Is a Calgary Board of Education Alternative Program Right for your Child?

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It’s a somewhat unknown tidbit that Calgary parents have a really broad selection of alternative educational programs to choose from for their children. In fact, if it weren’t for a teacher friend randomly mentioning it to me (there was a program she felt would be perfect for our family), I wouldn’t have had any idea that these even existed.

My assumption was that kids typically went to their designated community schools and that’s that. It turns out that’s not always the case. We have many really cool alternative programs available to us.

Calgary Board of Education Alternative Programs

All of the Calgary Board of Education (or CBE) schools follow the mandated curriculum, of course. Choosing an alternative program simply offers an opportunity for parents to enhance their child’s educational experience. This won’t necessarily make it better or worse (although, it could). It’s simply a different approach.

Attending a school with an alternative program could mean learning in a second language, attending a school with a unique teaching philosophy, or learning with an arts or science perspective. There are actually many options to choose from.

The language programs are probably the most well known of all the programs that are available. For a long time, French Immersion was your only choice if you wanted a second language program, however, several additions have been made over the years including Spanish, Chinese, and German.

Some other really cool (and very popular) program options, beginning in the earlier grades, include:

  • Arts-Centred
  • Science
  • All-Boys, All-Girls
  • Montessori
  • Indigenous Focus
  • Career & Technology
  • Home Education
  • Traditional Learning.

If you have older children, or children that might have additional needs, or desires, there are quite a few options for you as well. Here are some programs that you might find to be of interest:

  • Online learning
  • Off-Campus Work Experience
  • Advanced Placement (AP)
  • International Baccalaureate (IB)
  • Dual Credit
  • Pregnant & Parenting teens
  • Alternative high school
  • Outreach

It’s worth noting that these schools, and programs, are not ‘private schools’ (don’t be fooled by the uniforms that are sometimes required) – they are simply another choice you get to have, as a parent living in YYC.

Some important questions you might want to think about if you are considering an alternative program are:

Am I prepared to possibly have to drive my child to school OR pay the additional school bus fees?

School bus service to these programs can be quite scaled back and are not supported by grants, so bus fees are inevitable and congregated-style bus stops are often used (these bus stops might not be within walking distance of your home).

Am I okay with my child not being connected with as many children in my community?

Often children commute from all over the city to attend the various programs that are offered here. This might mean that your child wants to have play dates with her school BFF, who lives across the city. It might also mean your child isn’t as connected with the other children in your neighbourhood.

Am I willing to take on the extra work that might be required from having a child in an alternative program?

Each program has different expectations but, some things you might need to think about are whether you’re willing or able to support your child in daily homework, or if you’re willing or able to contribute the extra support necessary that might be required when your child has a project due in another language.

Will my child really enjoy and thrive in this program?

This is an important question – especially considering the sacrifices your family might be making in order for your child to attend an alternative program (see questions 1-3 above).

Registration for this upcoming school year begins in January

Because of the increasing popularity of alternative programs, many of these schools have adopted a lottery system to assist in determining admission. It’s a good idea to stay on top of when the lottery will be taking place so you can make other registration arrangements in the event your child name doesn’t get drawn.

If you would like to explore, and learn more about the CBE’s alternative programs, check out their website here:


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