School offers unique learning environment

In its second year, Kala Star is not funded by the provincial government for education

Kala Star Academics and Outdoor School is an unique learning opportunity for Grade 4 to 6 students and families in Vernon and the surrounding areas.

This school, however, is vastly different from the traditional school system.

In its second year, Kala Star is not funded by the provincial government for education. Education is home-school curriculum, approved by the Ministry of Education, and provided by the Vernon school district’s vLearn program, said facilitator Brad Swanson, a certified B.C. teacher.

“This means Kala Star students have the same opportunities for university, college, and tech school as those students attending a traditional, private, or faith-based school,” said Swanson.

The students follow the B.C. Ministry of Education’s Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLOs) just like public school students would in a classroom setting.

“Kala Star believes in providing opportunities for students to obtain superior employability skills and the building blocks needed to continue, to move forward as self-directed, self-motivated, self-aware,  empathetic, and confident citizens within our community,” said Swanson.

As an educator, Swanson says he understands the importance of building life-long skills such as being self-directed and self-motivated during the crucial ages of Grade 4 to 6, but is especially looking forward to the group-based environmental and community initiatives the students will take on.

“Every employer wants a creative, self-directed, self-motivated employee. But, more importantly, they want individuals who have the communication and team skills to be able to work with others on anything collaboratively as a contributing group member. These are the out of school experiences that will stay with them as skills, and learning opportunities forever,” he said.

During the year, students will collaborate with others in problem solving, making positive choices, thinking creatively, becoming intrinsically self-motivated and self-directed towards success.

Learners at Kala Star have a safe, positive learning environment, with a small student-to-teacher ratio of 10:1, to complete their school work, said Swanson.

“Literacy and math are at the forefront of learning with some unique twists. Mental math is learned, which means no calculators are used. Also, computer printers are not used to practise quality of printing, or cursive writing, for final copies,” he said.

Learners will move on with their math work once they understand a concept, rather than try to keep up with the pace of the whole class, or struggle with concepts before being able to push ahead on their own.

“Learners are also held accountable with the quality of their work, and the decisions they choose to make with their peers and in the community,” added Swanson.

Class begins with yoga to prepare for the day of learning ahead. Field trips include practising shaking hands with eye contact, and meeting community experts on a range of learning opportunities from graphic design at Speed Pro Signs, to a lesson in finance and automotive service at Hyundai Vernon, to learning about bees with a local beekeeper, to learning safety and culinary skills with Gumtree Catering, to paddle boarding Kalamalka Lake with Kala Vida Surf Shop, and checking local drinking water intake pipes for quagga or zebra mussels.

Students learn the game of crib and play with seniors at Coldstream Meadows Retirement Home and also buddy read with the local Creekside Montessori School for ages three to six.

Environmental studies include cleaning Creekside Creek, Kal beach, Vernon Creek, BX Falls, and the wetlands behind Ellison Elementary.

“Students gain an understanding of the water cycle by emerging themselves in it,” said Swanson.

Last year, students set up a fundraiser to donate to a wide range of local organizations including Upper Room Mission, Kingfisher Interpretive Centre, Vernon Downtown Association, SPCA, Kidsport, and  SPrKL (the Society for the Protection of Kal Lake).

“Overwhelming community support with a bottle drive allowed the students to donate to causes that truly mattered to them,” said Swanson.

More information on the Kala Star program can be found at www.kalastar.ca or on Facebook.