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General News · 25th February 2022
Manda Aufochs Gillespie
What is the Cortes Island Academy?

The Cortes Island Academy (CIA) is a pilot program of School District 72 in collaboration with Cortes Island Community Foundation, Folk University, and the people of Cortes Island. The CIA pilot program will begin with the school year in September of 2022 and end with the term in late January of 2023. The CIA will offer two quarters (10 weeks each) of immersive, experiential, project-based learning on Cortes Island in its first year, with the intention of continuing with unique annual offerings. These offerings will be overseen by SD72 teachers and staff with local facilitators, mentors, and knowledge holders to ensure that the program truly represents the unique talents, opportunities, and natural offerings of Cortes Island. Students from throughout the school district, including international education students registered with SD72, will be available to register for either one of the 10-weeks or the entire 20-weeks of offerings. (Priority given to Cortes Island students.)

The CIA pilot program demonstrates SD72’s commitment to improving student achievement, building a culture of learning and wellness, and honouring Indigenous world views and perspectives.


The Problem/Opportunity
The lack of a high school on Cortes Island has been determined by the Cortes Community Economic Development Association to be one of the largest barriers to creating a resilient local economy and to keeping families on Cortes. It has also been determined by the Cortes Island Parent Advisory Committee to be one of the biggest barriers to keeping youth on the island and in the elementary school. Rural students in Canada continue to underperform their urban counterparts in every measurable outcome, including increasing dropouts. On Cortes Island leaving to seek an education cost more than a $1000 per month. Families are left to choose between leaving their home, community, and culture to seek a high school education or sending their children away to board at great personal expense and loss, or seeing their youth drop-out of school altogether.  (This program will not interfere with the $350 per grade 10/11/12 student stipend.)
The fall semester, “Our Oceans: Marine Conservation, Leadership, and Stewardship” will focus on science, leadership, social studies, and career education, while providing experiential, project-based, and place-based learning opportunities. A mix of classroom and field work, students will be working alongside local aquaculture workers, marine conservationists, naturalists, scientists, and Indigenous knowledge holders and will get to work with local organizations including Cortes Kayaks, Friends of Cortes Island (FOCI), Hakai Institute, Cortes Wild!, for a truly unique, immersive educational experience.

The winter semester, “Elevating Youth Voices,” will focus on applied design skills and technologies, English language and writing skills, career life connections, and Indigenous world views. Working alongside local Indigenous elders and partner organizations, including Reel Youth, Cortes Community Radio, and other island social profits, students will explore digital communications technologies, decolonizing media, and storytelling. The program will conclude with public presentations of students work, including radio broadcasts, a podcast series, and video screenings.

Students participating in the courses will be eligible for high school academic credits, just like they would be if they were learning in the classroom. The 2022-2023 pilot program will include appropriate grade-level credits for English, Science, Physical Education, Leadership, Film Studies, and more.

How to be involved

To register a student that will be in grades 9 through 12 for next year, please visit the SD72 website. For more information or registration help please email and/or contact Jeff Lontayao, District Coordinator of Student Options and Opportunities, at
To learn more about becoming a Homestay family for an international or off-island student, please contact Rhonda Teramura, or apply at There will be a live zoom session for Cortes families to learn more on March 2 at 7pm.  

To contribute to Scholarships or local participation/facilitator costs, please visit the Cortes Island Community Foundation at and choose Cortes Island Education/Scholarship Fund.

For other questions related to local involvement or scholarship needs, please contact

Want to learn more?

Tune in to Folk U Radio Friday March 4th at 1 p.m. on CKTZ 89.5FM or to hear more from the School District stewards helping create this amazing project or reach out anytime to Manda at