As a sign of Bamfield and Anacla’s continued growth, the area’s community school is preparing to take in high school grades in the fall, offering local teenagers the opportunity to pursue their secondary education at home.
After sitting at under 100 residents for years, the Huu-ay-aht village of Anacla has grown to over 150 residents since 2020, with more homes being built as the First Nation encourages its members to return to their ancestral territory.
With a population of approximately 200, Bamfield is also preparing for growth, the anticipated outcome of extensive improvements to the rugged 80-kilometre road from Port Alberni. Work on Bamfield Main is underway, with a surface chip-sealing and partial paving of the route expected to be complete by the fall of 2023.
Huu-ay-aht Councillor Edward Johnson said the First Nation approached School District 70 over the last year with the needs of a growing village.
“We have some parents in community and their children want to move back home,” he said.
Previously high-school-age students from Anacla and Bamfield had to leave the remote communities to attend classes in Port Alberni or elsewhere, boarding with another family for the school year. Johnson did this as a teenager after his parents moved back to Anacla, making the tough decision to attend high school in Nanaimo.
“There was a part of me that wanted to stay in community, but then the organized sports is what I wanted to participate in,” he said. “If you’re able to board out in a good house with good teachings, then you’re set. But it you’re not, I think that’s where families end up picking up and moving right out of community so that they can have their children connected to family still and have their education.”
But during the COVID-19 pandemic many students came back to Anacla to pursue online learning, said Dave Maher, principal of the Bamfield Community School. The small school also saw its numbers grow over the last year to 29.
“The student enrolment of the school was steadily increasing all year long, and there was a number of secondary-aged students, due to COVID and other family reasons, [who] were returning to Anacla,” he said. “That ultimately made a very strong case to be able to fund a secondary teacher at Bamfield Community School.”
Now the school is expecting around 45 students in September, an enrollment that will enable a third teacher to be hired.
“We have an incredible secondary teacher coming to us, a Bamfield local,” added Maher. “We’ve very excited to have her back in the building to compliment a very experienced head teacher, who has 20 years of teaching experience and who will spend the rest of her teaching career leading Bamfield Community School, as well as a very passionate and capable primary teacher.”
Some classes, such as Grade 11 chemistry, physics, pre-calculus math and Grade 12 anatomy-physiology, will be offered online through the Eight Avenue Learning Centre in Port Alberni, where Maher is also the principal. Other opportunities are expected through a partnership with the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.
Despite the significant growth in enrolment, space is not a concern at the community school, which has room for three classrooms, a computer lab, an art room and gymnasium.
“There’s some great space,” said Maher, noting that the community school went up to Grade 10 in the past. “In it’s heyday, when economic times were very different, there was up to 85, 90 students in the school at most.”