The contentious International Baccalaureate (IB) secondary school program for advanced learners is off to a great start, according to staff at NorKam Secondary and the Kamloops-Thompson School District.
"The cloud that was hanging around last year seems to have cleared," said district assistant superintendent Karl deBruijn.
But the Kamloops-Thompson Teachers' Association remains critical, saying high aptitude students are getting extra attention from teachers while those already lagging fall further behind.
"What about those kids who are struggling but getting no intervention?" said KTTA president Jason Karpuk.
The district first began pursuing IB accreditation in 2010. It provides students an internationally recognized curriculum with classes that count toward first-year university.
The program also gives students priority enrolment into major universities like the University of B.C., Harvard University in the U.S. and Queen's University in Ontario.
The program's first cohort includes 23 students, down from 28 who initially enrolled than pulled out for various reasons, according NorKam vice-principal Dave MacDonald.
Those who chose to stay are thrilled, said MacDonald, as are the 15 staff members involved in the program as part of their workload.
"Our kids are stoked, our teachers are stoked," said MacDonald. "The kids are loving it because they're being challenged in ways they haven't before. And they feel they have a voice in what's going in the classroom, feeling more like a part of what's going on rather than a recipient."
The subjects are math, geography, English, chemistry, physics, Spanish and an IB-specific course called theory of knowledge.
The students enjoy regular meetings with program co-ordinators to see where they're at, said de Bruijn.
That's a hard pill to swallow as the rest of the district's students and teachers face a shortage of classroom support, said Karpuk. And since IB students don't all attend their courses at the same times, they can sometimes end up in a classroom with only six other students.
"So the top kids in schools are in the smallest classes and we're already concerned with support," said Karpuk.
That may change as student enrolment is expected to increase. The first cohort's success is expected generate "good advertising" for the program, said deBruijn.