The Learnary Proposal

Helen’s proposal for a provincially funded learnary.

March 2007 — Updated April 2017

Blue Sky,
White Water,
Green Earth,

Transforming Education Society

The Learnary

In our rapidly changing, post-industrial world, people need new skills and abilities. Current research indicates that “white-water rafting skills” such as versatility, resourcefulness, resiliency, and integrity are chief among them. Furthermore, the ability to practice democracy cannot be learned from a text, it must be experienced in the context of a dynamic social setting where each person’s voice is heard. Simulations are inadequate; students need to make real decisions about things that affect their day-to-day lives.

The Learnary offers a unique combination of working systems
that serves a wide variety of students and families
who are not being served by the current system.

It draws upon 36 years of incorporating the best from various philosophies and practices in a working school of up to 200 students

Its formative model has had:

  • Vitality and enrichment from parents, alumni and volunteers
  • Democratic experience in real matters
  • Enriched environment for the gifted and unique
  • International recognition – visitors from all over the world
  • Alternative perspective for student teachers – Cap College, SFU, UBC
  • Model for life-long love of learning
  • Grateful families – documented by hundreds of letters

Brain research demonstrates that learning has to be meaningful in order to be useful, and that one cannot be paying attention and integrating meaning at the same time. Time for reflection is very important. Furthermore, both stimulation and immediate feedback are vital components of enriched environments. To motivate many different types of learners, a great deal of choice including the option of self-paced work must be provided. Feedback should be an integral part of the learning experience, not a distant mark on a report card.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Learnary

Part I

  1. Blue Sky Philosophy
    1. Self-design enhances ownership
    2. Profound respect engenders healthy development
    3. Democracy must be experienced
    4. Multi-age interactions are beneficial to all
    5. Community provides enrichment and support
    6. Field Trips are integral to education

  1. White Water Delivery Model
    1. Program
    2. Culture
    3. Evaluation
    4. Intake
    5. Attendance

  1. Green Earth Facilities
    1. Primary
    2. Intermediate
    3. Secondary
    4. Community

  1. Community
    1. Staff
    2. Enrolled Members
    3. Alumni
    4. Volunteers

Part II Proposal

  1. Description of Program
  2. Goal
  3. Rationale
    1. Program Soundness
    2. Distinctly different approach

  1. Intended enrolment
  2. Articulation with Secondary programs
  3. Registration
  4. Financial implications
  5. Short and long term space requirements

  6. Student selection criteria


  • The Learnary serves a group of people who would not otherwise be served. This includes:
    • Students who have been unable to thrive in the regular program or other alternative programs.
    • Adults and young people who have a philosophical desire for a democratic, cooperative, free-choice environment.
    • Teachers who have skill sets that support truly student-led learning, as well as a deeply-held philosophical preference for it.
    • Families and volunteers who are looking for a secular, welcoming and supportive community where there are worthwhile ways to contribute and places to meet.
    • Parents, alumni and volunteers who want to be actively involved in the daily life of a learning community.

    The Learnary is cost-effective.

    • Including parents, volunteers, alumni and young people in the learning environment provides enrichment and added opportunity for mentoring and apprenticeships.
    • Allowing for flexible attendance means the facility can serve more students in the space given.
    • The Open Space system allows for large group, small group and one-on-one tutoring.
    • Staffing is set using the mainstream ratio of paid staff, even though a high proportion of gifted, sensitive or anxious children are being served.
    • People attend by choice, so their intention is to make the most of it.

    Part I

    1. Blue Sky Philosophy
      1. Self-design enhances ownership.
      2. Our design incorporates models that have already proven themselves by successfully serving growing numbers of people who attend them by choice. These models are:

        –Community Centers
        –Continuing Education Programs

        We believe that people have an innate ability and desire to direct their own education. Students should be given responsibility for managing their life-long learning.

      3. Profound respect engenders healthy development.
      4. In our community, we speak respectfully about each other, and try to describe behaviour without using words that have negative connotations. When inquiring about a mishap, we consider that each person involved wants to maintain their self-esteem, even if they have made an error in judgement and have done something that the community does not support. We who are on Staff ask ourselves, “Would I speak using this tone and this language to a friend?” We put time and effort into establishing relationships with people in the community, so that when a difficulty occurs we have compassion for each other. Staff provide the model and the expectation that students will become comfortable and successful in this culture.

