School enrolment falling

Kamloops school trustees anticipate a decline in enrolment this fall.

Districtwide enrolment is forecast to decline by 389 full-time student equivalents, continuing a long-term trend in the district. Most of that drop will be at the secondary school level, where 345 fewer students are expected, according to a report by Bill Hamblett, assistant superintendent.

“It’s a real wait-and-see,” cautioned Alison Sidow, district superintendent, explaining that numbers won’t be firmed up until later in September.

Last year, for example, enrolment across the province rose unexpectedly for the first time in years, she said. They encourage parents to register students early, but lives do change, she added. Often, families that relocate during summer don’t register students until the last minute.

School registration for new students started Tuesday and continues to Thursday. The new school year starts Sept. 5.

The total number of students in the district, if projected figures hold true, will drop to 13,542 from 13,921 in 2015.

While domestic enrolment continues to decline, international enrolment is headed in the opposite direction, though it doesn’t significantly offset the overall trend.

Since District 73 introduced its international education program, enrolment has grown from about 20 students in 1998 to 150 for this school year, coming from 18 countries. Additional marketing overseas is believed to have boosted numbers.

Sahali secondary has the most international students, 65, while Clearwater secondary has just joined the program, welcoming two students this year.

In an update on the program, assistant superintendent Rob Schoen recommended the district establish a goal of 300 students and that a district principal should be appointed to lead that growth.

The graduation survey is filled out by a majority of grads before they leave school. Not surprisingly, TRU is the post-secondary school of preference, figuring in the plans of 44 per cent of district grads. Another 23 per cent attend post-secondary institutions or training programs elsewhere. Fully 21 per cent list “other,” meaning the military, sports or travel.



Open textbook challenge

Open textbooks in digital form can benefit students with reduced costs and greater flexibility, but creating them can be an enormous challenge for faculty.

That’s why the Thompson Rivers University student union launched an open textbook campaign Tuesday with dual goals – saving students $300,000 over the next two semesters while proposing a open textbook fellowship to fund faculty members who create new or adapted open texts.

“It’s a pretty simple idea but one that has big potential,” said Alex McLellan, TRUSU’s university governance co-ordinator.

While the potential is great, there are also many obstacles, not the least of which are time and resources for instructors to produce or adapt the texts.

Still, at a time when costs can easily make or break a university education, there is a clear need for more open textbooks, TRUSU believes.

“It’s no secret that students are going through quite a hard time, struggling with the high cost of universities and the crippling student debt that goes along with that,” said Michael Zaitlin, chairman of the TRUSU student caucus, who’s leading the campaign.

Every semester students are confronted with difficult choices, between textbooks that cost $100 to $200 each and the necessities of life, he said.

“For many of students, the checkout line at the book store comes with a challenge, a sort of barrier to us all.”

Students delay purchases, share textbooks with friends, compete for the last single reserved book or simply go without, he said.

“Open textbooks ensure that students can spend more time focusing on their classes rather than dealing with the extra costs,” and offer the flexibility of digital media uses, he added.

The B.C. Open Textbook Project offers books licensed under open copyright and available online for faculty and student use. Online versions are free and print versions are available for a small fee to cover cost of production, significantly reducing student costs.

Tom Friedman of the TRU Faculty Association said members are apprehensive about the TRUSU campaign because it will create an imbalance. Some course sections will have open textbooks, others won’t, and that puts additional pressure on faculty, he said.

“Sometimes, open textbooks are not the best choice for a particular course or a particular instructor,” he said.

That hasn’t deterred several faculty members from stepping forward to champion the cause, though.

“As a course designer, I’m always interested in looking at a wide range of instructional resources that available to deliver specific content,” said Ken Monroe of Open Learning. 

B.C. Campus, the government program that funds open textbooks, has so far provided 157 volumes for 544 course sections, benefiting 15,000 students provincewide.


Pedal Fest at Sun Peaks

This Labour Day long weekend, Sun Peaks Resort celebrates the return of Peaks Pedal Fest, a three-day celebration of mountain biking culture. 

The mountain has made great strides in fostering a thriving bike culture in recent years, with events such as the Canadian National Downhill Championships returning for its third year.

Peaks Pedal Fest will showcase a wide variety of activities and events for riders of all ages and abilities.

As lift-access mountain biking and hiking operations come to a close on Sept. 5, the weekend will culminate with a Lift and a Lager Wrap-up Party. On Monday, hiking and biking lift tickets will include a beer at the Sunburst mid-mountain patio, where a DJ will be spinning music all afternoon, along with a barbecue.

Cross-country trails in the valley will remain open through the fall, along with golf, horseback trail rides and other family-friendly activities.



Nashville calling

It could be the big break they are looking for.

