Engaging the Wider Community as a ‘Discovery Learning’ Lab
Whytecliff programs encourage new experiences in recreation, cultural exploration, education, hobbies, and the arts. On Fridays, for example, students participate in group excursions that they help plan in the weeks leading up to it. These outings have clear learning and therapeutic goals, and have included such activities as a tree-climbing course, a cycling trip, visiting a Buddhist temple, and the BC Fisheries GO-FISH Catch and Release program. In 2017/2018 we combined a carpentry program with volunteering at a Wildlife Rescue Society, with students repairing enclosures for animals as well as ramps and platforms for them to play. The program’s commitment to flexibility allows students to opt out of these activities when they prefer to continue with their coursework.
Our model is guided by the work of the Progressives – and in particular, John Dewey – and is in line with the shift in the new BC curriculum to a focus on “core competencies”. Progressives built a program around the child’s activities and emphasized the value of, “rich projects through which children could come to know their world, achieve a fuller understanding of themselves, and begin to secure a feeling for the skills and concepts that lay at the heart of the formal disciplines”. Through Whytecliff’s individualized, group approach to discovery learning, youth find real-world opportunities to develop problem-solving, choice-making, sharing and social participation skills, which in the long-term lead to self-confidence, self-determination and other positive outcomes.
Whytecliff’s community-oriented approach to ‘Discovery Learning’ emphasizes:
- Experiential/activity based education
- Project-based authentic learning experiences
- Life and vocational skills development through our proprietary approach to our (CAPP accredited) curriculum
- Therapeutic, community-based milieu activities
- Pre-employment, work and vocational skill focus
- Community resource exploration and experience
- Recreation and cultural interest/talent building
Physical activity is important, and using local gyms and community facilities at both of our sites, each youth usually participates in physical activities 30 minutes a day. In addition, we have a hockey program one afternoon a week and music programs at both sites. Whytecliff has a relationship with (and offers programming with) Arts Umbrella, Sarah McLachlan School of Music, and other community organizations. We also do overnight trips to camps like Camp Potlatch, Manning Park and Golden Ears.
In contrast to traditional schools, Whytecliff does not close for the entire Christmas and Spring Breaks but remains open with special programming to provide practical, emotional, and activity support for youth for at least part of that time. This programming is optional for those families and caregivers who have alternative plans.