In education, there needs to be options.
That is the reason the Lacombe Outreach School exists according to Principal Rita Manning.
“(Lacombe Outreach School) provides parents and students the option to learn in a different way.”
Manning added she knows of many students who would have dropped out of high school if they hadn’t had the option to get an education elsewhere.
“I think the more options you have for education, the more students will engage and finish their education,” she said.
Laurie Smith, family-school liaison for Lacombe Outreach School, said that she could speak at length about the difference the option of Lacombe Outreach School can make.
“I could go on for hours about amazing things.”
Smith went on to say that one of the most important things Lacombe Outreach School does is focus on the whole student. She added that, by the whole student, she means that the school focuses on the social and emotional needs of the student in addition to academic needs.
This is important to Smith as she said all the needs of the students need to be met in order for them to learn well.
Manning said that, in order to accommodate those needs, the school strives to provide a positive learning environment.
“The atmosphere here, our students report it as being very caring and very supportive,” said Manning.
Manning defines Lacombe Outreach School as a progressive alternate education program. She said it is a program where students work one-on-one with teachers to plan a customized education program for each individual.
When a student plans a program with a teacher, they decide what classes the student will take and set guidelines for when the student will finish those classes.
As Lacombe Outreach School does not have many structured classes where subject material is delivered by the teacher, the learning process at Lacombe Outreach School is largely student-led, said Manning.
Rather than traditional classroom settings, the school functions much like a large study hall, said Smith.
Students work while consulting teachers as needed to help explain materials or receive further instruction in problem areas. This allows for a great deal more one-on-one student-teacher learning than at larger schools.
This also allows students to learn at their own pace. Manning said teachers will set timelines for when students should complete certain modules, but they are flexible and those timelines can be shortened or lengthened.
“Everything is based on the students’ pace and what the students can do,” said Manning.
Attendance is something that differs for each student as well, and is set up by all students when they plan their educational program with a teacher, said Manning. Some students need to attend class every day, while others can make do by only attending once a week, which is the minimum mandatory attendance for Lacombe Outreach School.
Hours at the School differ as well with it being open in the evenings of some days in addition to regular school hours, said Manning.
All kinds of students come to Lacombe Outreach School. Some of them are gifted learners who are trying to fast-track their education, others are slower learners who need a bit more time, some are students who can’t attend other schools because of problems with drugs, still others are older learners wishing to further their education.
Some students are even dual students who are taking additional classes while attending school at one of the other high schools in Lacombe, said Manning.
Grades 7-9 junior high students have a more traditionally structured education program. They have classes and teachers, but the entire program is delivered by only two teachers.
Currently there are 33 students enrolled in junior high at the Lacombe Outreach School.
Manning said she finds teaching at Lacombe Outreach School more meaningful than teaching she has done at conventional schools.
She said she enjoys being with a student right from the beginning of their learning to the end. Rather than teach a class of students something they may not be ready for and then send them off to learn something else, Manning gets to connect with her students, she said.
“You start at where they’re at, where they are ready to learn,” said Manning. She said needing to use different methods to teach has also made her a better teacher.
Smith added that finding different solutions to students’ problems and using different teaching methods is something the staff at Lacombe Outreach School does often.
“We get forced to think outside the box,” said Smith.
Because the educational needs for each of the students at Lacombe Outreach School are different, not all of the students attend school here for the entire school year (which runs from September to July including summer school). By the end of school year though, Lacombe Outreach School will have served about 500 students.