Since it first launched six years ago, and online Catholic Schools run out of BC has garnered province-wide – and international – attention.
Founded by Bishop David Monroe in April 2011, ASCEND Online, which stands for All Saints Catholic E-school Network Delivered Online, is the sixth school to operate under the direction of the Catholic Independent Schools of the Kamloops Diocese (CISKD) and is the first Catholic homeschool option in Canada directly supported by a diocese. Its mission is to support Catholic families in their role as the primary educators of their children.
Kelly Tries, Superintendent of of CISKD and Principal at ASCEND Online says the idea for an online Distributed Learning school for Catholics was discussed among the Catholic superintendents of BC for a few years before ASCEND came into being.
“As superintendents, they could see the growing world of online learning and everyone around the table agreed that there needed to be a Catholic option,” she explains.
Kelly was then approached from one of her school principals to explore the option of a Catholic online school.
“We met several times and put a power point presentation together for the Board to explain what a Catholic online school was and how it could meet the needs of many families living outside of the locations of our brick and mortar Catholic schools,” she says, adding there are only five Catholic elementary schools and one Catholic high school in the entire Diocese of Kamloops.
Gord Higginson, who was the principal of St. James elementary school in Vernon, travelled to Cache Creek with Kelly and they made their presentation to the priests of the diocese in January, 2011.
“The priests were in unanimous agreement that a school of this type was needed,” says Kelly.
The Diocese of Kamloops provided $250,000 in seed money to get them started, and registration opened in April, 2011 for the following September. Gord served as the principal for the beginning year, and the seed money was paid back in full over the next three years – only $100,000 of that amount was used.
The School’s Purpose
Kelly says ASCEND was launched for three reasons. It was launched to:
1. Provide Catholic education for students and families in areas where Catholic schools were not available;
2. Provide Catholic online courses to enhance the course offerings in the Catholic brick and mortar high schools, and;.
3. Provide support for Catholic families choosing to educate their children at home by providing a contact teacher and resources for individualized learning plans.
Today, they offer the entire new BC Curriculum online as well as a variety of religion courses and programs outside of the BC Curriculum. They currently have 310 students enrolled from K-12 and anticipate that number will grow by 20-50 students for September, 2017.
“All but very few of our students are home school students, explains Kelly.
Kelly says the teachers are a delight to be working with at ASCEND.
“They are assigned to families – not grades – and develop wonderful, collaborative relationships with their families over the years,” says Kelly. “It’s very much an online community.”
Identifying the gaps since it launched six years ago, ASCEND has plans to address the needs within its online school community.
“This coming year we will be adding a number of cross-enrolled students in grades 10, 11 and 12,” Kelly says.
Cross-enrollment means high school students in BC can be enrolled for courses at more than one school at the same time. Students enrolled at any high school can also take one or more of their courses at ASCEND and the grades will be fully recognized by the ministry.
Special education is also a growing area with ASCEND, and they currently have more than 55 funded special education students enrolled from around the province.
“Our special education coordinator and contact teachers work with all of those families to secure resources and outside agency support for a broad range of learning needs,” explains Kelly. “Our challenge is to find contact teachers in an area where these students are living so that communication can be frequent and face-to-face as opposed to mainly online.”
They’re also getting some interest from international students, but they are not yet offering programs. It is, however, on their radar for the 2017-2018 school year provided they have the contact teachers needed and they are able to communicate with international students as per the Distributed Learning Agreement provided by the Ministry of Education.
“The world is quickly becoming smaller and smaller as the online opportunities to connect and learn continue to grow,” says Kelly. “Many international students want the opportunity to get a graduation diploma from a Canadian province to improve their opportunities to attend a Canadian university or college.”
To learn more about ASCEND Online visit the ASCEND Online website.