SWAN HILLS - A Swan Hills School student is literally in a class of her own.
On June 24, in a special ceremony in one of the school's gyms, Shailyn Callihoo was the sole Grade 12 graduate of Swan Hills School.
She noted that when she started at the school in pre-school at the age of four, she had no clue that by the time her educational career ended, she would be the only one left in her class.
"There were always other kids in my class," she said, adding that until Grade 10, there were always about 15 students in her class.
However, most of her classmates moved away at the end of her Grade 10 year.
Only three, besides Callihoo, remained in the fall of 2021 and the start of her Grade 11 year.
Then they moved away, leaving her as the sole remaining member of the Class of 2023.
In her first semester, Callihoo took English 30-1, Chemistry 20-1 and Math 30-1; in her second semester, she took Social Studies 30-1, Science 30 and Chemistry 30-1.
"I had to do a lot of it on my own, taking a lot of Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) and Vista Virtual courses because they would not offer a teacher for one student," she said.
Cara, her mother, clarified that even though ADLC ceased operation in June 2021 after Alberta Education defunded the service, Swan Hills School still had access to much of the materials, including textbooks.
And that is fortunate, Callihoo said, because she did not find the Vista Virtual set-up working that well for her.
She described Vista Virtual as being a hybrid of a correspondence course and online learning.
"(The Vista Virtual teachers) would have me read pages from the textbooks, and then there were little video clips on the computer that went along with them," she said. "But nothing that really helped me much. I did have teachers, but they really did not help much."
Her mom agreed, adding when she would call the ADLC teachers, all they would do was refer to a textbook page.
Fortunately, Callihoowas able to receive help from the Swan School School teaching staff.
She noted that although, the school could not devote individual instructors for her, many of the staff were familiar with the material as they had taught it in the past, and they were always willing to give her a helping hand.
She was also able to take two courses in-person at the school.
"In English, Swan Hills has one class for the 10-1, 20-1, and 30-1 level courses," Callihoo said, adding her Chemistry 20-1 was also a split class consisting of mostly Grade 11s.
She also noted that she was also still able to take part in some extra curriculum activities at the school, the most notable being part of the school's senior volleyball squad, which she captained.
"I was really lucky to have been part of a large Grade 11 class," she said, adding most of the team consisted of Grade 11s while a few of the stronger Grade 9s filled in where needed.
As for what her typical school day would look like, she said that during her first semester, she would go to her two morning classes, English 30-1 and Chemistry 20-1, at the school and then go home to work on her Math 30-1 course, which she did through Vista Virtual for whatever time she had left in the afternoon, or before going to her job at the Town of Swan Hills Leisure Centre where she works at the swimming pool.
Her second semester was much more self-directed, seeing her complete Social Studies 30-1, Chemistry 30-1 and Science 30-1 on her own using the aforementioned ADLC materials.
For her graduation, she said, it did not differ that much from the traditional convocation ceremonies held at the school, except that it was shorter and much more personalized.
Her mom interjected that Pembina Hills School Division Supt. Michael Borgfjord and principal Sheila Gardiner and associate principal and Kara King, and town representatives all spoke.
"Growing up, playing minor hockey and working here, it made it very special because everyone knows everyone, and they were able to personalize their addresses telling stories, specifically for and about Shailyn," Cara said, adding about 60 people attended the ceremony.
Following there was a banquet and dance where there were more guest speakers, and the hall was decorated the way she wanted it.
And at the end of the night, the Swan Hills Fire Rescue donated their hall so the family could have a special celebration.
Despite the challenges, Callihoo did well enough to be accepted into the University of Calgary natural sciences program in the fall, in which she hopes to pursue a career in medicine, eventually becoming an orthopaedic surgeon, family doctor or perhaps something in radiology.
"That's the thing about medicine, is that once you get in it, there are a lot of options," she said.
Both Cara and Callihoo believe that her experience of completing much of her Grade 12 classwork alone will put her in good stead when it comes to university because she has developed the work habits and skills needed for self-directed study.
"By having to push myself, develop my own schedule and learning how to work independently to get work completed, I think I am ahead of most first-year students who need to learn all that.”