“What if we give every kid in kindergarten through sixth grade in America the option to spend the academic year engaged primarily outdoors in a kind of “pandemic camp” instead of traditional school? The focus would be on achievement that is not narrowly academic—physical challenges; acts of service; and the development of self-regulation, independence, and friendship. Academic goals would also be part of the program; you can learn a lot of science while roaming a municipal park. But the emphasis would be on creating a new set of challenges for students to master, not on an ersatz version of school as we know it. "
- Katie L. Martin, Educator & Author
Sometimes it feels like being in a school is similar to a giant bowling game - and it's hard to dodge the giant bowling balls headed our way unbeknownst to us! COVID-19 was a giant bowling ball that smashed right into our school last week, sending all of us proverbially flying in many directions - coinciding with the drop of a new draft curricula that has significant flaws and needs a major overhaul at the very least, as well as being 'budget week' for CBE schools, as we begin to grapple with the realities of next year's school budget. It can all seem like too much to manage, consider, deal with, work around, learn to live with - depending on which response seems the most appropriate in the moment...
Amongst all these unexpected symbolic 'thwacks' to the best laid plans for teaching and learning our staff and students had been planning and envisioning for weeks, our team was simply outstanding! They all rose admirably to the occasion, pivoted to online learning overnight and tried to make isolation seem like a bit of a break from coming to school and worked hard to make Friday as engaging as possible on a minute's notice!
We had planned a Coulee School 'blitz' for April for a number of reasons - the weather is significantly improved, our student teachers are (were) still here to help out when we aren't allowed to have parent volunteers join us, we have a grant for temporarily displaying our discoveries on both physical (to be located around/near the Coulee) and digital document boards (on our Coulee website) and, not surprisingly, we were anticipating there would be a spike in cases so taking the children outside to learn seemed like a good idea. Most importantly, the children themselves have many, many questions about the Coulee and some of their happiest learning moments, I am quite confident, occur in the Coulee.
As we contemplate the new draft curriculum, consider what steps the school might need to take in the fall to help students re-assert their in-school learning attitudes, behaviours and approaches to advancing their understandings of the world, and continue to put our best efforts into ensuring the individual learning needs of each student are elevated and enhanced, all of these efforts are focused, with a laser-like beam, on the children.
I have written a number of responses to the new draft curriculum, trying to honestly read each subject at each grade level and identify the strengths and limitations as I perceive them to be - I am about halfway through this personal challenge but am heartened by the fact that opportunities to provide feedback will continue through to the spring of 2022. I bring 30+ years experience and 3 degrees in education to the process but, without the context of why various components were introduced at particular times, it is a long and tentative process. The lines I keep writing over and over are 'developmentally not appropriate' and 'presentation as offered lacks engagement for children in this age group'.
And I realize the greatest issue I have with the new draft curriculum is that there is little evidence children were considered when the curricula was being developed. And that, to me, is a heartbreaking possibility.
I believe - actually hope fervently - that most people who have worked with me in schools, as staff or families ,would say that my primary goal with every thing we do in schools is about what's best for kids. Children need an environment that provokes curiosity, invites investigation and is both welcoming and energizing. They do not come to school just to learn how to follow rules or fill in lists and recite facts. Children are trying to make sense of their world while understanding new ideas and concepts that require play, inventiveness, exploration, connection. This is what schools need to be in the 21st century. And teachers and administrators need a strong, child-centered curricula as a lens to invite children into learning with joy and enthusiasm.
As my colleague, Jackie Bates, noted,
"Children learn best through exploration, through playing with concepts to build an understanding. Memorization appears to be a common thread throughout the draft documents - while there is need to memorize SOME things, we also have to recognize that we are in the year 2021 and we have technology at our fingertips to gain access to information such as dates and definitions. There are important historical events, for example, that we all need to understand but rather than memorize, children need to understand the impact of such events and how they shape the past, present and future."
As we go through the rest of this school year and begin to plan for 2021-22, these are the principles we will continue to adhere to while considering how to best meet the learning needs of all our students. Will we be perfect? Naturally not - but we will do our very best with the resources and parameters available.
We have an enormous mission ahead of us as we enter the next school year and try to weave the pieces of 'school' back together. It will be imperative to hold the children at the front of our work, to acknowledge their emotional well-being and the re-establishment of connections with friends and teachers across the school - as well as meeting their academic needs. And that is exactly what we will do - start with the children.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School