A Langley Secondary School initiative that lives up to its name marked a significant milestone recently.
On Oct. 26, LSS celebrated the 10th anniversary of its FOCUS Program.
“FOCUS” is apropos because that’s exactly the program’s intent: to assist students in Grades 10 to 12 who have trouble focusing in a typical classroom environment.
The Langley School District set up the FOCUS Program in 2006 to support “grey area” students who would normally fall through the cracks, noted Laurence Greeff, who along with Gwen Thornburn teaches the program.
“These students would typically struggle with a range of at-risk conduct,” Greeff said. “The FOCUS Program has been of great benefit to these struggling students.”
Greeff, who has taught the program from its inception, said some of the students have struggled with anxiety, depression and trauma-related problems.
LSS grads who are also FOCUS alumni were celebrated during an open house.
“Most of them have gone on to being pretty successful adults,” Greeff said.
School district superintendent Gord Stewart said FOCUS has “played a significant role in supporting [LSS] students facing challenging circumstances to experience educational success.”
“It exemplifies the Ministry of Education’s direction of providing educational programming that is personalized and flexible to meet student needs,” Stewart continued. “The staff provide a supportive learning community to enable students to assist them in their path towards graduation.”
Post secondary in cards
Marcie Larochelle, 17, is in Grade 12 and has been part of the program for the past three years.
“When I started off [at LSS], I was just going to be in regular science and regular academics,” Larochelle said.
“I didn’t even want to go to school,” she said. “Everything felt so overwhelming. It was like, ‘I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this.’ I didn’t think I’d make it past Grade 10.”
Her mom suggested the FOCUS program.
“I had no idea what it was,” Larochelle said.
Larochelle feels that FOCUS has helped her immensely.
Now she’s considering post-secondary studies.
“I’m not entirely sure what I want to go in for, but that’s one of the main priorities on my list, is I want to go to [a] post-secondary [school],” Larochelle said.
Greeff said FOCUS students are bright kids who are eager to learn, and thanks to the program have an opportunity to thrive in a different classroom environment.
During a typical school day, a student will take two blocks of FOCUS that cover core subjects – English, math, science, and social studies – with the rest of their day being made up of electives.
Thornburn teaches math and science while Greeff covers English and social studies.
“It’s all individualized,” Greeff said. “We track each student, we work closely with their parents, and we support them on an individualized basis to get through their work.”
Students write provincial exams when they are ready to do so, he added.
The key, Greeff says, is keeping students on pace. “And how we keep them on pace is, we don’t accept any incomplete work. Work has to be completed before they are eligible to write provincial exams.”
Greeff said the program doesn’t follow the conventional model of a teacher standing at the front of a classroom. “We have all the assignments organized for them to do, and we facilitate. If a student needs additional help, because there are two of us in the room, we can help them.”
A smaller classroom – averaging 12 to 13 kids per class – reduces the students’ anxiety, Greeff believes.
“It reduces the pressure on them,” he said. “They can work for a while on a particular course and then switch to another course.”
Over the past decade, Greeff said he’s seen numerous success stories, which makes his job all the more satisfying.
“What I enjoy about it is that we set a very positive mood in the room, we expect students to adapt to their individual needs, and we give them the opportunity to work at their pace,” Greeff added.
“And we support them, and that’s very important. It’s good from that standpoint because their experience in regular classrooms has not been good.”
Sixteen-year-old Tomas Hardy is fairly new to the program, having entered this semester.
The Grade 11 student is happy he did.
“I started off three classes behind, and the FOCUS program has made it so I might be able to graduate a semester early or even graduate on time,” Hardy said.
Hardy has attended LSS since Grade 9.
“When I was in regular classes I was distracted a lot, and the FOCUS program has made it so I’m more focused, I’m doing more work by myself… it’s a quiet classroom,” he said.
“It’s the best report card I’ve gotten since I was younger. I know that if I didn’t do FOCUS, I wouldn’t graduate.”
Fellow Grade 11 student Stephanie Gilchrist, 16, said being in a larger classroom setting was overwhelming.
“In here, the fact that it’s a lot more one-on-one, you get to focus a lot more on yourself and what you’re doing, so it’s a lot easier,” she said.
Asked if FOCUS has helped improve her Grades, Gilchrist answered, “Big time.”
“You have a lot more motivation to keep up and do your work,” she said. “My grades have definitely gone up, a lot.”
LSS isn’t the only Langley School that uses this learning model, Stewart pointed out. The Advance program at Aldergrove Community Secondary School follows a similar format to FOCUS.