Pandemic prompts teachers to find learning opportunities in their own backyards
During pre-Covid times, each year hundreds of teachers in Calgary and Edmonton were able to move their classrooms for a week to sites like the Calgary Zoo, Alberta Legislature, Calgary Science Centre and Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre. This was thanks to two innovative programs: Inquiring Minds in Edmonton and Campus Calgary/Open Minds in Calgary.
Grade 3 students from Virginia Park School check out the texture of rainbow Swiss chard during a visit to an urban farm as part of the City Hall School program in Edmonton.
The two programs have been operating for more than 25 years and are an integral part of the four school districts operating in the two cities. The basic idea is that children need interesting experiences and time to slow down to learn in deep ways and to learn to focus on the world around them. Each week is personalized for the needs of the individual teacher and is the catalyst for a long-term interdisciplinary study.
The programs had to adapt quickly as the arrival of Covid brought an end to bus trips and the limit for walking field trips was two kilometres. The result was a blend of virtual visits by site co-ordinators and experts, and teacher-led first-hand exploration of each individual school’s community.
Margeaux Montgomery is a teacher with the Calgary Board of Education, and the co-ordinator of the division’s 2School: An Urban Experience program. The program normally hosts classes downtown for a week of urban exploration, but during Covid times Montgomery instead conducted research on the communities of the participating schools, and with the classroom teacher, planned five-day field studies. Each day included a mixture of virtual visits and walks to sites.
For example, Grade 7 students from Queen Elizabeth High School questioned the role that diversity plays in their community through the lens of history, architecture, design and demographics. Grade 7s met with representatives from RNDSQR Developments to examine the impact of housing developments in established communities. First-hand they observed housing options from townhouses to low-rise apartments, examining the needs of citizens, allowing all ages to live in a community.
In Edmonton, Linda Hut is the co-ordinator of City Hall School and a seconded Edmonton Public teacher. She also switched gears during Covid. Instead of holding a class at city hall for a week, Hut and participating teachers planned a mixture of virtual visits and excursions into their own communities.
For example, after a class from Steinhauer School had a virtual session about urban isolation, they partnered with a nearby seniors’ home and conducted a fall visit, during which they dropped off gratitude letters and drew messages of hope on the sidewalk. This inspirational connection during the Covid time of disconnect was so rewarding that the class has planned more visits throughout the year.
A student writes notes in her journal during a visit to the underside of a C-train bridge in the Hillhurst/Sunnyside neighbourhood of Calgary as part of the Campus Calgary/Open Minds program.
Other sites in the two programs also made creative shifts in their work with students.
While classes might be able to return to site visits beginning in January, there has been some important learning from this Covid shakeup. Program co-ordinators hope that the teachers who witnessed the rewards of using their own communities in their teaching will continue to do so and that the practice will spread. There is a rich world out there beyond the school. It just takes a little digging. ❚
Gillian Kydd is co-founder of Campus Calgary/Open Minds.
Margeaux Montgomery is a teacher with the Calgary Board of Education and the co-ordinator of 2School –An Urban Experience.
Linda Hut is a teacher with Edmonton Public Schools and the co-ordinator of Edmonton City Hall School.
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Campus Calgary / Open Minds
operates at 13 sites.
operates at 14 sites in Edmonton.
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Success Stories is an ongoing feature that enables teachers to share their successes with their colleagues. To submit an idea or an article about a new program or approach that you’ve instituted, please contact managing editor Cory Hare at email@example.com.