SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL
“When I was a child, asking too many questions of the teacher could land you in detention,” says Amanda Dervaitis, founder and Principal of High Park Day School (HPDS), a micro-school in Toronto, Canada. “Now, we recognise that curiosity and inquiry are critical for learning and success.”
As the daughter of teachers, Dervaitis is aware of the limitations of traditional education and the challenges to stay relevant and meet the needs of modern students. To this end she developed a programme for improving elementary education.
“Project-based and inquiry learning are central to our approach,” she says. “They enable us to develop the global competencies required for success in life. What you see here is dynamic and active learning: collaboration across ages, exploration of creative and innovative ideas to solve problems, and deep engagement. Student questions drive our emergent and integrated curriculum, and there is no limit to what they can learn.” Despite the flexibility of project learning, however, there is always an underlying structure, and HPDS teachers – whose role is similar to that of a guide or coach – are always clear on the objectives.
Technology literacy is also central to the curriculum. “We know it is critical in a modern education,” says Dervaitis. “Kids need to create with technology, instead of just consuming it.” A favourite of the students is the STEM program called Maker, which teaches students how computers work, including computational thinking and coding. “Designing and printing in 3D, building circuits and writing code are a part of our core curriculum,” says Dervaitis, “starting in Grade One.”
micro school, big education
For Dervaitis, being a micro-school has big benefits. “We can participate in unique and authentic learning opportunities in our community and connect with experts that have relevant knowledge related to our projects and curriculum,” she says. “Learning is not limited to the classroom.” Classes have no more than 12 students and, for language and maths, age groups are mixed in collaborative pods and programmes are personalised. “Being micro also means that school feels like home,” she says. “Our community feels like family.”
High Park was founded just eight years ago, but already its alumni have developed a reputation for originality and outside-the-box thinking. “What makes me really happy is how much our kids love coming to school,” says Dervaitis. “They are engaged and see the purpose in everything they do here.”