Squamish school to offer 'programs of choice' to Sea to Sky students 

Two programs to launch in September

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Last November there was talk of Stawamus Elementary in Squamish closing its doors due to poor enrollment numbers.

Come the fall the school will have new life thanks to two innovative new programs.

Cultural Journeys — for students from Kindergarten to Grade 6 — and Learning Expeditions — for Grades 7 to 12 — will kick off this September.

The two "programs of choice," as the school district calls them, will focus on interactive, outdoor and project-based learning methods.

"They've been in the works for the better part of the last school year at a minimum, probably longer," said district superintendent Lisa McCullough.

"I think the motivation for it comes through voice and choice of our students. When we hear that our students are looking for a certain type of opportunity, we endeavour to look into that and see what the best way to provide that is."

While schools in the district have been starting to incorporate inquiry-based and project-based learning as of late, the two new programs at Stawamus will take that idea one step further.

Learning Expeditions will allow students more freedom and flexibility in what they study.

"It will be a flexible schedule environment so students will be able to sit down and carve out their own schedule and their own learning plan, take on projects that are timely by working together in groups," McCullough said.

"That flexible time and space makes it a little bit different than what we ordinarily do."

The Cultural Journeys program — open to all students — will be guided by the principle that all learning is grounded in understanding the connected relationship of language, land and culture.

"This is giving students voice, it's giving students a choice in their learning, (and) it's providing innovative ways and different learning environments for students, other than sitting in a box," said Susan Leslie, district aboriginal principle.

"It makes learning relevant for our students who are empowered by learning about their place."

In Cultural Journeys, students will spend ample time outdoors learning about the natural environment and local cultures and histories.

But that doesn't mean the basics will be forgotten.

"This is a program that covers all of the learning outcomes that any public school program would cover. The only thing different about this program is the innovative learning environment and the learning process itself is based on an inquiry culture," Leslie said.

"There are still skills taught, because every child needs to be able to read and write and demonstrate what they've learned in numeracy and literacy, so that will be really important."

Whistler school trustee Chris Vernon-Jarvis said he was "absolutely delighted" to see the district moving in this direction.

"The Cultural Journeys is a school of choice, which is one of the things we've been aiming for for a long time — to give opportunities to people who want their children to have a theme running through their education," he said.

But while offering choices to parents is important, the shift to full project-based learning won't happen all at once, he said.

"We are doing project-based learning and it is spreading in Whistler... (but) as a board we don't just say, 'everyone is going to do this,'" he said.

"What we try and do is convince our teachers and our students and our parents that this is a better way of doing things, and it takes a little while for people to take that up. Some people will still want, for awhile, to learn the old way, until they see that project-based learning gets the kids more engaged and makes them think more."

Registration for the two programs is now open. Visit www.seatoskylearningconnections.com for more info.



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