the quality of education, I’m saying the distance travelled to reach that education.”
She suggested Tofino’s students spend roughly 1,500 hours busing to Ucluelet and back between Grades 8 and 12 and, with record enrolment expected at Wickaninnish Community School next year, a more inclusive approach is needed to incorporate the entire peninsula.
“If that trend continues, which it’s estimated to do, are we going to put 60 kids on a bus everyday leaving Tofino to go to a high school?” she asked. “I didn’t like it 25 years ago and I’m no further in favour of it now.”
She added Clayoquot Sound offers a unique outdoor classroom for a variety of post-secondary programs and questioned why that same classroom couldn’t work for high school students.
“We’re taking the lid off the box about what we can do here in terms of higher education,” she said. “How is it that, in 2017, we’re still filled with this notion that all these kids have to go to this one central building for five years?”
After the meeting, Thicke told the Westerly News she believes there’s at least seven high-school-aged youth in Tofino who aren’t attending Ucluelet Secondary School because of the commute and that the West Coast’s new fibre optic internet capability has opened opportunities.
“We have so much to offer these kids right here and we’re just not really capitalizing on it,” she said.
“There’s other ways to slice the cake. All the learning does not have to happen in one particular building,…Why can’t we have a combination of online and onsite? I don’t know what that looks like; whether Ucluelet is still the mother-school or the main place. But, why can’t we have a component of the high school that takes place in Tofino?” She said Tofino is prime for outdoor learning and could attract students from other areas while enhancing the skills of young locals and added that Qualicum’s Rivers, Mountain and Ocean School has been successful and provides certifications that boost students’ employability after graduation.
“Why can’t we expand our thinking into what else we could do that would enhance kids’ desire to graduate, enhance their experience of high school and, potentially, have them come out with a bunch of skills and certificates that are going to take them off from here to the next level?” she asked.