I can’t recall exactly when or how I first heard of Blue Sky School — I suspect it was through a friend who saw something on Facebook. But, I know it caught my eye in the Kanata Kourier in March, 2017. As I read the article about this new school opening up in Kanata, I liked what I read. I found the messages from the co-founders exciting. While I had dabbled in looking at alternative education for my son over the years, it had always seemed out of reach; a dream of an alternate “if only” reality. But, something propelled me to the town hall meeting on March 29, 2017, in Modern Niagara. I went alone. Nervous and preparing myself to leave disappointed.
The town hall surprised me. The presentation, the ideas, the audience, and their questions. I definitely did not leave disappointed. Rather, I walked away interested in more. Over time, Shauna and I spoke and slowly that out-of-reach goal seemed to be orbiting closer to my family’s grasp. My son was getting very excited at the thought of a new style of education, a chance to start somewhere new, where he might be accepted for himself, where perhaps he wouldn’t go through every day feeling that he was less than the other students, as well as a disappointed and frustration to teachers.
You see, no amount of documentation, psych-ed reports, diagnoses, parent communication, or general good will would change my son’s overall experiences in school. Why? Perhaps because the issues at public and Catholic schools are part of larger, systemic issues; or maybe because my son did not have any disabilities you can see; or maybe not. What I do know is that the public and Catholic school systems are without a doubt failing most, if not all, young Canadians, including my son. So, I laced up my advocacy gloves; gloves to protection/minimize the damage to my son’s self-esteem and confidence — all of which were eroding from years of negative experiences that far outnumbered the positive experiences. There were meetings with teachers, administrators, psychologists, other parents; hours spent doing research; and, even the hiring of an education advocate. And, the hours upon hours invested in trying to support him in school — with little to no communication or support from the teachers. I managed to cobble together the curriculum content he missed/did not learn in the classroom. And, I downplayed the negative experiences and interactions he had with peers and educators.
But, I could not shake the guilt of knowing that my son’s summative experiences were that adults were not there to support him, to protect him...even his parents. The reality was my son was being forced to spend most of his days in an institution doing more harm than good.
Over the years, I progressively lowered my bar of expectations with schools and ultimately, what success was for my son. By the end of Grade 7, my goal was simply to protect his mental well-being as much as possible. And, I was not doing a good job.
In the end, my son was enrolled into Blue Sky School. I remember once Shauna and I talking and she asked, or I volunteered, what helped me make the decision to put my son into a pioneer year of a school that was essentially a concept; a warehouse and two teachers who had a lot of good great ideas and plans. What I tried to explain to Shauna was that I had a good idea of what my son’s (lack of) potential was in the system; but what excited me was what the potential could be at Blue Sky School. I’ve since heard words about this pioneer class taking the “leap” with the co-founders — yet for me, it was simply a choice to walk a different path. Not a plunge, so much as taking a step off a sidewalk onto a path that would reveal its opportunities in time. Sure, I was nervous and unsure what the school year would bring; but, I reassured myself that the goal was just for my son to enjoy his days more than the typical high school; and yes, a place perhaps where I would not have to lace-up the gloves in order to spar with administration and teachers quite so much. Not exactly a high bar.
So, it is two months into the first school year. Boy, did I sell Blue Sky School short! The co-founders of Blue Sky School had a whole other plan that I did not understand, and I am still coming to understand.
Blue Sky School is not just a place that gives lip service to mental health, to kindness, and the host of other life skills that are rarely truly developed in typical schools, like conflict resolution, or collaboration. These “soft skills” are at the forefront of each day; skills that will undoubtedly provide endless value regardless of the path in life chosen by each learner.
Furthermore, Blue Sky School learners are exposed to vast experiences and interactions. And, the quality of the opportunities are enriched due to the small group sizes and the expectation that the learners come as valuable contributors to the conversation between the experts and learners. The field trips and in-house workshops have varied from art to chemistry to biology to sustainable technology to volunteering at a food bank. The exposure is to help the learners determine what interests and excites them — this is truly amazing to me; the time and energy to make connections and organize time with professionals to spend educating and interacting with learners is stunning.
What is also fascinating with this school model is to see how educators can operate without the restraint of time. Lessons are not divided into chunks that must be taught within a short time; the educators here have the time, years in fact with each child.
One of the favourite quotes of my son these days is how Blue Sky School has ruined week-ends…..because they have lost the value they once held. He enjoys every day now. And, really, isn’t that the ultimate goal of life?
But more than that. And what is truly at the heart of every mother, is that (at Blue Sky School), they enjoy my son. They like him. They care about his well-being. They want to hear his hopes and dreams, and his day-to-day thoughts. They value what he brings to the table. They believe in his potential to do good in the world and of course, to learn!
As a mother who has spent many years fighting the system, advocating for my son...I had laced up my gloves for battle so many times that at some point I had forgot to take them off. And then, I became so used to the weight of them that I forgot I was wearing them. You see, Blue Sky School is a journey for not just my son, but also for me.
It is time to hang up the gloves.
It is time to trust educators again.
It is time to watch my son grow into a confident and self-motivated learner.
It is time to believe in the magic created by the educators at Blue Sky School.
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