Students at the Agassiz Centre for Education will be moving to the AESS building starting next Monday (Oct. 28).
According to school district superintendent Karen Nelson, the Fraser Cascade school board made a decision to move the ACE program to the high school during a closed board meeting last Tuesday (Oct. 15). The decision was made partly because of declining enrolment numbers in the district, as well as concerns about safety for students and staff in the small building located next to AESS.
“Our enrolment numbers have been decreasing over the years as you know, and we just felt this was a good opportunity for students to move over and have some enhanced programming opportunities there,” Nelson said.
ACE currently has an enrolment of 17 students, up from 16 in 2018-19, although down from around 27 students in 2014-15.
The students will be moving with ACE administrator Sandy Balascak to the AESS building, where they will have their own classroom. Students will be able to integrate into other classes if they choose, or continue to learn from Balascak, who is currently the only teacher at ACE since Ray Steiguilas retired at the end of last year.
Nelson said she was at ACE this morning to share the news with students, many of whom expressed concerns about returning to AESS.
“We know that will be a difficult transition of course,” she said.
“It’s going to be a big transition, we understand that for our students, but we believe it will provide enhanced programming options,” she continued. “Sandy’s the only teacher at ACE right now and she can’t be expected to … be an expert in every area.”
According to Nelson, students at ACE would be provided with counselling during the move to AESS, which would take place gradually as the school moved its equipment to the new space.
Concerns were also raised by Alison Loosdretch, a student at ACE, in the Life in Agassiz Facebook group.
“We are told this will be better for us, but we already know it’s not,” Loosdretch wrote in her post. “We left AESS. Our school is our safe place, as well as our teacher and has helped each one of us in our own way.”
She went on to say that staff at AESS had said students who eventually went on to go to ACE “didn’t belong in a mainstream school” and were made fun of for their mental health issues.
“We are anxious, nervous, and scared to go back, many of us were bullied at that school, not other by students but the staff as well!” she wrote. “We voiced that, but again our opinion doesn’t matter because we are students.”
Loosdretch ended her post by asking parents to contact the school district about the move, and an hour after she published it, had already received more than 45 comments from people who were shocked that the alternative school would be moving. Many said they would be contacting the school district or members of the local government.
At least two ACE graduates also commented on the post, speaking about the importance of the school to their own education.
“If I was still in ACE at this point I would most definitely had dropped out,” Emma Potts said in her comment on the post. “AESS is a good school but not for everybody. I have been personally victimized by people there, not only the students but staff.
“Regardless its not about putting other schools down, it’s about making our students feel safe and excited to go to school. This is outrageous, and very sad to see.”