Students have chance at unique courses

Cowichan Secondary is taking advantage of new initiatives in education to offer several unique courses for its students.

Cowichan Secondary is taking advantage of new initiatives in education to offer several unique courses for its students.

Venessa MacDowell, a vice-principal at the school’s James Street campus, said last week that, under B.C.’s freshly designed curriculum, the focus on offering flexible choices for students is really becoming important as is an emphasis on the school as part of the community.

One of two new programs is called the Community Classroom. It’s open to Grade 8, 9 and 10 students and sees students stay with one teacher for an entire year.

That means there is a chance to personalize the educational experience for each student, according to MacDowell.

“This will offer a certain group of students more success. One thing that some students struggle with in a big, semestered high school is transitioning from class to class and teacher to teacher. Each of those teachers has 120 students each. This way, it’s a smaller and more nurturing environment.”

The response to the idea has been intriguing.

“We’ve had a lot of interest from Evergreen Independent School parents as well as some home schoolers who want to come back into the public education system. But we also gave a presentation to all of our current Grade 8 classes and we have a lot of interest and excitement from our next year’s Grade 9s because typically, Grade 9 students don’t get a choice but this year they do.”

They can choose either a regular program, a community classroom or a land-based learning program for semester one.

In a year-long community classroom, students have the required courses for whatever grade they’re in but, in addition to that, the class will be able to personalize their learning and drive it in ways they might not normally be able to do.

There will also be plenty of time to look at students’ own passions, requests and needs, she said.

The “community” aspect means the school will reach out to members of the community.

“We have a wealth of knowledge out there; organizations or individuals could provide some mentorship for our students. Say they want to learn about astronomy and Miss [Karin] Farquhar isn’t an expert in astronomy. Who can we connect with in the community to connect with that?” she said.

The second program is called land-based learning.

“The philsophy behind it is to learn based on the resources we have here in our home town. The real focus is outside of the classroom, giving students the chance to work with experts. The emphasis is heavily on science, ecology and environmentalism.

“Specifically, this program is only for one semester. It will run from September to January and is open to Grades 9, 10 and 11 students. They will receive credit for four courses and then they’ll be doing independent, directed studies,” she said.

Because a lot of the learning takes place outdoors, on the land, there is a great chance to connect with the knowledge of local First Nations, who were, after all, the first people in the territory.

Their traditional methods in the use of plants and the land and the sustainability model that was followed are important parts of this learning opportunity, MacDowell said.

“Denise Augustine, the principal of aboriginal education, is supporting this program and providing us with support. One of the projects involves the revitalization of some clam gardens off Fulford Harbour. Our students will be able to be on the land there, getting their biology credits by working on that outdoors.”

Neither program is targeted specifically at First Nations students, though.

“We want a diverse group,” MacDowell said. “It’s open to all students; we want to provide families with different ways for students to find success in school.”

To find out more, contact the school at 250-746-4435 and you’ll be directed to MacDowell.