        Relationship is considered key to the success of the school. Staff work hard to build strong, trust-based relationships with students, and adequate time is built into the program to develop these relationships. We have profound respect for every young person in the community, stemming from the fact that we like them and enjoy being with them.

      5. Democracy must be experienced.
      6. To function well in a democracy, people should be given the opportunity to experience its power and understand the responsibilities from a young age. As with all things, some are ready and willing to do so before others. The Community Council supports and enables young people to take part in the running of the school. It is the governing body that decides everything pertaining to the community’s direction. All students, staff, parents and volunteers attending the meeting can vote. Adults are held to the same standards as the students, and can have a complaint written about them by anyone in the community if they are in violation of a resolution.

      7. Multi-age interactions are beneficial to all.
      8. Multi-age groupings allow students to learn from someone who is just a step or two ahead of them. This “scaffolding” learning is very powerful. Our philosophy supports dynamic, interactive, uneven, interest-driven forms of discovery.

        Older students gain a great deal by interacting with younger students: caring about someone less able; enjoying play at a level no longer acceptable in the older age group; taking the responsibility of setting a good example; learning things that a younger child specializes in and the older one has no experience with, and so discovering that a younger person’s knowledge can be as valuable as that of an older person’s.

      9. Community provides enrichment for students and support for families.
      10. The Learnary is a participation facility, and parents, volunteers, alumni and young people are supported in becoming part of the team. Many people help with the work of the community, which supports the staff, provides a wide variety of relationship possibilities , and enriches the environment..

        Though many young people might otherwise be embarrassed by having their parents at school, the general culture of the community creates an environment where peer groups are not at odds with one another.

        Alumni and volunteers come because they feel useful and comfortable. They both provide enrichment and benefit from many opportunities in the community.

      11. Field-trips are integral to education.
      12. Field-trips are travelling educational opportunities. Members may go on field trips ranging from half and full days designed for younger children; week-long camping trips open to the entire community; and month-long life-skills trips for older students.

    1. White Water Delivery Model
      1. Program
      2. Staff in the Younger Children areas offer a daily sharing time, put out new centres, and provide on-the-spot learning experiences drawn from and inspired by the children’s activities. They assist the children in working out problematic social situations. They also offer classes and activities, some scheduled and others ad-lib. With the two-area arrangement, one area can always be free for spontaneous activity.

        Staff in the Pre Adolescent areas work with the young people in a collaborative way to hold the tone of the various spaces. They offer classes and activities that either students have requested or that staff are inspired to run. Classes are either taught by staff alone, or are run in conjunction with students, parents or volunteers. Staff arrange for field trips and visiting speakers. Learners engage in formal classes to varying degrees, according to their felt needs. Staff support students in running the Community Council. They also assist with problem-solving sessions for individuals and groups. Parents, alumni and volunteers provide a wide range of enrichment offerings.

        Secondary staff offer self-paced, criterion-referenced work using computers and self-paced curriculum packages, plus upper level classes in English, French, Math, Social Studies and Science where requested. The staff take responsibility for providing people skilled in computer science, woodwork, auto-mechanics, sewing, and cooking, as well as the senior academic courses. People who wish to earn a Dogwood Certificate may design a program to do so. They would take the provincial exams in the areas designated by the Ministry. Other students may design their own learning plans and go on to college or other post-secondary institutions. Some may choose to travel, work in a field of their choice, volunteer, or start a business.

        Note: The school has no specified grade levels, and community members may participate in any class or activity as long as their behaviour is in keeping with the parameters set by the person running it.

      3. Culture
      4. Because the Learnary is run democratically by community members who attend the meetings, there is very little in the way of subversive activity. It is generally a very safe place for young people. Whenever bullying or harassment is suspected, the whole community moves to remedy the situation. The culture actively works against sexism, racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, classism and ageism. We have developed a system of conventions that has kept us drug-free and smoke-free. Our ungraded arrangement allows for mixed age groups to gather around interests and abilities. Older children consistently help out with younger ones, and strong and lasting friendships develop. Social responsibility is a major community focus.

