Newton Learning Centre students Juvon Parkes

Newton Learning Centre students Juvon Parkes

School move puts ‘vulnerable’ students at risk, say teens

Students at Newton Learning Centre concerned about high school program's transfer to North Surrey this fall.

Teens who attend a specialized high school program in Newton are worried that a plan to move their school to North Surrey could have a negative impact on at-risk students.

The Newton Learning Centre, for kids who haven’t found success in the mainstream school system for various reasons, is slated to move by September.

The more than 200 Grade 10 to 12 students currently attend classes in a building near the corner of 64 Avenue and King George Boulevard that the district has leased for years. They’ll move into the Discovery School building at 109 Avenue and 131 Street (the 60 or so students at Discovery are moving into another elementary school) this fall.

Roxanne Hawks has attended the Newton alternative school for the past four years.

The 18-year-old said harassment she faced in her regular high school made school a “pain” for her and set her on a path that included illegal drug use.

“I was kind of like a street kid and didn’t care about anything,” said Hawks.

Her mom, desperate to help her daughter, enrolled her at Newton Learning Centre. At first, the teen said, she was afraid and resisted her new school.

“But I realized, even after a couple of days, that everyone accepted me.”

Now, she gets As and Bs – a sharp contrast to the failing grades she used to bring home – and hopes to graduate next year.

But she worries how the school’s planned move to North Surrey will affect  her schoolmates.

Many of the kids have told her they can’t afford the transit costs to get to the new locale in Whalley.

Others, some of whom are battling issues of addiction or abuse, are worried about the temptations and reminders they’ll face travelling through the downtown core.

“There are a lot of vulnerable students here,” said Hawks.

She and three of her fellow students met with Surrey’s superintendent of schools Mike McKay, school board chair Laura McNally and assistant superintendent Dave Paul on Thursday morning.

McNally said she was impressed with the articulate students and the sincerity of their concerns. She said the school move will go ahead, but district staff will work on a plan to ease the transition for students and allay their fears.

“What we want to do is get them into a school district-owned building so that they never have to move again,” McNally said.

Due to demand, Surrey has been searching for a place to open a learning centre in the north end of the city for years. When they decided to move the Discovery program, they knew they’d finally found the spot.

McNally said having a learning centre location both in Newton and North Surrey is unlikely right now due to financial dilemmas and the lack of appropriate space in the Newton neighbourhood. Vacating the current location will save the district thousands per year in lease payments.