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The Pilot Programs

There is little new with the proposed pilot programs. They simply provide small groups of high school students with the opportunity to work independently on their courses. Programs for students at risk have been doing this for years, and they are successful largely because they apply The Principles of Learning. The OPERI pilots likewise apply these Principles, but they differ from the retention programs in three distinct ways.

  1. The programs are for any high school students, not just those at risk.
  2. They focus on creating a community of learners and on building a learning culture. The focus in retention programs is on students getting enough credits to graduate.
  3. The primary curriculum is not course content. It is the skills and attitudes required for independent, lifelong learning, what some people are calling the 21st Century learning skill set. Success in obtaining course credits will occur as a by-product of good learning skills. The saying: “You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day, or you can teach him how to fish and feed him for life,” is applicable here. We can give a student a lesson and help her pass a test, or we can teach her how to learn and set her up for life.

The Basic Structure of the OPERI Pilots

Approximately 25 students work with two teacher/facilitators. To preserve the 25:1 pupil to teacher ratio, the teachers are assigned half days to the program. One is on duty in the morning, the other in the afternoon. They teach in the regular program during the other part of their day.
The 25 students are a cross-section of the general high school population. They choose to participate in the program with the only criteria being that they are committed to learning.
The students are required to obtain 4 Ontario Ministry of Education credits each semester and write the same final exams as students in the traditional program.
A classroom is provided as a home base. The students can also make use of the school library and other spaces available to students with a spare in their timetable.
The students are required to follow the same school rules as their counterparts and they can participate as usual in extra-curricular activities.


A number of pilot programs are needed to conduct a proper study. The OCDSB is being encouraged to offer a pilot in each of its secondary schools to provide that number, and also to provide all high school students with the choice of exploring a different approach to learning.

A little story to put things into perspective . . .

Some years ago a freshly elected slate of OCDSB trustees met for a daylong brainstorming session to establish their priorities for the next four years. The director of the school board was also present.

During the day, a re-elected trustee said: “If you want to see the kids we fail, just take a ride in a police cruiser on a Friday night.”

To this the director responded, “Oh yes, but if you want to see the kids we save, come visit one of our alternate programs.”

The director’s words sound good at first pass, but they don’t withstand much scrutiny. It stands to reason that if we know how to save students at risk, then we know how to prevent them from becoming at risk. The OPERI pilots offer a window into how our schools can be transformed so that all students can have their needs met without being labelled.

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