Keep your eyes on a new school in western Canada that, when it breaks ground in a couple of years, will bust many of our conceptions about the word “school”.
A 35 minute ferry ride from Vancouver, B.C, brings you to the small town of Sechelt, population about 10,000. A few miles to the west of that, a development group has plans to build a new “multi-generational” mixed use community on the Sunshine Coast. Part of the plan includes Sunshine Coast Academy, a 600-student 7-12th grade international boarding school, and I may become part of the think tank to help design the school and a truly exciting program.
I spent some time talking about the project with Todd McGowan, a veteran international educator, about the plans for the school, and I loved what he had to say. As I read the outline on their website, the image that kept coming to mind was that they intend to “smear” the boundary between “school” and “community”, which was exactly what Tom told me is a center piece of their thinking. He talked about a library and a fitness center that serve both the school and the community; a sustainable agricultural program co-run for education and local food production; a town center and conference facility open to the school, the community, and guests; collaboration on projects amongst students and entrepreneurial start-ups located here because the cost of living and working in Vancouver has gone out of sight. Tom says that every element of the natural area, from the salmon river to the sea to the local parklands and First Nations lands will be considered as they design the pedagogy and curriculum for the school.
We talked about how we have to treat these elements of a school as pieces of an integrated system. We can build the most amazing physical plant using green, sustainable architecture, but if we don’t integrate that into a transformed pedagogy and practice, schools are missing an enormous opportunity. We were reading from the same playbook. What if we really can design learning around a system that has few practical and intellectual boundaries between “school” and “world”?
So keep an eye on this. Tom says that they hope to have their plans through the local review processes in the next few months and then get down to some real blue-sky design-based thinking. If I am lucky enough to be involved, I will look forward to channeling the best ideas and practices I have seen at close to 150 schools in the last four years, as well as our best crystal ball about what lies ahead for a “school” that will be just getting started heading into the second quintile of the 21st century.