I wrote a post earlier this year which described the changes in my own teaching in How My Teaching Has Changed. Last week, I was reminded of this post in a conversation with a parent of a Grade 6 student at Bowen Island Community School. Her son is part of outside45 – a Bowen Island-based environmental education program for Grade 6 and 7 students blending learning in the classroom with frequent experiences in natural and built environments on-and-off the island. The mother spoke about how excited her son is with school; how he has no idea what he is actually doing is learning, but he does spend the day studying science by exploring the diversity of life within ecosystems rather than reading about them, and a lot more different from the way science is traditionally covered. Rather than reading about science in a book, or even simulating experiences in a classroom, he and his class were engaging in “real-real” learning –connecting real science to real life.
This story, however, is part of a larger signature at Bowen Island Community School. I use the term “signature”, as Bowen Island is not about creating a choice school, it is “the school” on Bowen Island. It is about connecting to the community, and defining a ‘signature’ that is both reflective of its place, the school, and the district community. There are clear elements of inquiry, self-regulation and digital literacy in the programs on Bowen Island, but they look different from other sites in the district. One common theme, throughout the school, is that of sustainability. The outside45 program is part of this, but the school has also recently built an Outdoor Learning Classroom and has opened the school up to field experiences for other schools through its “From Our Forest to Our Seas” opportunity (click here for more details).
Bowen Island is unique, and at the same time it is part of something much bigger currently developing in education. Its ‘signature’ is that of inquiry and looks through a lens of the environment and sustainability, that takes self-regulation and links it to restorative justice and the development of social-emotional learning, and takes digital literacy and blends it through curriculum. While the program is unique to Bowen’s community, there are similar conversation elsewhere in the district. At Gleneagles Ch’axáý Elementary, it is the arts that is a common lens for inquiry; at West Bay Elementary, it is the Primary Years IB framework, and at Caulfeild, it is the iDEC program that links inquiry to technology and a series of “soft skills”. AND, it is not only occurring in West Vancouver. The outside45 Program in itself is proving to be powerful, and the linking of students to their physical world can be seen in other corners of the province from the Environmental School Project in Maple Ridge, to the Ecological Education Program on Saturna Island, to the Nature Kindergarten Program in Sooke.
Bowen Island Community School epitomizes the notion that you don’t have to be sick to get better. The school has deepened in connections to the community, evolved its programs to build on relevance on engagement, and is continuing to search for ways to meet the needs of the families in the community. They have also taken the themes that link schools across the district and brought them to life at their school. Some are waiting for an implementation plan for personalized learning in our province – at Bowen Island Community School, and at all of our other sites, people aren’t waiting — they are bringing personalized learning to life now.
I am looking forward to being on Bowen Island this Wednesday night (October 17) to speak on the topic, “What Our Kids Need – A Look at Innovation in Education on Bowen Island and Beyond” and being part of their community dinner.
Bowen Island Community School is an example of how to evolve to meet the changing needs of our kids and our world.