[caption id=”attachment_2656” align=”aligncenter” width=”457”] In December 2012 students from Heritage Community Christian School participated in a robotics tournament through the First Lego Leauge (FLL). The school will start up its robotics program again this year at the end of October.[/caption]
Oftentimes, we expect large schools to show us what successful, innovative learning looks like and measure a school’s ability to inspire and delight by the size of its computer lab or by the number of students in its classrooms. But what about smaller schools? Schools with, say, 30 students or less? Can those schools serve as ‘cutting edge’ environments that nurture creativity, innovation and ingenuity? Jennifer Feenstra, principal at Heritage Community Christian School (HCCS), says yes.
“In a small school, you can have conversations with everybody—formally or informally,” says Feenstra. Over the years, frequent communication between students, teachers and volunteers have made it possible for HCCS to test out pilot projects and even ‘put them back on the shelf’ if need be.
That kind of connectedness and flexibility allows schools to quickly adapt to changing educational environments, says Feenstra. That’s important, since the landscape of education seems to be in a state of constant flux. New opportunities to rethink and redefine classroom learning are emerging every day. Conversations about project based learning, multi-age courses and flipped spaces are inviting more and more educators to re-imagine their classrooms.
“I think that one thing that small schools need to take advantage of is their flexibility,” says Feenstra.
At HCCS, the pace of learning innovation is high and teachers at the school have been able to foster a spirit of curiosity and creativity in their classrooms.
Last year the school explored project based learning with its new robotics program. The school will enter into year two of its robotics program at the end of October. This time around, the theme will be Nature’s Fury, and will give students the opportunity to investigate “super storms”.
HCCS is also introducing the Rosetta Stone French Program this year, allowing students to learn a new language at their own level and at their own pace.
Plans to run a new art program and hockey camp are also taking shape. The art program will bring in practicing artists from the community, so that students can learn from individuals who are passionate about their area of expertise. (Feenstra looks forward to inviting an experienced potter to the school at the end of the month.) The six week hockey camp will serve as an engaging multi-age elective for the whole school.
At HCCS one can see that an engaged community and innovative learning support each other. When a small school is plugged into a helpful community, ideas have the potential to become realities very quickly. That was especially true for HCCS during the initial stages of implementing its robotics program.
“When people got excited about our school’s robotics program, we quickly had grandparents pay to donate a robot. We had parents organize a pizza fundraiser to pay for the other robot. Parents came in too, to help the team with computer programming,” says Feenstra. That’s one of the reasons Feenstra hopes that small schools will feel comfortable asking their parental communities for help when they need it. “People have everything they need in their communities, they just can’t be afraid to ask,”she says.
The challenges that come with running a small school will vary, depending on budget, history and location. Although it’s important to attract new families, Feenstra doesn’t want to see Christian educators trapped inside an ‘endless cycle of hoping for something different’. Instead, she encourages small Christian schools to celebrate their unique identity, and to make the most of the creative opportunities available to them.