Patrick Gale, a teacher at EMCS, is taking the lead in a proposed environmental academy at the local high school. (Tim Collins - Black Press Media)

Patrick Gale, a teacher at EMCS, is taking the lead in a proposed environmental academy at the local high school. (Tim Collins - Black Press Media)

New Sooke education academy focuses on environment, community

Program still requires school board approval

Edward Milne Community School staff has developed a new academy aimed at the environment and community.

The program — the Environmental Studies Academy — combines classroom and science lab work with hands-on outdoor learning opportunities.

“I’m super excited about this program. We already have a strong ecological focus at EMCS and this is a perfect fit,” Laura Fulton, the school’s principal, said.

“This will allow students to get into their learning in a very deep and meaningful way.”

The courses offered within the academy include social studies and science, entrepreneurship and marketing, and foods. There will also be the possibility of integrating other courses like careers, sustainability, outdoor education, community connections and service learning into the academy program.

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“We’ll be funnelling the programs together into a full-day program where students will learn through nature and experiential learning,” Patrick Gale, applied skills department head, said.

“There will still be a lot of classroom time, of course, but the program will allow us to explore eco-systems and habitats through activities like kayaking, whale watching, studies at the salmon hatchery, and work in our gardens.”

Pending Sooke School District board approval, the program will begin in the first semester of 2020/2021 and run from September to January.

The program is in line with a growing body of academic research that indicates nature and garden-based education has academic, health, and social benefits as well as contributing to the enhancement of community connections for students in those programs, said school officials.

“There are other cohort based programs like this (in other locations), but our location in Sooke makes it the perfect place to offer this program,” Fulton said.

And while there are intrinsic benefits to the new educational approach, Gale said the academy has the potential of directing some students into emerging careers in environmental studies and entrepreneurship.

“It may have a lasting impact on what these students decide to do in their future, and at the same time will create stronger connections between the students and their community.”

The program should be available for registration by Feb. 3, when it appears on the academy calendar on the EMCS website.

Grade 8 and 9 students will have the opportunity to express their interest in the program, and 28 students will be selected to participate in the academy.

“We don’t anticipate any problems filling all the slots and may have to conduct a selection process if the numbers of students expressing interest exceeds the space available,” Fulton said.

Students from any B.C. school district can apply for entrance in the academy program.

The program will complement the Grade 11 and 12 environmental studies programs at EMCS as well as other environmental studies and activities across the school division.

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