When you refer to the 'City of Vancouver' you might envision a trip to the sandy beaches of the West End, traversing the seawall of Stanley Park, interpreting unique sculptures at the Vancouver Art Gallery or maybe taking in a few shows during the Vancouver Film Festival. Chances are, you probably wouldn't think of the city as being the backdrop for a one-of-a-kind education experience.
The students of City School have been exploring these landmarks of our downtown core within an integrated learning program that encourages the use of 'the city as a classroom'. As an alternative program for students seeking a learning experience that is engaging, intimate and inclusive, City School has been opening its doors to students across the district since 1971.
Having moved its classrooms into King George Secondary in 1980, City School still prides itself on providing a tight-knit approach to learning. Intended for students who might feel lost in a busier school environment, City School students will often form close bonds with their classmates and come to know their teachers by their first names.
Sal Robinson oversees the program at City School. As a former student herself, she affirms the concept as one that works for certain groups.
"At City School, students are able to find a place that they are extremely loyal to. It's a sanctuary for those who, for whatever reason, have not been comfortable in the mainstream," she says.
As an alternative program with a nontraditional outlook on learning, the program aims to offer enrichment and flexibility. During one visit to the library, students spent time examining blueprints and origins of neighbourhoods to learn more about the surrounding area.
Having the city as both a backyard and blank canvas for learning provides the students with a visibly unique approach to education. A large side door along the classroom leads into a small garden. Various indoor study nooks encompass the main hub and lively souvenirs from past city excursions adorn the room.
Brittney Appleby is a Grade 11 student who's been a part of the City School program since Grade 10. With interests in Biology, environmental activism and sustainable farming, City School has offered her the opportunity to excel in a comfortable atmosphere.
"Before coming to City School I felt out of place. The work ethic of my classmates just wasn't where mine was," says Appleby. "Being here has been a good fit. It's more creative, more intimate and more like a family".
A classroom setting with a familial vibe is something that Robinson believes will help in the transitioning to post-secondary education, a transition that Grade 12 student Russell Molnar explains further.
"You're more flexible with constraints here, you can learn in your own way," says Molnar. "By focusing on the community and volunteering, I think I'm better prepared for my own future plans".
Click here for more information on the City School Program
Images courtesy Sal Robinson