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Students upset about class with over 50 kids

Gladstone girls Gladstone Secondary Global Leadership students, from left to right: Megan Reed, Kelsey Waller, Samantha Rematore, and Maria Jose Orellana.

Seniors from Gladstone Secondary School in Vancouver are speaking out about the learning conditions in a leadership class with 54 students that they say is so overwhelming they can only get the teacher's attention after class or through Facebook.

Originally enrolled in a Global Leadership class with eight students that was part of their regular timetable, the class was merged with an off-time table Senior Leadership class when the school needed the teacher for an extra Science 10. The combined class now has 54 students and meets twice a week during lunch and after school.

Four of the Global Leadership students met with The Tyee on Thursday, and described a class so crowded that students share chairs or stand against walls, while one teacher tries to keep order among dozens of talking students. As Grade 12 student Samantha Rematore described it, it's not an ideal environment for learning.

"First we take attendance for 10 minutes: it's very dysfunctional, everyone's talking, no one's paying attention," she says.

"What they'll do at the beginning of the class is kids will talk. They'll say, 'We're doing Halloween for Hunger, I need this many people to volunteer,' and then that's it, you have to plan outside. So all you can do is explain your event, and then you have to plan outside."

Global Leadership students still plan for global events, like raising money for school building and well construction for countries that need it. But with only eight students compared to 46 Senior Leadership students, who plan school spirit events, they get little attention from their teacher.

Frustrated, they made a video about their predicament and posted it to YouTube (scroll down to the bottom to view the video or click here.) It's been viewed over 1,400 times so far and they say reaction has been positive from teachers and students, although they say the Vancouver School Board initially told them to take the video down before their principal stepped in and defended it.

"The goal of the video was basically support. We wanted people to know more about this, and our experiences, as well as other students (who) are in the same boat as us. Also we would like education in the future to be a bit different for future generations," says student Kelsey Waller.

Leadership is one of many classes without a class size cap under the Education Improvement Act, also known as Bill 22. Other classes without size caps include choir, dance, band, drama, work experience programs, distributed learning, and Planning 10, a mandatory class for graduation.

But Kurt Heinrich, media spokesperson for the Vancouver School Board, says the district believes the class size is manageable because it isn't a core curriculum course like math or science that meets three times a week.

"This is a project-based class, so students select their projects and they're able to work independently, and then they can circle back with their teacher throughout the year," he told The Tyee.

Heinreich says he is unaware of anyone from the district asking the students to take the video down. Instead he says it shows the leadership class is working.

"A big part of it from our perspective is it's a great opportunity for leadership, and obviously talking to these girls, they've certainly done that. They've stepped forward with their thoughts on the issue and they've been very articulate."

Heinrich says the district sees a lot of value in non-core curriculum courses, and believes the time allotted to courses both on and off the timetable is adequate for teachers to prepare and run their classes.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. You can follow her on Twitter @kehyslop.

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