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Central Okanagan students embrace new learning concept

Visiting school officials impressed by local students
George Elliot Secondary students discuss their environment sustainability ideas with visiting school district officials from across Canada last Thursday. (Justin Schneider/Central Okanagan Public Schools)

Students were doing the teaching and school district officials from across the country were doing the listening at a two-day forum to discuss a new learning pilot project.

Central Okanagan Public Schools, specifically classes at École Okanagan Mission and George Elliot secondary schools, are participants in advanced placement course offerings that follow an inquiry model to engage students in a variety of subjects, in particular the study of Earth science and sustainability.

Representatives from the other pilot project centres – Edmonton, Meadow Lake (Sask.) and Saint John (NB) – came to Kelowna to hear how students here have responded to the opportunity to drive the direction of their environment science class and pursue the ideas they feel passionate about in this wide-ranging subject.

James Bartram, a convener for the conference, says participants were eager to hear feedback from the students, coming together in small roundtable discussion groups.

More than 45 students are enrolled in the courses at George Elliot and OKM, which also count as university credits.

“It is a unique approach in the classroom of giving students the opportunity to seek out solutions to issues facing our environment, and to learn to have empathy for the opinions and insights of others in the process,” Bartram said.

The concept of the pilot project, he says, is a paradigm shift from 20 or 30 years ago.

“It is not about students reading something in a textbook as instructed by the teacher,” he said, explaining how these advanced placement courses empower students to pursue ideas they have a passion about, follow the pathway of doing the research necessary to lead to solutions, and presenting those solutions to others.

The program is a collaboration between the College Board of Canada, the Centre for Global Education and the four school district pilot project participants.

The first pilot project prototype course was offered this year and will expand from four to eight participating school districts next fall.

Also offering support to the program the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Outward Bound and Project Learning Tree, each of which brings different environment sustainability priority perspectives to the learning experience for students.

Erin Work has become something of a poster child for the program, a Grade 12 OKM student who has been dedicated to social justice and leading community service projects in Kelowna and globally, applied for and was accepted as a delegate to the student leadership summit at the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Dubai.

“I’ve always been empowered by my teachers and family to understand that one person can create the change they want to see,” Work said prior to the global conference.

“Whether it’s volunteering for a project or adding the voice of youth to the global climate conversation, our personal stories and perspectives can drive positive action.”

Sarah Flynn, director of the Centre for Global Education, says encouraging students to make a positive difference in the lives of others by addressing environmental science and economic sustainability issues, to seek out and embrace empathy for the opinions and plight of others, and to navigate through the disinformation easily accessible on social media to arrive at well thought out solutions are key objectives of the advanced placement program.

One aspect of the pilot project has been the opportunity for students in Kelowna to engage with their peers in other countries, such as Argentina, Columbia, Kenya and India.

“What they have discovered is that while environmental issues can vary from one part of the world to another, in the end, they have a lot in common,” Flynn said.

While Work offered the impact motivated students can have, she says the underlying intent of the course is to shine a light on making a difference in their world as adults. She said that in terms of managing the environment, the issues can seem insurmountable and overwhelming to address, to not let apathy dissuade the students from pursuing their passions to find solutions - to make a difference.

“That is what being Canadian is all about…having empathy for others, being willing to listen to other points of view and as a result sometimes being open to changing your own point of view,” Flynn said.

Flynn added she was impressed by the response from Central Okanagan Public Schools administrative staff, teachers and students to the visiting pilot project delegation.

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Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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