Adrienne Demers

While in high school, I was somewhat aware of the Kootenay Learning Campus (KLC) but thought it was specifically for individuals who were keen to work on their own, were going to be away, or wanted to upgrade. It wasn’t until the pandemic began that I became more curious about the KLC. 

The KLC encompasses continuing education, collaborative meeting spaces, and DL/online school. It is also home to the Kootenay Discovery School (KDS) which is an online and blended learning school. “Online learning provides the flexibility and convenience of learning in a self-paced, mobile environment, and expands course options for any students across BC,” it says on their school page on sd5.bc.ca. KDS offers over 60 online courses that meet the BC Ministry of Education curriculum guidelines with full-time learning for grades K-9 in a blended model of class time and home learning time, and fully online courses for grades 10-12. Additionally, they have courses for graduated adults looking to upgrade. 

Since the pandemic, a few families we know have shifted at least one child to the KDS for a variety of reasons. Some are increasingly involved in a sport and thus the blended model works best for them. Others have had a tough time with bullying in the school system. A couple have kids with special needs who find this model suits them better. All I have heard is positive feedback, and what better way to learn more than to speak with one of the teachers at this school.

Adrienne Demers is originally from Ontario, but admits her heart is in the mountains. After graduating, she attended McMaster University, “I didn’t go into education right away and kind of thought about law.” Adrienne first visited Fernie during a reading week ski trip, “and it just grabbed my heart!” After completing her second degree, she spent a ski season here before attending Teachers College back in Ontario. “I always knew it was where I was headed,” she tells me. 

Adrienne was offered a job teaching Special Education prior to graduating. It was at an inner city school, and young and confident she ‘wanted to change the world.’ “I burnt out after my first year, it was just really hard… it was the end of the line for students,” she says. Her relationship at the time also ended, and she decided to follow her heart and head out west. Adrienne first landed in Canmore, where she taught at a wilderness school. “I wanted to be on the ground, and it fit my skill set, but I burnt out of this too. There were really hard cases, and not enough funds to offer the support. It just felt like the system constantly failed kids.” Adrienne made her way back to Fernie, and eventually back to teaching. “I started working at the Academy, appreciating the more flexible environment at the time.” Soon after, she met her husband and started a family. With her kids in school, Adrienne was drawn back into the special ed realm and worked in Student Services at Isabella Dicken. 

“I have been reflecting on why I was drawn to special education, and the personal life experiences I have had as a person with a disability. While it was a small part of my education, it had a big impact on me and through the advocacy and activism I have been doing in and outside of the classroom, I have realized how that life experience has played a role,” Adrienne tells me. 

Adrienne knew about distributive learning and adult education, but “it’s been off to the side. Then the pandemic hit, and we were forced to go online quickly. It was a hard shift, with so much change so quickly. I remember telling my neighbour, once we get back in person you couldn’t pay me to teach online. As things progressed, I allowed myself to lean more into what was going on and watching how it impacted students who had potential in the classroom but it wasn’t showing up. They were able to thrive in this environment. It opened my eyes to the possibilities,” she says. 

An opportunity presented itself to work as a blended learning teacher at KDS, “and I was drawn to it because of what I had seen. We are still learning as we go, and while it seems new to the scene because people are paying more attention to it, it’s been happening for a long time. KDS was an idea that was in the works pre-pandemic in SD5 and this just opened the doors,” Adrienne adds. 

We talk a bit about my experience discussing our options when our kids were in grade 1 and 3 when school went back during the pandemic, and how we decided it would not work for us with two working parents. 

“With younger groups it has to work for the family and the kid. As they get older, there are more opportunities to work alone at home. There isn’t one kind of family and this doesn’t work for everyone. You don’t need to be a stay at home mom or dad. The reality is that a lot of students with IEPs, exceptionalities, mental health issues… it is helping,” Adrienne tells me. 

“We are in such a time of change and shift, what we’re doing isn’t radical but it’s outside of what most of us know. It’s a non-traditional setting, and parents have to un-learn what they have learned so they can be open to what works for their family. There are lots of possibilities, and families have been stepping outside of that in Fernie for a long time.”

KDS has a full team of staff including student services, youth care workers and EA support. The Primary program is K-3 and is very much parent driven, with kids coming in two half days a week. From grades 4-9 the learning is online but also has class time twice a week to work on collaborative projects, core competencies and outdoor ed. “We do a lot of environmental education and take part in all of the things Fernie has to offer, partnering with community groups,” Adrienne says. “We have noticed that there has been no bullying. I think it’s because we build community, and it’s learning individually and not about what everyone else is doing.” 

KDS is currently at a point of growth, but Adrienne doesn’t think it will be exponential. “We want to maintain the support we provide to the kids that it makes sense for. Supporting the bigger educational goals, with kids who are not engaged in a traditional setting.”  

And when it comes to her personally? Adrienne plans to continue being a teacher and an advocate as she enjoys engaging in the educational community and Fernie itself. 

“I’m a strong advocate and am doing a lot of work through the Union on behalf of teachers to change the system to support teachers and students better. That work involves a lot of anti-racism, anti-oppression and meetings with the ministry… with people who can make changes. As a member of the BC Teachers Council, I am working on the standards for teachers who are coming into the system to create more inclusive spaces. I want students to see themselves in the teachers in front of them. I often leave Fernie to do this work, but there is a part of me who just enjoys being with students… creating space where everyone is accepted for who they are at that time. I hope I can continue to co-create those learning spaces, that there continues to be room for it in Fernie, and that Fernie opens its mind to being a more open community. I think it’s happening on a surface level but think we can go deeper.”

Thank you, Adrienne. For being such an advocate for our students, our community, and for helping us open our eyes to the possibilities. 

To learn more about the Kootenay Discovery School, its staff and programs, visit kootenaydiscoveryschool.com

1. When did you first arrive in Elk Valley and what brought you here?
The first time I came was on a ski trip, and then for the 2006/7 ski season. I skied 100 days that season, we were getting so much snow that year!

2. Who did you first meet?
Athena and Allan Knibbs - I have much gratitude for them and the way our paths crossed.

3. Do you remember your first general impression of the Elk Valley?
That the pace of life resonated with me, the mountains felt like home, and the people were friendly and welcoming. 

4. What keeps you here?
My family and the connection to the community. And definitely the work that I’m doing at school. 

5. Do you have a favourite pastime?
I like to do anything outside, but I mountain bike and I ski and do lots of building projects with my family. 

6. What time of the year do you love most and why?
The fall is the best for me, it’s just kind of like the new year for teachers. All of the opportunities, change in weather, building new connections, the anticipation of winter and the ski season to come. It slows down and speeds up at the same time. 

7. Where do you see or hope to see the Elk Valley in five years.
I hope the Elk Valley becomes a more inclusive space through a deeper understanding of inclusion. I would love to see us peel back some of the ableist layers in our community. 

8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals?
With a cup of decaf coffee and setting my intentions for the day. Then I’m in mom mode before heading off to school myself.

9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you.
I think some people don’t know that I was born with one hand. This is just the way I have always been and it feels 100% normal to me. I am always open to answering questions about this. 

10. Quote to live by: In thinking about education and where I stand, I really like the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair’s quote in relation to reconciliation. Education got us into this mess and education will get us out of it.