|May 16, 2017
Nelson Mandela High School/Foundations of the Future Charter Academy
Today, we toured two different high schools in Calgary: Nelson Mandela High School and the Foundations of the Future Charter Academy. We began at Nelson Mandela High this morning, and the facilities were absolutely stunning. The school is very new, and the structure of it stemmed from the idea to redesign high schools in a more functional way. Nelson Mandela School did just that; one of my favorite structural aspects of the school was the learning commons and stadium at the center of the school. It is a large, open, and versatile space for students to learn, create, and even just relax. It is not something I have ever seen back home, but I think trying to incorporate or convert spaces in existing schools could be beneficial to students who don't thrive in the cramped environment of the traditional classroom.
Culturally, I loved that the school is based on building relationships between students and faculty. Every student that spoke to us expressed that they were excited to learn more than they had ever been before and it was all because they knew their teachers really cared about them. This is not a new idea to me. Since I have been in the teacher education program at Mississippi State, my instructors have stressed the importance of knowing one's students in order to be better able to meet their needs. Still, it seems as more of an abstract quality of a good teacher rather than a visible part of the every day school schedule. Nelson Mandela High School sets aside time each week for students to get help as needed from their instructor and meet with their homeroom teacher once a week. This acknowledges that academic needs go beyond the direct learning in the classroom. Students also need time with adults who they trust to help them learn goal setting and problem solving skills. I also feel that although it is a difficult concept for me to wrap my mind around, the learning communities set up at Nelson Mandela High School help students form healthy relationships with their teachers and their peers.
The FFCA had a very different atmosphere, but there was obviously a lot of exploration and collaboration going on there as well. In almost every classroom we were allowed to visit, students were working in groups or working on some hands-on activity like painting or building models. I did have some of this at my own high school in Mississippi, but it would be great to see a little more of this. Even though there seemed to be a lot of creative activities going on at the time we visited, our tour guide admitted that direct instruction is still a large part of what they do. I do not think this is a "problem" though, as long as it is balanced and engaging so that deeper learning is taking place. Learning about this charter school makes me curious about the handful of charter schools currently functioning in Mississippi. As a whole, today opened my eyes to the fact that education does not have to look like the traditional model I have become so accustomed to. Back in the United States, there are many small adjustments that could be experimented with (like having multiple disciplines collaborate on assignments and projects) to improve students' motivation. Today also made me realize that it is possible for students to be interested in learning if the task of learning is presented to them in a way that catches their eye.
ON A LINGUISTIC NOTE
Today, I noticed multiple instances of the linguistic variations that I have mentioned in my previous posts. I also failed to mention that Monday night at the mall, a saleswoman used the widely known Canadian "Eh?" in her conversation. This caught me off guard at first, but when I think about it, we in the South similarly might tack on "Huh?" as a way of almost asking for affirmation. I just thought it was interesting that in both cultures, we have different terms that serve the same function in conversation.