        We have always encouraged our community members to bring infants and toddlers into the facility. This has an impact similar to the “Roots of Empathy” program introduced into the Vancouver School system. In our experience, welcoming such young children into our school community provides older students with opportunities for nurturing, tenderness and responsibility. Their presence also helps to maintain familial bonds between siblings.

      5. Evaluation
      6. Staff offer in-depth conferences with each student and family twice a year, in the Fall and in the Spring. Staff may do individual diagnostic testing when requested.

        Students take full responsibility for their learning. They may involve themselves in the virtual portfolio system whereby they develop over the years an extensive data base of activities, projects, classes, whims and certificates that they can draw on to produce a DVD for any purpose. The data base would contain text, digital stills, audio and video.

      7. Intake
      8. All young people wishing to register for the Learnary must first spend three days at the facility with a parent or guardian. After that, they must have an Intake Meeting with staff and students to ensure that they understand and support problem-solving, collaboration and restitution.

      9. Attendance
      10. Full time attendance is not mandatory. Parents take the responsibility for ensuring that their children use the facility and staff in the ways that best suit them. Full-time attendance is an option, as is once-a-week attendance and everything in between. Staff maintain records of attendance.

    1. Green Earth Facilities
    2. The Facility will be designed using sound ecological practices. It will reflect the philosophical base of the community and support the culture.

      Students of any age may be in any of the physical areas, as long as they honour the intentions of that space. In order for self-directed learning to flourish, many choices must be available to learners. All spaces must be wheel-chair accessible.

      1. For Younger Children
        • Indoors: A large space divided into two areas:
        • Academic area containing couches, carpets and stations for early-reading books, math manipulatives, pencils and papers, small building toys, puzzles, games and a blackboard.

          Active area with a loft, housekeeping corner, painting and pasting corner, building blocks, manipulatives, and water and sand play.

        • Outdoors:
        • Fenced playground with grass, play equipment, garden space, covered area and blacktop.

      2. For Pre Adolescents
        • Indoors:
        • Full-size specialty rooms: Library, Art Room, Big Muscle Room and Meeting Room.

          Half-size rooms: Resource Room (where self-paced reading, writing and arithmetic are available along with computers containing academic programs and games), Band Room (sound-proofed), Kitchen that can be used for Community gatherings, Hands-On Science and Building Area, Social Studies Room, Conference Room and Drama Space.

          Large area: Gym with a piano.

        • Outdoors:
        • Forest, Field, Blacktop, Covered Area and Lawn.

      3. For Adolescents
        • Indoors:
        • Adolescent students use the entire school and need in addition: High tech Computer Lab with animation and video components, Academic Room with a Lecture Area, a Woodwork/Metalwork Room, Sewing Room Cooking Lab, and Theatre with light and sound capability.

        • Outdoors:
        • The whole Lower Mainland with its sports facilities, museums, educational offerings, and libraries.

      4. For the Community
      5. There are a few open lounge areas run, as are many of the rooms, by Councils who set the tone and rules for their area, and see that they are held. The Cooking Lab would be used to prepare Community meals and refreshments at performances.

    3. Community
    4. Maintenance of a healthy culture is a Community responsibility. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. If there is a problem, it is up to the person who perceives it to take action and stay with it until it is resolved. It is not necessary for that person to do all the work, but they must take the responsibility to see that it is handled to their satisfaction. All members of the community are equally important and the Judicial Committee treats young and old with the same consideration.

      1. Staff
      2. Staff are responsible for the safety of the facility. They run fire, intruder, toxic leak, and earthquake drills. Staff are also responsible for providing academics and supporting a rich environment, as well as engaging students in conflict resolution processes and assisting them to find appropriate outcomes.

      3. Enrolled Members
      4. All families who enrol in The Learnary are expected to attend three Mandatory Meetings a year in September, January and May. They are also expected to attend as many of the other monthly meetings as possible, and assist in supporting the school in any way they deem useful. As The Learnary is a parent participation group, each family is expected to participate in the life of the community(e.g., by offering activities, serving on committees or doing tasks such as Phone Tree or Social Convenor).

