New School in BC Aims to Impact the Education System | IDEA

New School in BC Aims to Impact the Education System

Posted by Dana Bennis on May 09, 2013 - 07:21 AM

This is a guest post by Rachel Mason.  Rachel lives in Victoria, British Columbia.  She is interested in progressive education, youth voice and social justice.  She has worked as a teacher, youth worker, facilitator, fundraiser, project manager, and curriculum developer in a variety of settings.  She currently works with Aboriginal communities and organizations, and is a parent of three young children.  You can contact her at
A new high school will do away with classrooms, subjects and grade-levels to offer an example of what personalized, interdisciplinary learning could look like for today’s learners.

What if you could take all the elements that you think make up a good education and combine them into one school?  What would you do differently?  What would be the impact of these changes on students, families and communities?  

These are exactly the questions that Jeff Hopkins has been addressing as he develops a brand new high school, the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII), set to open in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada in September 2013.   In opening the school, Hopkins hopes to make a difference in education that goes beyond the students who attend the school—his goal is to create a model of what public education could look like if organized differently, thereby contributing to systems transformation in the mainstream education system.

In contrast to a typical high school, PSII will have no classrooms, no subjects, and no groupings by age.  Learning will be inquiry based and interdisciplinary.  Teachers will not stand in front of a classroom and lecture, but rather will work with students in a coaching relationship to help them co-create a learning path that meets required learning outcomes, but is also personalized according to their interests and passions.  Education at PSII will not occur in silos: there will be opportunities for social and collaborative learning within the school, and with teachers’ support students will be encouraged to engage in learning outside the walls of the school, connecting with families, community members, and universities.  To learn more about how the school will operate and to read an example of a day in the life of a student, check out the school’s website at:

The choices Hopkins has made in designing PSII stem back to his own experience as a student.  When he was in high school, he got good grades and wanted to be a lawyer, but he felt frustrated by school.  He felt like the students never got to finish anything or get into depth on subjects.  So he dropped out of school for a few months.  While he was a “drop-out” he spent his time learning about law by going to court to observe the legal system and researching law at the local university.  He eventually went back to school to graduate, but he learned a few things through this experience.  One of his most important lessons was that learning felt more fun and engaging and he learned a whole lot more when he followed his own interests, took his learning outside school and into the community, and pursued an inter-disciplinary learning path.
Instead of becoming a lawyer, Hopkins grew up to become a teacher, and eventually a superintendent.  Throughout his 20-year career as a teacher and school administrator, he has remembered the experience of his youth, and he has been challenging the boundaries of the education system to try to make it more responsive to the needs of today’s students.  He has supported innovative learning environments through his own inter-disciplinary teaching and through non-traditional schools in his district, like Windsor House School in North Vancouver and Saturna Ecological Education Centre in the Gulf Islands.  However, he hasn’t yet been able to make the change he feels is required within the mainstream system.  Part of the challenge, he feels, is that there is currently no school in British Columbia which is demonstrating what is possible, and therefore even many open-minded educators are resistant to steering too far away from the status quo.

Therefore, Hopkins decided to open his own school. When PSII opens this fall, Hopkins will have the opportunity to put many of his hopes and dreams for education into practice in one setting.  While Hopkins currently must operate PSII as a private school in order to have the flexibility that is required, it is his hope that the school will influence the public education system by demonstrating that many of the accepted educational structures often taken for granted in schools are not necessary, and that schools could be organized differently without additional funding.  For that reason, PSII will not cost any more than the public education system and will have the same teacher-student ratio as public schools.  In addition, PSII will meet the public education system’s graduation requirements.  To do this, students and teachers will work together to bundle the learning recorded in their personal portfolios into courses with grades, and students will take required provincial exams when they decide they are ready.  

The timing of the opening of PSII could not be better, as it coincides with efforts by the Ministry of Education in British Columbia to develop new approaches to learning for today’s students—thus the Ministry is paying close attention to schools that are operating successfully outside the mainstream educational paradigm.  If, as Hopkins intends, practices put into place at PSII are replicated in the public education system, this new school could lead to an improved education for many students.   

What would be the effects of such a change?  Hopkins believes that if more schools were like PSII students and families would be happier.  Students would not be weighed down by homework because they would do much of their formal learning within school.  They would enjoy school and would not see education as a hoop to jump through or a means to an end.  They would learn about themselves as they co-create and pursue their personalized learning paths.  In addition, they would be more capable of creating, innovating, and finding solutions to the complex problems that face the world today.  

Imagine the impacts if the education system as a whole could learn from this model and become a place where students are not only prepared for successful working lives, but are also empowered to take control of their own learning, engage with their community, and know themselves deeply.  

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