Non-traditional high school helped dozens of PSSD students succeed this year

High school student Kyle Pierce struggled to learn in a traditional classroom, but thanks to a non-traditional educational setting, he was able to turn around his grades and graduate.   

Prairie South School Division launched Pathways School last fall for students in grades 10, 11 and 12 who were unsuccessful in a typical class setting. Located at 109 Ominica Street West, the storefront school is a non-traditional learning environment that uses space in a building meant for retail.

Inside, instead of desks and chairs in rows, the main room is more like a coffee shop with several types of seats and tables. Furthermore, in smaller rooms, there is a board room, a small workout room, three staff offices and a kitchen.

Reuben Cossette was the program’s first student to graduate — he finished in April and began working at a new job — while dozens of other students either completed their first year or graduated by June 30.

Pierce, 18, joined the program right after it launched and attended almost daily since he wanted to complete his schooling on time. He initially expected Pathways to be in a regular school building but was surprised to learn there were offices where he could work quietly.

“Working my hardest, or kinda my hardest,” he laughed.

The Grade 12 student thought the program was great and “freeing” since it allowed him to set his schedule, including when he arrived, the assignments he could focus on first, and even focusing on one subject the entire day.

Pierce had been attending A.E. Peacock Collegiate but found that its 9 a.m. start time didn’t mesh well with his sleep schedule, so he usually fell asleep in class. Conversely, he can come and go as he pleases with Pathways School.

“I was kind of just bad at managing my time … (and was) distracted by other people, too … ,” he said. “It’s sometimes hard to just keep your head focused on one thing, but here, it’s like you can go and choose to work in your own private space and be by yourself if you want.”

Pierce knew he wouldn’t graduate on time if he stayed at Peacock — it would have taken him another half a year — so attending Pathways School let him focus more intently and finish his assignments quickly. Moreover, he didn’t have to wait for teachers to start and end lessons or for students to arrive.

The student added that he appreciated his teachers’ friendliness and the help they provided to ensure his success.

Principal Angus McIntosh is one of three teachers at Pathways, with Tessa Willfong and Logan Petlock joining him. McIntosh has more than 31 years of experience in education, while he was the vice-principal at Westmount before joining the new school.

While he loved working at the elementary school, he couldn’t let this new opportunity pass by.

“It’s fantastic. I think we’re making a difference for the kids we have, for sure … ,” McIntosh said. “It’s going extremely well. We’ve had a lot of success (and) we’ve been able to engage with students who were not engaging with school at all …

“We’ve been able to pick up some of the slack there.”

Students like that Pathways offers non-traditional seating since it doesn’t feel like a regular classroom, he continued. Yet, while the school wants to appear inviting and comfortable, there is still homework to complete, even if a teacher isn’t standing at the front instructing.

McIntosh added that the three teachers always check on students and ensure they’re making progress with their work. The youths like the feedback, while the research shows that regular input is critical to learning success and growth.

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