Close to 19,000 Abbotsford students are heading back to school today.
School District 34 is projecting a total enrolment of 18,939 students for the 2013-14 year. That represents a decline of 174 students from the previous school year.
School superintendent Kevin Godden said the numbers have been “up a few, down a few” over the past few years, but the change has been “negligible.”
“We start getting soft numbers on the first day of school from all of our schools,” he explained, adding by the end of the first week they will have a “pretty good handle” on the final numbers, especially at the elementary and middle school level.
“Secondary schools are a little bit of a trickier proposition given that there are so many variables related to course planning and so on. We don’t get those numbers until a week after that.”
The district doesn’t need to have final numbers until Sept. 30, when they submit them to the ministry for funding purposes.
With the start of a new school year comes the beginning of new initiatives.
“One of our big priorities is around early learning because we know that the biggest impact we can get in terms of kids learning comes as a result of early intervention,” said Godden.
He said the district is attempting to expand and improve the Strong Start parent participation preschool process. Currently, there are 11 such programs in the district’s 26 preschool sites.
“We’re concerned we aren’t reaching all the kids.”
He said work has begun with community partners to expand and improve access for some of the most vulnerable families.
“Anything we can do with kids before they turn the age of eight is critical.”
Another initiative being examined is the possibility of an outdoor school.
Godden said a thorough consultation process will take place to gauge interest in the idea.
“That will likely be an elementary start,” he said to see if a base of interest can be built.
He explained if approved, interested students would see a significant part of their day take place outdoors. Students would learn the curriculum through the environment, play and working in wooded areas.
“They would deal with the science, math, writing, language, and arts curriculum largely in that outdoor space.”
A third initiative focuses on technology.
“Technology is such a huge part of the education equation and a big part of our students’ lives. And it will help to facilitate learning in a big way,” said Godden.
However, he said the district needs to play a stronger role in getting kids to use technology ethically.
“We have a growing issue with kids and how they conduct themselves in online spaces.”
He said the school district is probably the best place to educate youngsters about online etiquette. The district is piloting a number of programs at the middle school level around the use of technology in an appropriate manner.
Finally, Godden said there is a lot of work going on to improve trades programs.
“It’s a big focus for the province and for the government that we expand opportunities, in light of the fact that over the course of the next 10 years there’s going to be a million jobs in trades and technologies.”
He said it is the district’s responsibility to prepare students for that future.