Children know, and most adults remember, how completely absorbing life can be when nothing exists, in one bright moment, beyond a sense of wonder. Nearly anything can bring it on—watching a leaf fall from a branch, hearing the whistle of wings as a flock of Canada geese flies overhead, making the first tracks on new snow.
So much of what delights us, at any time of our lives, comes to us when we are out in the natural world or experiencing our community, beyond the walls of classrooms or offices. So this experimental school in Vancouver, B.C., sounds like the kind of classroom that will make students eager to be up and out the door every morning.
Maple Ridge Environmental School expands the classroom’s usual four walls to include wetlands, farms, gardens, rivers, restaurants, government offices and non-profit centres. It expands the definition of “teacher” to add elders, workers, animals, plants, and anything or anyone else that can widen the students’ world.
Even the way the school is being run is different. A council of hearth keepers (students, teachers, parents, family members, community educators, and researchers from Simon Fraser University) makes decisions based on the school’s guiding principles: Place and Community, Nature, Ecology and Sustainability, Inquiry and Possibility, Interdependence and Flourishing, Imagination and Integration.
We’ll always puzzle over the best way to educate children, and we will always make mistakes, change directions, and try again. But Maple Ridge Environmental School is offering the kind of open-walls school that gives me hope for the children who will have the good fortune to be part of it. As they study their community, they will be learning how to be citizens of the world.