Walking through the ELC feels nothing like walking through your typical high school; there's sunlight flooding through the several windows, there are barely any walls or doors, and, course, you can look to your side and watch a hockey game. That's because, well, School District's 60's newest location is nothing at all like a typical high school.
Approximately 150 grade 10 students attend the campus, a branch of North Peace Secondary School, where staff and teachers are taking a different approach to learning. Each day starts off with 50 minutes of exercise, when students head to the Fieldhouse, skate, play basketball, volleyball, hockey or even walk on the walking track. After that is a break for food, as several teenagers come to school without breakfast. ELC Vice Principal Sheldon Steele says he's found that fulfilling their Physical Education requirement in the morning means they're "very very focused" for their morning classes.
School District 60 Superintendent Larry Espe says many of the key elements of the ELC came from a summit months ago, when ideas about when someone learned best or when someone was most excited about learning got thrown around. At the top of the list was relationships; the ELC strives to create relationships in and outside of the classroom.
This is immediately evident walking into the building, as most students greet Trish at the front desk on their way in. One student says her favourite part of school is her teachers, because it's not about just sitting in a desk and listening to a teacher. Here, teachers tell jokes. Teachers and staff aim to know every student by name, and students are allowed to call teachers by their first name, although some still struggle with that difference. Noticeably, there is no staff room, or even a staff washroom.
Steele says this all creates mutual respect, adding they "want to please you because of it, because they are connected to you" and are not just another face in the crowd. The one-on-one contact is one thing that ELC student Tavish enjoys about the ELC, as well as the innovative furniture, like desks that swivel and are on wheels or a higher table to stand and work at if one is tired of sitting. "It fits who you are," he says, adding that one of his classes has as few as ten students in it.
As it's only the ELC's first year in existence, a lot of things are still being tested out; most of the walls in the area are moveable, so more or less rooms can be created if needed, and several lockers as well as chairs and tables are on wheels for better movement. In addition to regular coursework, the students are also engaged in hands on projects, including the science fair projects presented this morning. Students have to present those projects to their peers, who evaluate them while being "kind, helpful and specific", instead of simply handing in their work to the teacher, which may help to motivate them and keep them accountable.
That's what several students like about the ELC, and although not all of them would like to stay in the environment for the rest of their time in school, many expressed that they would like to see more projects like these in "regular" high school. Steele says approximately 40 students have expressed that they would like to to return to the ELC next year, and the district is considering have them return as role models.
However, with so much going on, not every student is going to be a good fit. One student said she's looking forward to returning to NPSS next year, as she finds it hard to focus all of the time, with so much going on. Class times are less structured, with no bell between sessions, and with so many windows, it can be distracting to watch the world outside. However, Steele says that many students have thrived, including several who are repeating the tenth grade.
He hopes the students will be able to transition easily back into regular school next year, and take away from their experience. "What we're doing here is a huge benefit to the future of education," he says, and it's clear there is a lot of forward thinking momentum.
At the Campus's grand opening, Education Minister George Abbot concurred and said he believes this will be a model that other school districts in the province will follow.