Palliser students enjoy working beyond borders

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Palliser Beyond Borders Principal Alison Hancox cuts the cake at the PASS+ campus in Coaldale with the help of Bryson, the son of one of her students there.

Friday’s celebration of the Palliser Beyond Borders program couldn’t come soon enough for school board Chair Colleen Deitz.

One of her platforms  while campaigning for a position on the Board of Trustees of Palliser Regional Schools in 1998 was the provision of an online education option for students.

Deitz, who served up cake at the Vulcan outreach campus – one of three regional celebrations on the day – said Palliser was dealing with some “pretty small schools with some pretty small numbers” back then.

“It was our thought that if we could do online programming, we could keep those students at those schools. It provided them with another tool to stay and be educated in their home communities a little longer,” she said.

The technology at that time was a stumbling block, however, and things moved slower than Deitz had hoped. The program became more viable with improved Internet connections and a change in funding for distance education.

Unlike traditional distance learning, Palliser’s outreach program is not an online marking program. It is a teaching and learning program online with teachers available to offer their help either online or in person at one of the campuses in Coaldale, Picture Butte,  Vulcan and, just recently, in Calgary.

Friday’s celebration recognized not only the addition of the Palliser Alternative Outreach School at 2635 27 Ave. NE  in Calgary, but the launch of a revamped website at

In just its third year the program,  according to Principal Alison Hancox, has grown to include more than 440 students registered in 829 courses. Deitz has seen the difference it can make.

During a ceremony at the Vulcan outreach campus last year, she met a student who was finishing his last course that same afternoon, just in time to allow him to graduate from high school. The teen, who had struggled academically and faced turmoil in his personal life, had contemplated dropping out of school.

“He was one of those poor kids who wasn’t going anywhere fast. But he got everything lined up through the outreach program, finished up a substantial amount of courses to graduate and he was just thrilled,” said Deitz.

Palliser Beyond Borders also offers an international student program. In addition to an online component, a growing number of students from China, Brazil and Korea have attended schools across the division. They bring with them the opportunity for Palliser students to experience a world of different cultures on their own doorstep.

Principal Jason Kupery has seen his students at Calgary Christian Secondary School (CCSS) “stretch and grow” as a result of such exposure.

“We pride ourselves in being an accepting and loving community at Calgary Christian,” he said, prior to Friday’s event. “When students are from other cultures it definitely helps up put that in better practice because there are often language and cultural barriers that make it a little more difficult sometimes to reach out,” he said

Korean student Tae Yoon (Tim) Kim said the friendliness of staff and classmates at Calgary Christian was one of the things that has impressed him most. Now in his second year at the school, Kim fondly recalled his very first day.

“When I got here, I actually didn’t know anyone,” he said. “It was lunch and I was looking for somewhere to eat.  A bunch of guys came in and talked to me.  I was concerned about making friends and stuff but they came and talked to me and had lunch with me.”

Other international students speak glowingly of the chance to see a new country, meet new friends, improve their English, and take a greater variety of courses than available at home. And for some, that first experience with snow is one they’ll never forget.

“I would recommend this experience to other students because it was the best experience in my life,” said Grigorio Novaes, a Brazilian student who just recently wrapped up his studies at Coaldale’s Kate Andrews High School.

While Deitz is proud of the distance Palliser Beyond Borders has come in a short time, she said it’s important the program continues to grow and evolve.

“I think if we are not willing to look at new things coming in, it’s like technology – you’ll be out of date before you even get up and running,” she said. “We need to keep thinking outside the box.”