The Whytecliff Agile Learning Centre, a BC Ministry of Education-accredited independent school for Grades 8 to 12, is making a big difference in students’ lives.

‘I am worth something’

Unique school is a catalyst for amazing changes

As a young teen, Miranda was bullied so severely she was afraid to return to her previous school. An athlete who especially enjoyed playing hockey, she had lost interest in sports and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in addition to learning challenges.

Her life changed when she was enrolled in Whytecliff Agile Learning Centre, a BC Ministry of Education-accredited independent school for Grades 8 to 12.

During her two years at the Langley school, Miranda made great strides, personally and academically, earning both her diploma and a scholarship from the Township of Langley, for post-secondary veterinarian studies.

“Whytecliff pushed me through my breaking point and made me believe that I am worth something,” Miranda reflects. “I’ve worked hard for where I am today. I always struggled with peer relationships and school; I felt like I was at the bottom of the food chain. Now that I am a graduate, I believe depression, anxiety and any other disability can be overcome.”

Reaching and teaching kids who might otherwise fall through the cracks

Miranda’s story is one of many highlighting the valuable work undertaken at the school, with campuses in Langley and Burnaby.

“A lot of people still don’t know about the program, and a lot of parents have children at home who could really benefit from it,” says Bob Kissner, Executive Director.

“We’re reaching the kids who are falling through the cracks and often have run out of good options. These kids have been everywhere else. They have nowhere else to go and they come here and everything changes.”

While students come to Whytecliff from diverse backgrounds, a common experience of many, like Miranda, is anxiety and depression. They may have had social or learning challenges at previous schools that have led to attendance issues, or may have simply dropped out entirely.

When kids feel safe, and they come somewhere that sees their strengths, everything changes

Operated by non-profit Focus Foundation of BC, funding comes from the province, fundraising and parent/caregiver contributions, based on sliding scale; scholarships are available.

Key to Whytecliff’s proven approach is a deep understanding of the complex requirements for healthy growth and change in children: The right environment, the right involvement, the right relationships, the right experiences, and the right community of learning.

When all these elements come together, supported by a low student-staff ratio, amazing advancements are possible. “It’s setting up the conditions for health – students are at a place where they feel safe, where there’s good, clear communication with people who are invested, compassionate and care for them in the way they want to be cared for.

“It’s an environment that is responsive to whatever challenges a child is ready to tackle that day.”

Building connections in the community is vital and groups like Langley Central Rotary have made such a difference, not only with financial contributions but attendance at events like students’ graduations. Students engage in PE at the nearby Fitness 2000 facility and music through the Sarah McLachlan School. “We’re really enjoying a broad-based support,” Kissner says.

“Whytecliff really exposes the kids to the wide array of community resources based on their gifts, passions and interests.”

More than 100 students graduated through Whytecliff in the last six years, and like Miranda, they share some remarkable results, represented not only in their course completion but in their post-graduation success.

“We did a follow-up study last summer, and graduates report amazing results! … 9.3 out of 10 for ‘being on a solid life path,’ and 9.5 out of 10 for ‘growing as a person,’” Kissner says.”

In his valedictorian address, another student, Kyle, reflected on their remarkable achievement.

“At Whytecliff, us students have learned many life lessons. Here we have leaned how to be more than just a community, but to be a family, to be part of something meaningful.”

Whytecliff has a few spots left in Langley and Burnaby for Fall, and hopes that readers might spread the word to parents and children who could benefit. (To apply for current available spots, visit walc.ca, or call Langley at 604-532-1268, or Burnaby, 604-438-4451.

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