Two Ottawa educators plan to open “an experimental prototype school of tomorrow” in Kanata by this September.
Blue Sky School, an independent not-for-profit, will be the first of its kind in Canada, said Shauna Pollock, who, along with Karen Hill, will host a meeting for prospective students and their parents on March 29.
“This is my dream, for my entire life, to open a whole new model of schooling,” said Pollock, an educator who has worked with students of all ages. “What we’re doing is we’re creating a space where there isn’t a wrong or a right kind of student. We actually create a space that works for every type of learning.”
Blue Sky School is based on the “experimental prototype community of tomorrow,” a concept created by Walt Disney. Disney envisioned a city where its inhabitants would continually test the latest in technologies for companies — a real-world research and development lab. He bought land near Orlando, Fla. for his vision, where Walt Disney World is now located, but died before it could be realized.
“As a system, we tend to value most numeracy and literacy. Those are incredibly important but so are all the other skills we need — the communications skills, the problem solving, critical thinking, researching, use of digital tools, mental health — all of those other things are equally if not more important."
Pollock said Disney’s vision inspired her to revolutionize her classroom and last year, she published a book entitled Creating Classroom Magic; “basically the vision for the school in about 300 pages.”
Pollock, who lives in Bel-Air Park, and Riverside South resident Hill, teamed up with Modern Niagara Group Inc., a mechanical design company, to create their dream school. Blue Sky School borrows from entrepreneurial incubators and innovation centres to fuel its curriculum, with a focus on exposing students to as many different topics, fields and interests as possible.
“We all know that kids get one chance at their education,” said Pollock. “And we all know students — everyone has someone that they love or experienced it themselves — that their own schooling did not inspire or prepare them for where they actually ended up.
“(We will) go back to the basics of where the education program comes from and really evaluate what actually works for kids and what doesn’t.”
Pollock completed her undergrad at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick and attended the University of Ottawa for her bachelor of education. She’s been teaching since 2005.
Teachers — or educators — at the Blue Sky School will be pedagogical coaches, “working with the students to define their own goals, make a plan and work toward them, and just kind of push (students’) thinking,” she said. “The educator is no longer expected to be the person, the holder of the knowledge, but they're there to coach the students through finding the knowledge themselves.”
Subject matter specialists — such as physicists or communications experts — will also be regular features in the classroom to act as mentors, Pollock said.
“We know that people don’t always discover their passion; sometimes it takes a really long time. What we’re going to do is expose the kids to tons of things so that they're able to discover and explore their curiosities,” she said.
“As a system, we tend to value most numeracy and literacy. Those are incredibly important, but so are all the other skills we need — the communications skills, the problem solving, critical thinking, researching, use of digital tools, mental health — all of those other things are equally if not more important. We sort of have to leave those behind in many other (education) systems that exist,” said Pollock. “We’re placing equal value on all those things, building our own curriculum based on the Ontario curriculum.”
Class sizes will be kept small — 12 students to each teacher — and will be a mix of ages. Each class will be a “house,” similar to those found in the Harry Potter books, said Pollock.
The school will welcome 12 students in grades 6 to 8 in its first year, eventually growing to welcome students in grades 4 through 12. The school will have capacity for about eight classes of 12 students each.
Modern Niagara has submitted a zoning bylaw amendment to the city to allow the school to be located within the existing two-storey office buildings at 95 Denzil Doyle Crt. in the Kanata South Business Park.
“Modern Niagara is very excited to be partnering with Blue Sky School,” said the company in an email. “Modern and Blue Sky are committed to nurturing youth in developing skills-based learning to foster innovation. This will be a unique partnership as Blue Sky School will be located on the campus of Modern Niagara’s Ottawa headquarters and provide authentic opportunities for students and employees to learn together.”
Tuition for the school is set at $15,000. Pollack said they’ve managed to secure two full-time scholarships, one for an indigenous student and another for a Canadian newcomer, and the school would like to team up with companies in the area to act as a testing ground for new technologies.
“We’re looking for people who share this passion and then want to partner with and support us,” she said. “There are lots of companies doing great things in Kanata — we would love to be a testing ground for new software and systems.”
As to why students and parents should consider Blue Sky School, Pollock said it’s for families looking for “something a little bit different.”
“We are incredibly committed to working with the students, the family and the community to build the best possible educational experience that's individualized for each student,” she said. “Basically, we’re practising what we teach — we want our students to solve real world problems in interesting, constructive ways and we’re doing the very same thing.
"We’re looking at the question, how might we design a better school? And we’re exploring that and creating that for them and with them.”
The town-hall meeting will take place Wednesday, March 29, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Modern Niagara Innovation Centre, located at 95 Denzil Doyle Crt.
For more information on the school, visit blueskyschool.ca. For details on the meeting, visit http://bit.ly/2mUWk5r.