The irony is not lost on STEAM Education Centre board member Andrew Gunn.
Standing inside a heritage building, a former elementary school, now re-purposed as a 21st century progressive education centre.
“Here we are bringing 3D printers and robotics and all sorts of new technologies for learning and design all here in a building from 1898,” enthused Gunn, trustee of the Dorothy Palmer Estate which contributed $638,000 to help launch the alternative education project.
The occasion Monday (March 27) was an information night to introduce a partnership between the STEAM Centre, housed in the former Wellington Public School, and the Thames Valley District School Board.
Ready to roll in September, the pilot project will see participating Grade 10 students from Arthur Voaden Secondary School, Central Elgin Collegiate Institute and Parkside Collegiate Institute work collaboratively for one semester before returning to their home schools.
“What we’re doing is we have a challenge out to teachers for them to think about what high school would look like without subjects or periods,” explained Rick Pardo, TVDSB learning coordinator. “What would you do if you had the kids for the entire day? So this is their school.”
“The opportunity here is you’ve got the STEAM Education Centre,” continued Pardo, “and what they’re trying to do here is connect with the school board and it seems like a natural fit. And hopefully we can connect with the broader community. Right now we’re limiting it to the high schools we have in St. Thomas.”
“Our board is really interested in innovation and thinking outside the box,” added AVSS principal Dan Clarke. “As to how we can reach students and give them opportunities that are based in team work, curriculum implementation, taking curriculum concepts and putting them into real world ideas.”
It’s a chance to re-frame secondary school, stressed Clarke.
“It’s an opportunity for our kids in St. Thomas to get together as three schools in one with four different teachers to allow them to explore, from a project base, some major concepts in their Grade 10 curriculum,” said Clarke. “It’s a really unique opportunity in that respect.”
The goal is to attract 80 students to participate in the fall, noted Clarke.
“Roughly 20 from Central Elgin, 20 from Arthur Voaden and 40 from Parkside,” Clarke explained. “Two teachers are from Parkside, one from Arthur Voaden and one from Central Elgin. They’ll work as a team with these students for one semester. The core curriculum they will be responsible for is English, science, civics and careers, and integrated arts technology. Three out of those four are compulsory credits and one is an elective credit. It will count as their whole first semester.”
Critical to the project is the STEAM Centre, stressed Clarke.
“Having access to the STEAM Centre is really of interest to us. We’re hoping the whole concept of team work, problem solving and inquiry-based studies as a way to approach curriculum is an area that works.”
“The students will still ‘belong’ to their home high school and this will essentially be their satellite school,” added Jessica Moyes, STEAM Centre executive director. “So they will still be able to continue on with their soccer teams, student council, whatever their commitments are to their home school. There will be a lot of collaboration, a lot of project-based work and the school will operate through the lens of making life better for someone else. Improving everyday life for everyone else.”
When the semester is completed the hope is “these students and teachers are going to go back to their home schools with this way of doing school,” suggested Pardo. “So we’re also encouraging them to take that back to their home schools to see how that is going to affect what happens. So this could be a bit of an incubator here to foster that. We’ll be evaluating to see what we’re going to do for next year.”
For Gunn, the pilot project may very well offer hope for rural schools threatened with closure.
“We arranged this with the idea the STEAM Centre could be something that eventually other communities could look at as an example. We’re seeing all these debates and discussions around rural schools and closure of schools. Maybe now there is an opportunity to have a STEAM centre in some of these schools to provide an alternative education, but also one that is very forward-looking.”
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