A trio of Kamloops country singers are finalists in the Chevy Country From the Tailgate music contest, co-sponsored by CMT.

Abby Wale, 20, Madison Olds, 20, and Chloe Beauchamp-Brisson, 18, have already won the regionals with their song Mad Love, and now they are in the running to win the national title.

They call themselves Bees and the Bare Bones and are up against three other acts from across the country with the winner getting recording time in a Nashville studio.

“That would be amazing. We would love to record more of our originals, maybe get an EP together,” said Wale.

The young women have known each other for a while, but have only been singing as a group for about a month and what a month it has been with the trio skyrocketing to the top of the national contest.

Round one had the girls submit a video online of them performing an original song. It went to one of four regional contest areas. Online voting resulted in them being selected as one of three groups invited to perform at the Big Valley Jamboree in Camrose, Alta.

Similar contests were held at three other music festivals across Canada - Dauphin's Countryfest in Manitoba, Craven Country Jamboree in Saskatchewan and Havelock Country Jamboree in Ontario.

The girls won the contest at the Big Valley Jamboree sending them to the finals.

And once again it is up to the public to decide the winner.

The artist that garner the most votes on chevy-tailgate.com will win the contest, so Wale is encouraging people to vote now and vote often by clicking on the Bees and the Bare Bones video.

The winner will be announced at the Canadian Country Music Awards Sept. 11.

“We fit so naturally together; I can't imagine doing it alone anymore,” said Wale, adding she has been singing her whole life.

“I've been singing since I was little. They joke about me singing in the crib every morning. It's something I always loved to do, so when I met these two girls it was a great fit.”

The trio knows winning the contest would not only open doors to the studio, but would allow them to make contacts in the country music capital of the world.

Special Olympics returns

B.C. Special Olympics are headed back to Kamloops for a third time.

Two officials with the provincial office of the Special Olympics approached Kamloops-North Thompson school board Monday night to request use of five district facilities for the games next summer.

The games, open to athletes with intellectual disabilities, were last held in Kamloops 18 months ago, in winter 2015.

“The difference this time is more people,” said Lois McNary, vice-president of the organization, explaining the request. All hard costs will be borne by the Special Olympics program, not the school district, she stressed.

Athletes competing in the summer games can qualify for the national games, she noted. Eleven sports, including track, swimming, softball, soccer and five-pin bowling before it’s moved to a winter rotation, will be part of the Kamloops event.

“This is really important for our athletes. Their journey begins in Kamloops.”

McNary said an official announcement will be made once they have approached City council.

The decision to hold the games in Kamloops again comes just weeks before the highest echelon of international Special Olympics competition plays out in Rio.

Former councillor to run

Using a playground as a backdrop and child poverty as motivation, former city councillor Nancy Bepple confirmed her candidacy Tuesday for the NDP nomination in Kamloops-South.

On the surface, Kamloops may appear to be OK, but people don’t have to look far to see underlying social and health-care problems, Bepple said.

“One in five kids in Kamloops lives in poverty,” she said. “Poverty is a provincial issue. I’m running in Kamloops-South Thompson because I want to work with a government that wants to end child poverty.”

Bepple supports a $15 an hour minimum wage as a means of “getting the working poor out of food bank lineups, into grocery store lineups and buying their own bread.” One in three people who rely on the Kamloops Food Bank is a child, she noted.

With a background in computing science, Bepple works in the career education department at TRU and intends to take a leave of absence if she wins the nomination vote, which is expected in December. The nomination may be contested by a second New Democrat who has not yet declared.

Bepple holds the B.C. Liberal government accountable for that poverty as well as for the lineups seen outside walk-in clinics in the city.

“Four years from now, I want to look at the kids playing in this park and know that they aren’t hungry, their parents have a living wage, and they can see their family doctor when they need to.”

At least one in nine city residents does not have a family doctor and the city is short 19 GPs, she added. Provincially, only 300 students are admitted to medical school each year for all of B.C. Since only about half will become GPs, that amounts to three new GPs per year.

“How many of you expect your physician to retire in the next three years? You’re about to join the line outside the walk-in clinic … We all pay MSP, but some of us are not being given reasonable access to health care.”

She said she wants to push for nurse practitioner training at TRU and funding for nurse practitioner salaries, since there is currently only one practicing in the province.

Creep Hunters lure sheriff

UPDATED: 1:55 p.m.

The B.C. Ministry of Justice says the sheriff accused by the Creep Hunters has been put on leave.

"The Court Services Branch learned of this allegation with regard to one of its deputy sheriffs," a person with the Ministry of Justice said in a statement. "The Branch takes these allegations very seriously. We can confirm that this employee is on leave, pending further investigation."

