This September a project-based, personalized learning campus will open in the new sports facility of School District 60, Peace River North in northern British Columbia.
One group of about 175 middle school students taught by a team of seven teachers will learn on a site that includes two NHL-size rinks, a running track and an indoor, Olympic-size, speed-skating oval.
There will be no bells in the new space, and all the work will be team-based and interdisciplinary, that is, no more eight separate subjects for the week. As superintendent Larry Espe has asked many times, “Did God invent the eight-by-five timetable?”
What’s most exciting is that the characteristics of this learning space stem largely from conversations with the community.
About two years ago the district was facing the need for significant change based on a growing population and full schools, not to mention the need for something different in education in general.
Espe and assistant superintendent Lesley Lahaye spearheaded a summit inviting people to discover what’s worked well in education and then design towards a new vision.
About 400 teachers, students, parents and community members participated in the multi-day summit, sharing stories of optimal learning and dreaming of what could be if those past strengths and successes could be built upon towards a new education paradigm.
As a group they identified seven root causes of success in the best possible learning scenarios, among these hands-on learning, teamwork, collaborating, intergenerational work, out of school learning and a great teacher in some capacity. The power of relationship was a key message.
Out of that summit, action teams carried forward several initiatives the group had identified they wanted to target, including finding space for a new middle-school model.
Espe notes that while the traditional, “knee-jerk” approach would have been to build a new site, the group wanted to stay open to other possibilities, in the end exploring an opportunity for a partnership with the city to make use of 12,000 square feet of unallocated space in the city’s new sports centre.
Renovations are now underway to make the space usable for the learning setting. Espe notes the school board has been behind the project, and the city has proven a great partner.
He adds that while the B.C. education ministry has been promoting personalized learning, the impetus for this particular initiative did not come from the ministry, and it has been the voice of the community that has shaped what personalized learning looks like in Peace River North.
Hopes are high for the success of this initiative, and Espe says his dream is that it becomes a mecca for educators from around the world who learn and build on what’s working there to catalyze change elsewhere.
To learn more, watch this video.
For a related story on the methodology used to engage the community towards this initiative, visit this link.