After 15 years in operation, Arrowsmith School is closing its Peterborough location on Parkhill Road East in June.
Arrowsmith programming, which is offered all over the world, specializes in helping students with learning disabilities.
According to executive director Debbie Gilmore, the tough decision to close the Peterborough location is due to declining enrollment amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“It was really agonizing for the organization to have to make the decision to close the school in Peterborough. It’s a great school in our organization and we would’ve wanted it to continue,” Gilmore said.
“Unfortunately, the closure came about because of the current economic climate we have and low enrolment prospects for next year.”
Gilmore notes that over 15 years, the school has helped more than 350 students, from school-aged to adults.
Right now, there are 14 students enrolled this school year, but according to Gilmore, there are only four enrolled for next year.
Gilmore tells Global News Peterborough that unless a replacement educational institution in the Peterborough area is found that wants to offer the programming, it will move online in September.
Petra Wolfbeiss’s son is supposed to start with Arrowsmith in September and the opportunity in Peterborough attracted to them to the area.
“Any of the families, with my son as well, we have kids who don’t want to go to school. They don’t fit into the mainstream program. Their confidence is shattered and the Arrowsmith program is something that gives them an opportunity to realize their full potential,” she said.
“It’s an investment in them. To know this option doesn’t exist as of September, in terms of the in-person program, is devastating.”
Wolfbeiss said the timing is also tough because it doesn’t give families enough time to find an alternative in time for September.
She adds the pandemic makes it even more difficult to pivot and find a solution in such short time.
She says parents are hoping for a transition year to allow the group the time to find a suitable alternative site to offer the program, such as one of the other private or Montessori schools.
“We don’t have an option other than this at the moment. For our son, online isn’t an option so we’re looking to find a new location or co-location so that our son can continue the program. We’re hoping we can do that with Arrowsmith Peterborough.”
Gilmore said the organization is willing to work with parents to find a solution for in-person learning as that’s the preferred method for instruction.
But she also notes that Arrowsmith pivoted to an online model during the pandemic while buildings were closed and that for the most part, students were unaffected by the switch.
“Literally, they didn’t skip a beat. They went from in-person to online the next day,” Gilmore said.
Arrowsmith also pivoted an eight-week summer cognitive program to online last year and compared the progress data from the online program to the year before when the students were attending in person.
“We literally saw a minimal difference in progress. That tells us, when we look at progress and doing that comparison, there was very little difference,” she added. “What teachers are finding, that have the students in person and online the next day, there is very little difference in the progress of students.”
Gilmore noted that it’s not for everyone, though, and that some students may not adapt and online may not work for families where parents need to attend work.
Wolfbeiss’s son is attending a public school for his Grade 6 year. She says she knows online won’t work for him after watching his struggles with virtual learning when schools were closed due to coronavirus concerns in 2020 and again earlier this year.
“We’ve seen our kids online through COVID. I’ve seen my son and daughter online twice through the year. I can tell you for my son, who has a learning disability, and my daughter, it just doesn’t work. They don’t get what they need. It doesn’t work for kids that have learning disabilities.
“It just doesn’t work. If it did, we wouldn’t have moved. It was an option for us here in Toronto.”
The final day for the Arrowsmith Peterborough location is June 11.