      5. Alumni
      6. We plan to conduct a ten-year longitudinal study of students who have attended The Learnary. A comprehensive report will describe the situation of the student and family at the time of enrollment, their reasons for choosing The Learnary, and an assessment of the same factors at the time the student leaves the school. Improvements or worsening of their identified issues will be tracked. We will include questions for parents concerning the impact The Learnary had on their attitudes towards raising their children.

        We welcome alumni who wish to remain connected to the community by volunteering regularly or occasionally.

      7. Volunteers
      8. All volunteers must be interviewed by a staff member and must undergo a Criminal Records Check. They must never be in a closed room with a single child, and may not make off-campus arrangements with young children they meet at The Learnary without first checking with parents.

    Part II Proposal

    The Transforming Education Society requests that the Ministry support a Provincial Learning Program for people who want to be self-directed and self-responsible.

    1. Description of program
    2. The school is arranged such that rooms with differing aspects are provided, and students of any age may access all spaces and materials as long as they honour the designation of the room and the activity. Staff offer classes and activities, and regularly facilitate Open Space meetings at which classes and activities requested by students are arranged. Parents, students, alumni and volunteers offer enrichment activities. The Curriculum is delivered by staff in a variety of ways. For the younger students, teachers incorporate the basics into activities that the students choose to engage in. As the students get older, staff offer specific areas of study, preferably in a hands-on manner. Eventually students are ready for lecture-type classes and self-paced learning modules which are provided by staff.

      Students may choose from a wide variety of options in order to educate themselves. They may avail themselves of the classes and activities provided within the building, attend field trips arranged by staff, go to lessons or events arranged by their parents or themselves, take on-line classes, or use self-paced materials. They may choose a combination of any or all of these options.

    3. Goal
    4. Our goal is to foster a habit of life-long inquiry and a love of learning within a program that gives opportunities to practice democracy through real, ongoing experience in Community Council Meetings.

    5. Rationale
      1. Soundness
      2. We have pioneered a non-coercive, parent-participation, multi-age group, democratic, publicly-funded program employing flexible systems to provide numerous choices for parents and students seeking alternatives to standard public school. It has run for 36 years and has enrolled up to 200 students.

      3. Distinctly different
      4. The Learnary will offer an environment that supports many special needs youth without stigmatizing them. It will serve a variety of people who are unique in their learning styles, as well as those who simply prefer the self-direction model. It is
        a completely different paradigm that puts the onus on the learner and reaps the benefit of the good energy generated when one is reaching for an offering rather than resisting a force-feeding.

    6. Intended enrolment
    7. We would initially enrol 125 students aged (before Dec. 31st ) five to eighteen years, increasing by 25 students per year until we reach approximately 200 students.

    8. Articulation with Secondary programs
    9. We would use recognized, self-paced on-line and packaged programs. Students could take Provincial Exams to graduate with a Dogwood Diploma, or they could design another route to becoming prepared to take their places in the world.

    10. Registration
    11. We would start with a group of students with Windsor House experience, and take in 25 new students. We would continue to advertise through posters, as well as placing ads in local newspapers and parenting magazines, inviting the public to attend information meetings

    12. Financial implications
    13. Short and long-term space requirements

      Year 1
      In order to maintain the culture we need to start with a trained staff and at least two-thirds of the students having had alternative school experience or home-schooling experience for a year or more. This will save years of preparatory work in the community. We anticipate starting with 125 students and 6.25 FTE staff (20:1 ratio that includes Librarian, LAC, Administration, and Music and Art Specialists). We also need a Secretary and a Special Education Assistant, both with experience working in a non-coercive setting.

      The program would be available to students who wish to come full-time as well as those who wish to use the school to support their Distributed Learning Program.

      Year 2
      We would take in students in the lower age range and build to 150 students with the same student/teacher ratio and same program. We would be willing to train potential staff in the summer while running a four-week Summer Democratic School.

      Year 3
      We would take in students in the lower age range as well as older students who have been home-schooled for a total of up to 175 students.

      Year 4
      We would register 200 students and provide them with a wide range of options.

    14. Student selection criteria
    15. In order to maintain the school’s stability, we can accept only those Secondary age students who have been home-schooled or have come from another democratic alternative school.