There are unconventional learning environments, and then there’s going to school at a trampoline park.
The latter might be the reality for some Alberta students, as private recreational facilities are stepping forward to offer learning environments for a fee to parents uncomfortable sending their kids back to school under the province’s current plan.
Facilities such as trampoline parks, cheerleading academies and dance studios are offering “summer camp”-style remote learning spaces for the new school year. Through the programs, students can engage in their existing school board’s distance learning programs under a structured schedule with adult supervision — for a cost ranging north of $1,000 per student each month.
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The proposed private programs follow weeks of backlash against the province’s back-to-school plan, which will see the majority of students back in physical classrooms full time, with no changes to class sizes.
Rachael McIntosh, the marketing coordinator for Calgary indoor trampoline park Injanation, says the business is targeting its proposed program at parents not comfortable sending their kids back to school but who can’t stay home to supervise remote learning.
“We just saw that need for parents in a few different situations where they might need someone to basically play that parent role and oversee their children’s online studies, if that’s the option that they choose instead of going back to school,” she told HuffPost Canada.
Injanation has proposed a “summer camp”-style program where kids will be grouped into cohorts of nine and cycled through supervised time with their remote learning as well as physical activity in the trampoline park. The program is expected to cost parents between $1,000 and $1,200 per student each month.
McIntosh said the facility’s party rooms can be converted into classrooms, and they can host upwards of nine or 10 cohorts of nine students at once.
“We have the luxury of having party rooms, so they can fit the children for classrooms,” she said. “And then we also have 55,000-square feet of facility, so they just go through the classroom portion and the physical activity portion and rotate between cohorts so there’s no intermingling of the groups.”
McIntosh also noted that facility staff won’t be directly teaching kids, just supervising them while they complete online learning through their regular school or school board and Injanation would look into hiring educational assistants or former teachers.
But other facilities are already moving forward with hiring.
Premier Cheer Academy in Red Deer posted a hiring notice on Tuesday for educational assistants to assist with their similar camp-style remote-learning program.
The facility is promoting a remote-learning program for kids in grades K-6 in cohorts of 10, with both half and full-day options.
Dancer’s Edge Studio in Blackfalds is already accepting registrations for its program which costs $1,000 per student a month and promises that kids will complete their online curriculum in a small class setting and “work with certified instructors from the education field, along with different performing arts instructors.”
Private charter schools?
The move from businesses to set up remote-learning spaces rather than the province itself has faced criticism online.
Alberta education advocacy group Support Our Students brought attention to the programs on Twitter, calling out the high cost of the programs and the provincial government for not providing oversight.
No accreditation reqd?— Support Our Students (@SOSAlberta) August 11, 2020
And so it begins....trampoline centres become charter academies for a mere $1200/month. @AdrianaLaGrange any comment on this private enterprises claims? Any oversight? #abed #ableg #SaferSchoolsAB pic.twitter.com/TKRBd2eZjq
Colin Aitchison, press secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, did not respond to HuffPost Canada’s request for comment. In a statement to CBC Tuesday, he said the government does not endorse privately run programs like these.
“Public, separate, independent and charter schools are required to follow our robust school re-entry plan and its accompanying public health guidelines, and we would encourage parents to have their students either attend Alberta schools in person or participate in their distance learning programs from a safe learning environment that parents have confidence in, such as their homes,” Aitchison said.
In a statement Wednesday, the opposition NDP argued the pop-up private programs reveal a “clear lack of preparation” from the government in setting up safe classroom spaces.
“The UCP continues to provide excuses on why they can’t provide safe classrooms for students but they provide no solutions to the problem in front of them,” said NDP infrastructure critic Thomas Dang.
“Parents should not be left to scramble for options on how to keep their children safe just a few weeks before the school year begins.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost Canada and has been updated.