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Learning Spaces at Sarnia Christian School

Written on June 6th, 2016

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Another school year is nearing completion for staff and students at Sarnia Christian School, and so are the renovations that have been underway for the past year. The first major upgrade in three decades has been in progress at the school since the initial ground-breaking ceremony last June, and the community is looking forward to enjoying the newly designed learning spaces.

Sarnia Christian School (SCS) is one of the oldest Christian schools in Ontario, and the section of the building that has recently been demolished and replaced by the new addition was a part of the first or second phase of the original school building that was built back in the 1950’s. It had a wooden floor with a crawl space beneath it that was beginning to rot and that tended to invite unwanted creatures. As well, the roof was leaking, and windows needed replacing. Rather than trying to repair the existing rooms, the school community began to discuss 21st century learning and to dream about new learning spaces for students.

[caption id=”attachment_13540” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”]ground breaking ceremony Ground breaking ceremony, Summer 2015[/caption]

Over the course of the past few years, various experts were brought in to talk about different types of learning spaces. Len Smit, principal at Sarnia Christian School, was one of several OACS educators that travelled to High Tech High in 2015, and he was impressed by the variety of learning spaces that he saw while there. “I looked very specifically at the kinds of spaces they used there, because I wanted to incorporate similar kinds of spaces at our school,” Mr. Smit related. 

The vision for the new learning spaces at Sarnia Christian School were founded on several archetypal learning spaces that were first championed by Stephen Harris, Executive Director of the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning. Mr. Harris emphasized that students learn best in multiple learning spaces suited to specific activities. In particular, he outlined four main types of learning areas that schools can use to physically aid student learning—ones that can be found incorporated into the design of the new learning spaces at SCS: mountain tops, campfires, caves, and watering holes.

Mountain Tops

risers in classroom

Mountain tops are spaces where groups of students can gather to listen and to learn from an expert, and also where they can share their own work and ideas with others. They can publish or broadcast them in a public performance space or use blogs, podcasts, video, and other technology tools to share their content with their peers. Mountain top spaces have been carefully crafted into the designs for the new addition at SCS. At the front end of the school, facing the highway, is a new project room that opens up through glass garage doors into a common, multi-purpose room. This space will be used for chapels, assemblies, and presentations. Newly installed video equipment and sound systems will also make this new space ideal for student drama presentations, and can be rented out for community events as well.

“In today’s schools, the experts are no longer only teachers, but include guest speakers and also students who are empowered to share their learning with peers and other teachers,” shared Mr. Smit. “Having larger gathering spaces for students to work in and present to others was a huge priority in this project.”

“The room looks like it’s going to be huge!”shared Sydney, a student at SCS. “It’ll be so nice when we do group projects and present them to our class.”

“My favorite room in the addition is going to be the multi-purpose room,” added Linnae V.  “It can be used for so many different things. I think God gave us an opportunity to expand our love for him to others with these bigger spaces as well.”

band playing in new room for grandparents' day


Campfires are social learning spaces where group interaction can occur. Students can use these spaces for face-to-face group discussions and activities. One of the key factors in providing these spaces throughout the new addition at SCS has been the inclusion of flexible furniture. “We’ll have lots of things on wheels, places to sit or stand, couches, bean bags, carpets to lay on—all things we’re hoping will encourage the students to interact with and work alongside of one another,” Mr. Smit explained.


cave spacew

Caves are another important type of space that are uniquely different in a school.  “We’re finding that kids are struggling with more anxiety nowadays,” Mr. Smit commented. “Being in a classroom with twenty or more other students for an entire day is not always in the best interest of all students. Cave spaces create a place where they can go to be on their own, where they can re-group.”

“I think I will like using the quiet spaces where it isn’t so distractingly noisy,” shared Linaea D. “It will help me a lot!”

The new addition at SCS has incorporated several of these cave spaces off of their new resources hub. “These spaces can also be used by small groups of students to discuss and work without being around all the distractions that come from being in a regular classroom,” Mr. Smit added.

Watering Holes

Watering Holes are less formal spaces in the school where students can gather spontaneously to talk, discuss new ideas, ask questions, and experiment with learning without fear of failure. They’ve also been dubbed as the “cafés” of the school. Teachers are excited that many of the new learning spaces will incorporate glass walls, as it allows for a more passive supervision of students.

[caption id=”attachment_13543” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”]new front atrium hallway November 4 New Front Atrium Hallway[/caption]

In addition to these foundational new learning spaces, there are several other features that students are looking forward to seeing completed at SCS. They are especially excited to see the completion of the “living wall”, where there will be an estimated thirty or forty different varieties of plants growing up on the wall that leads into the older section of the school, adding life and oxygen to the school.


The addition will also include a new main entrance, making the school wheelchair accessible. There will be a few other practical rooms added as well, such as a new “open concept” office area to welcome parents and community members, a new staff room, a resource hub that will include several smaller rooms for learning assistance, a band room with storage places for instruments as well as costumes for plays, a private music room, and a uniform room where gently used clothing can be sold.

As the school year is heading into its last month, the staff and students at SCS look forward to having the extra spaces, and not having to work around construction barriers and noises in the fall.

“Even though the new addition is going to be great, it has been challenging this year,” admitted Sydney. “We have been taking the bus to the city library to get books. Also, it has been very noisy at times which makes it hard to concentrate when doing work.”

Grandparents and seniors from the Sarnia Christian School community were the first to enjoy the “nearly finished” addition this past month during Grandparents Day. Although it had not yet been completed, the seniors were invited to enjoy a meal in the brightly lit multi-purpose room, while listening to the school band play a few songs from the freshly stained risers.

[caption id=”attachment_13539” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”]grandparents' day in new area Grandparents Day 2016[/caption]

“The building has already exceeded our expectations,” shared Mr. Smit. “The model of learning that is represented by this addition fits perfectly with our vision as a school to provide ‘Foundation, Challenge, and Preparation for our students. We want to be able to provide the spaces where kids can be challenged in their learning, and prepared for the work that they will be doing when they leave here.”