ORIGINAL: 1:20 p.m.

The Creep Hunters are accusing a Kamloops sheriff of attempting to engage in a relationship with what he thought was a 14-year-old girl.

Formerly called the Creep Catchers, the Creep Hunters have made recent headlines as vigilantes who pose as young girls, catching alleged would-be pedophiles.

The group then posts text conversations, along with videos of their meet-ups, to their website.

In the most recent Kamloops case, the group posted an ad on Craigslist, claiming to be a 14-year-old girl.

A man contacted the group and engaged in conversation that turned sexual in nature. In the conversation he sent pictures of a man in a sheriff's uniform, and claimed it was him.

He also sent naked pictures of himself.

While the Creep Hunters tell the man early on that they are a 14-year-old girl, the man claims he thought the person was older than 14.

“I honestly thought you were older, even though you did say you were 14,” the man said, when confronted by the Creep Hunters on the phone. “You did say you were 14, I will full-on say that I read that in the texts, that you said you were 14, but honestly I didn't believe that you were that age, just by the texts.”

At one point, before he was confronted, the man appears to have regretted his previous texts.

“I should not have been sending you any naked pics,” he wrote. “The other ones are ok, but I do not want you to think I was taking advantage of you due to your age.”

Castanet has not revealed the name or picture of the man as he has not yet been charged with any crime. 

Fatal crash on Coquihalla

UPDATE: 10:15 a.m.

A woman killed in a car crash on the Coquihalla Highway was driving with her daughter.

Highway 5 southbound is still closed this morning as investigators piece together what caused the fatal crash that claimed the life of the Merritt mother, who wasn't wearing a seatbelt.

The daughter is recovering in hospital.

Just before 5 a.m., Merritt RCMP, BC Ambulance and Merritt Fire Rescue responded to a report of a two-vehicle collision on the Coquihalla Highway near the Helmer brake check.

“A southbound commercial truck and trailer unit collided with the rear of a southbound Suzuki Swift with two occupants,” says Sgt. Mike Pears.

“The Suzuki Swift had two female occupants, a mother and daughter. The driver, a 47-year-old resident of the Nicola Valley died at the scene, her daughter was transported to hospital in Merritt with non-life-threatening injuries.”

Pears says the single occupant of the commercial vehicle sustained non-life-threatening injuries as well.

“What can be confirmed at this time is that the deceased driver of the car was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the collision,” says Pears.

“RCMP want to remind everyone that wearing a seat belt can reduce injury and prevent death if you’re involved in a collision.”

ORIGINAL: 7 a.m.

Highway 5 is closed southbound north of Merritt due to a vehicle incident.

DriveBC reports the highway is closed at Helmer Road.

The estimated time of opening is between noon and 3 p.m.

A detour is available for light traffic via the Walloper Exit and for heavy traffic at Kamloops Exit 362 via Highway 1.

A detour is also available via Highway 5a.

The next update is expected at 9 a.m.

Sends photos, video and news tips to [email protected] 

Munchies lead to blaze

A university student yearning for a midnight snack is believed to have started a grease fire early Tuesday morning.

Kamloops Fire Rescue knocked the flames down quickly after they started to spread at College Heights apartments in the lower Sahali area.

Flames were licking out of the windows when firefighters arrived at 12:45 a.m.

All residents of the building evacuated safely and no one was injured.

One apartment was destroyed while the two others have smoke and water damage.

– with files from NewsKamloops.com

Illegal dumping a problem

More surveillance is planned to curb illegal dumping near Kamloops.

The persistent problem came up in connection with off-road vehicle closures in the Lac du Bois/Batchelor Heights area announced Friday by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

Noelle Kekula of Recreational Sites and Trails B.C., said Monday the closures in Lac du Bois, along with another in the lower Noble Creek area, are part of a plan to more effectively manage the protected area.

The designated 450-hectare ORV area in Batchelor Heights will remain open, she emphasized. The same goes for the designated ORV area around upper Noble Creek.

As of Sept. 1, two areas flanking the east and west sides of the Lac du Bois ORV area will be closed to vehicles. As well, a 794-ha area surrounding lower Noble Creek will be closed to off-road vehicles.

Kekula said off-road drivers have always respected the boundaries of the ORV area. That wasn’t the rationale for additional closures. Rather, the new areas were not previously designated within the Lac du Bois Protected Area. They contain species at risk and fragile grasslands, so the ministry is doing what it can to enhance protection, Kekula said

“The big thing up there is garbage dumping,” she said, citing the most recent and conspicuous example, a complete hot tub deposited in the grasslands.

It’s a mystery as to why, evidently, some home renovators and contractors almost routinely drive their waste materials into the protected area and dump them for others to pick up.


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