A private school education for free!?!

16 05 2017

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Seems a bit too good to be true, right? Small classes, interdisciplinary projects, experiential learning, supportive individualized mentoring, community engagement, and social and environmental consciousness. Free? Yes, it’s true, and available right here on the peninsula! Our community is fortunate enough to be the home to BPDS, an incredible K-12 UNESCO school that offers many of the features of a private school, for free, and it’s the default option if you live in Northern Bruce. Yes, it’s not perfectly free, because we pay taxes, but at least it won’t set you back $15,000 a year, as some private school parents pay. Yet it remains a mystery why parents and students are opting out.

I have been involved at BPDS in various capacities – as a volunteer, supply teacher, supply educational assistant, school bus driver, and perhaps most importantly, a student. I was also on the steering committee for the Peninsula Action Committee for Education (PACE) and was involved in a research project that surveyed about 300 community members and 80 former students on their local school experiences. Through these roles, I feel qualified to attest to the high quality of programming at BPDS.

I was fortunate enough to attend a private, nonprofit university after graduating from BPDS. Many of my peers attended private high schools and prestigious international schools, so naturally, I worried that my small-town education might come up short. However, I was relieved to find out that I was sufficiently prepared and even excelled in many of my classes. Small classes, interdisciplinary and experiential learning opportunities, supportive teacher mentors and the wide range of volunteer opportunities equipped me with the work ethic and skills to succeed at university. And thanks to Mr. Rodgers, I was more comfortable using Excel than many of my peers!

So of course, no school is perfect and certainly no high school experience is clear sailing, however continue to support our local school, not only because the school plays an important role in the vitality of the community, but also because it is a good school that offers unparalleled opportunities. The grass will always seem greener elsewhere, but I would encourage students and parents on the peninsula to take a moment to recognize just how green the grass is here.

This letter was published in Issue #6 (May 16 – May 30, 2017) of the Bruce Peninsula Press





And a word on academics

31 12 2012

Oh wait, before you go off thinking that I spent the entirely of my exchange travelling and engaging in various social activities, let me say a few words about AUC and my courses. 

Amsterdam University College (AUC) is a joint institution created by the University of Amsterdam and VU University, providing an interdisciplinary liberal arts and sciences curriculum. It was founded in 2009 and has about 700 students. Aside from having almost double our population, AUC is fairly comparable to Quest – core curriculum, interdisciplinary, small classes (25 students in this case), residential campus and a highly international student body. A main difference is its location in the “global city” of Amsterdam, which has a population of nearly a million people, whereas Squamish is only about 15,000. With the city center only 15 minutes away by bike, Amsterdam was very accessible, and I would go to the center almost daily for errands or to meet friends at a café. 

Additionally, in contrast to Quest’s block program, AUC operates on a regular semester system, meaning students take four (but in my case, five) courses at once. Overall, based on my experience in the social sciences (this might differ for different faculties), I felt that the academic rigour was less intense than Quest’s, even during midterms and finals. Also, there seemed to be a lower level of student engagement, which I think is in part due to the semester system; it is difficult to fully immerse yourself in one class when you have three or four other classes on your mind. Further, although it varies by class, there was less emphasis on classroom participation.

However, I did appreciate having a life outside of school. At AUC, I felt that I had more personal time for social activities, volunteering and an outside job. But, perhaps this speaks partially to my goals and priorities for my exchange – to have a cultural experience in addition to an academic one. 

Here’s a bit of a review on my individual courses:

1. Basic Research Methods and Statistics – Fairly standard and textbook orientated, but sometimes fun in the way that math sometimes is, especially when you haven’t done it in a while. Excel can also be fun, or at least make you feel all powerful. This course also re-introduced me to the concept of the exam, something that has been wonderfully absent from my life for most of my undergraduate career. At Quest, assessment mostly consists of papers and presentations. 

2. Intro to Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the bane of my Wednesday mornings, as I would sit for 3 to 4 hours in front of not one, but two monitors, baffled by the intricacies of impossible software. While my subjective memory portrays this experience as me banging my head against the keyboard, I did learn a few things and certainly an appreciation for the power of GIS technology. Further, I also completed a cool final project on the deforestation occurring on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Nation in the Parc de la Verendrye Wildlife Reserve in Quebec. 

3. History of National Civil Rights Movements – Truly a great course, taught by an incredible Venezulan anthropologist. We started with the American Civil Rights Movement, then proceeded to learn about social movement theory (resource mobilization, collective identity, framing, and political processes and opportunities). In the final phase of the course, we looked at gay liberation, feminism, and alter-globalization. For this class, I wrote my final paper on collective identity of the transnational peasants’ movement and La Via Campesina. 

4. Community and Society in a Globalized World – Finally, a long-overdue anthropology course. We spent the first half of the course discussing globalization and how it influences people’s lifeworlds – specifically, in terms of migration and transnational life, global circulation of goods and cultural globalization. But the fun really began in the second part when we conducted our own fieldwork. Together with a Catalan exchange student, I studied the role of a particular Catalan restaurant/bar on the Catalan community in Amsterdam. Specifically, we looked at how the bar owners facilitated migrant clustering and the development of migrant social networks. This topic was particularly relevant in light of Catalonia’s recent mass protests and election in favour of independence from Spain. And the Catalan cuisine that we had on our numerous field visits was a nice bonus!

5. And last, but not least, my wild card course – From Dada to Hell’s Kitchen. What was that about? A little bit crazy and kooky, best described by “the weirder the better”. It centred around the theme of performance art, but really there were few boundaries. Sophia created a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere where we could get to know each other and allow creativity to flourish. Lots of fun classroom activities and a series of live performance that I could have never imagined doing. 





Reforming education

21 03 2011