Welcoming, caring, accepting, supportive—these are just some of the words students use to describe the Barrhead Outreach School. Teacher Joanne Wallace has been working with students at Barrhead Outreach since 2011 and has helped many of them graduate. Along with program assistants Jane Chapman and Jackie Balzer, the team works with students to ensure they are supported in a school environment where they are in control of their own learning.
“We use a holistic approach to learning—by addressing student well-being, students develop the skills they need to be great citizens, while also completing their high school diploma,” says Wallace.
Why do students choose Outreach?
Enrolment at Barrhead Outreach has increased from previous years, and students are choosing it for the flexible schedules, personalized experiences, mental health supports, and community connections. “Many students from typical families actually choose to attend school here. We hope to dispel the stigma around our Outreach School—it’s a misconception that this is just a place for troubled kids,” said Wallace.
Here’s what some of the students had to say:
“I decided to come to Outreach this year because of some of the challenges within the high school environment.”
“This is one of the most supportive environments I’ve been in. You can show up in a bad mood and leave in a good mood. They really care about you as a person, not just your education.”
“Last year I was getting 40-50% in my classes; this year I’m on the honour roll. This was a good move for me, it changed my school career completely.”
“Outreach is a very welcoming community. We’re not just kids who smoke and do drugs. I’ve met some really nice kids here, they’re soft-hearted and the teachers are welcoming.”
“It’s a pretty cool place, and super easy for me to get my work done here.”
Outreach students have the flexibility to choose the courses they need. One student told us, “I like the flexibility; being able to work on the subjects I choose.” Another student told us he made the choice to attend Barrhead Outreach this year because he was short credits and the environment and flexibility will allow him to catch up—he hopes to graduate this year.
One student commented, “It’s a really good environment, you build a really strong bond with the teachers. Academically, it’s an advantage.”
Although Wallace encourages the students to attend at least three days per week, several students attend full time—some even ride the bus with their peers who attend at the high school.
How courses are offered
Barrhead Outreach School uses material from the Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) for various courses including English Language Arts, Social Studies and Sciences. ADLC teachers provide instruction and marking for many of the 20 and 30 level courses.
For other courses, such as Career and Technology Studies (CTS) some of the materials come from other outreach schools. Wallace develops or adapts course content from other materials, sometimes in collaboration with Westlock Outreach School teacher, Heather Ross.
Wallace says, “We also offer some uncommon courses such as Aboriginal Studies, Learning Strategies, Reading Strategies and Agriculture.”
Students can also earn high school credits through off-campus Work Experience programs as well as Dual Credit programs.
The school also partners with the Barrhead Food Bank—students in Food Studies prepare a hot lunch for their peers twice a week, and some of the ingredients are provided by the Food Bank. In return, the students volunteer to help prepare the Christmas hampers in December. This is a great way for students to make a positive contribution to their community and demonstrate active citizenship.
Supporting mental health
Counselors are available to students on a daily basis. One student told us, “It’s really helpful to know there’s a counselor here every day – so if we need to talk there’s someone available.” The school incorporates community based resources, such as the Family Violence Prevention program (THRIVE) offered by Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) and Addictions and Mental Health Counselling through Alberta Health Services.
Last year, Barrhead Outreach students completed the Mental Health First Aid certificate which provides the confidence and skills to support peers and family with various mental health illnesses and problems.
It’s clear that the Barrhead Outreach School serves a vital need for the students in our community. The students who choose Barrhead Outreach are staying in school, achieving success, and working towards high school graduation—something Wallace and her team are very proud of.