Wolf Creek Public Schools faced many challenges in their expansive division, including achievement level gaps and high student needs. So, they decided to make a change to address the needs of all learners.
Nestled in the rural territory of Alberta, Canada, Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) consists of 29 schools that serve over 7,300 K-12 students, including 10% or 750 who self-identify as First Nations, Inuit or Metis.
Challenges at Wolf Creek
Driving through this sweeping territory can take up to two and a half hours by car. This distance highlights some of the division’s logistical challenges caused by its size and rural setting. However, it also exacerbates other issues local schools face. These pain points include gaps in academic rigor across the division, affected student achievement and lower enrollment in small rural schools, minimal funding, teacher turnover, student attendance and high need for social-emotional and academic support for learners.
Improving logistical and academic equity with technology
“One of the tools that supported Wolf Creek staff and students during the 2020-21 school year while they participated in hybrid learning both online and face to face was Hāpara, an online instruction platform that allows teachers to create and facilitate interactive online instruction,” explains Sean Lougheed, Director of Education Services for the division.
Since 2015, Hāpara Workspace has increasingly enabled WCPS to deliver flexible learning options and rigorous content to all high school students using the division’s Enhanced Learning Model. Developed by some of the division’s most experienced master teachers, this ELM comprises 64 core curriculum courses, including math, sciences, social studies and English.
In addition, teachers at WCPS have also created or modified courses in Workspace for elementary through high school learners. Their continuous use of Hāpara Workspace is evident, with teachers interacting with the tool 156,624 times during the 2020-21 school year, or 846 interactions per school day. During the same time, WCPS learners interacted with Hāpara Workspace 772,745 times, or 4,200 times per school day.
“Equitable access has changed the landscape for learners at Wolf Creek, and Hāpara has helped us improve educational equity because it lets us adapt to learners’ lives,” says Lougheed. “Before, to get a good education, they had to get on the bus. Now, we have tools to take the education to where they are, for whatever reason, whether it’s an international rodeo competition, serious health concerns or living very remotely and not being able to get a ride into town.”
WCPS has used Hāpara Workspace to overcome obstacles the district has faced. Workspace has served as their digital platform for the Enhanced Learning Model. It has given learners a consistently high level of rigor, more coursework options and the flexibility to work at their own pace whether they attend a very small school, an outreach school, a larger urban school or a suburban school.
With students able to access all the courses they need during the school year and the full curriculum during summer school, there has been a positive change in learners’ ability to graduate on time and study what they’re interested in. In the past, a learner completing summer school might still show up to the next school year unprepared. This issue doesn’t exist anymore as educators continue to make rigorous content tailored to the learners that match their coursework.
Addressing social-emotional barriers to student success
Along with logistical and academic challenges impacting students, many are dealing with social-emotional issues affecting their learning. Before the pandemic, the division took a profile of the needs of all learners. The results showed that learners who needed social-emotional support surpassed those with special academic needs. WCPS traditionally used outreach or alternative schools to assist at-risk students and address the needs of learners in rural areas. These flexible environments that emphasize individualized instruction serve students who learn more effectively outside of a traditional school setting and students deemed at risk for dropping out for many reasons.
Avoiding teacher burnout by providing support
In the past, new educators began teaching at WCPS with little to no resources but the expectation that they could serve a diverse set of students and address their learning needs. As a result, the lack of preparation caused teachers to quit frequently. This increased the turnover rate and burnout and disconnected the continuity between educator and learner.
Today, new teachers still might have a heavier class load of eight different courses in their schedules, but those courses are already created in Hāpara. New educators can modify these lessons or courses to make them their own, but at least they start with a foundation. Additionally, they can reach out to the cohort of teachers who created the courses for advice or help, which builds more of a community among educators.
From pandemic to performance
While many schools experienced disappointing data around student achievement during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wolf Creek Public Schools continued to thrive. In fact, dropout rates were reduced to 2.2% in 2020, well below the 2.9% target and five points below the provincial average dropout rate of 2.7%. Also, graduation rates denoted as three-year and five-year completion rates for students entering grade 10 increased. The rates jumped from the low 70s before 2018 to 78 and 77.2, respectively, in 2019 and 2020. Finally, enrollment at Wolf Creek Public Schools remained at 98% throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
To close the gap and address the needs of all learners, the division used Hāpara to create flexible learning environments, build teacher capacity, strengthen leadership development and forge partnerships that open doors to postsecondary opportunities. In light of this ongoing commitment to boosting learner achievement, Marg Brookwell, who has taught at WCPS since 1997, adds, “We never stopped teaching, and they never stopped learning. It was hard, but we still kept putting in our interventions and using the resources and relationships that we have.”
“Through the effective utilization of online tools like Hāpara Workspaces and instructional flexibility, WCPS students were able to continue their learning as they transitioned to and from learning at home and at school, which helped to minimize any potential learning gaps for students,” says Lougheed. “Going forward, WCPS will continue to utilize online instruction to support the flexible learning needs of students and families.”