TAKING THE INITIATIVE
“We know the world is changing, so we equip our kids to be ready,” says Carol Grant-Watt, Head of West Island College (WIC), an independent preparatory school in Calgary, Canada. To this end, it follows a progressive strategy, formulated by Scott Bennett, Head of Strategic Planning and Initiatives. “It was founded on two principles,” says Bennett. “That everyone in the building is a learner, and that creativity is key.”
The school’s Institute Program is the foundation stone of this strategy. Introduced eight years ago, it offers real-world experiences in the areas of business, health sciences, engineering and liberal arts. “It gives kids a highly developed tool – a way of problem-solving with a human-centred focus – that nurtures critical thinking,” says Grant-Watt. “It also promotes empathy, by encouraging them to view the world from different perspectives.” In addition, students can participate in a certificate programme in the areas of fine arts, international languages and athletics and kinesiology. WIC focuses on the three Rs – rigour, relevance and relationships –to unleash the potential of passionate and creative problem solvers.
Investing in individuals
One of the programme’s first initiatives was to offer students opportunities to explore areas of personal interest. “We began with the Business Institute, which has an investment club,” says Grant-Watt. “The Case Method provides the chance to examine genuine cases in real-world professions. We run four Case Competitions a year, in which our students work in teams to solve a problem and pitch it to a panel of judges. A few years ago there was a local pipeline dispute, and we invited the person who was dealing with the issue to come and listen to our recommendations.”
WIC takes students on trips to the New York Stock Exchange and the Calgary Courthouse, as well as local hospitals and clinics along with visiting innovative engineering and technology companies. “We’ve taken unparalleled life experiences and embedded them in the programme,” says Grant-Watt. “That’s very powerful.” The college has expanded student experiences to include a Swiss Summer School programme, while in May 2018 it took students to Silicon Valley to tour innovative companies and to participate in a design workshop at Stanford University. Recently, WIC has started to explore human-centred design.
The bigger picture
Also proving a popular success is WIC’s International Studies programme, which organises travel to other countries, to help open students’ eyes to the outside world. “We’re sending kids to Nepal, Vietnam and Ecuador this year,” says Bennett. “And our Grade 9s recently made an introductory trip to Japan. It is noticeable that working in service projects in schools and hospitals really helps our students to appreciate what they have and develop empathy with those who are less fortunate. Some will come out of this college with experiences from four different continents.”
In its ambition to move towards a more innovative, creative mindset, WIC has formed a partnership with Calgary’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) Learning Lab, which introduces students to high-level coding, robotics and design expertise. This relationship has connected the school to the Rainforest Alberta organisation, which is part of a movement to transform Calgary into a tech hub to rival Silicon Valley.
“It’s easy to watch the news these days and feel a little down,” says Grant-Watt. “But when I look at these young people, it makes me hopeful for the future. I’m confident they will take care of things – in fact, they’re starting to do it right now.”