Located in Victoria, Oak and Orca School is an intentionally small learning community. We offer blended programs in conjunction with our distributed learning school, and full-time schooling to about 50 students. Spaces are available by waitlist by completing an application process. You are welcome to come for a tour of the school held regularly October-May.
Oak and Orca Bioregional School is an affordable independent alternative for families in Victoria, B.C. Canada. The school uses bioregional education to encourage students to be strong, confident, self-directed learners with an interest in sustainable communities.
Children gain skills and knowledge in curriculum areas through studies based on their own unique interests. The school uses multi-age classes (family grouping) and an ungraded approach to allow each child his/her uniqueness and to support the gradual development of skills when ready. Students are encouraged by supportive adults to reach goals and objectives they themselves have defined. Enjoyment of reading, writing, mathematics, science, art, drama, music, social studies and natural history are continuously modelled and actively encouraged.
Certified teachers offer experiential learning activities and workshops throughout the day. Alternately, students may choose age-appropriate child-directed learning activities at any time. The freedom to choose to be directed by someone else or to be self-directed allows for uniqueness of character, learning style, and interest.
Child-centred learning puts children at the centre of the education process. Teachers become facilitators rather than directors of education. In a child-centred environment, children are valued as individuals; they are active participants in their education, and their entire well-being is considered in planning and providing education.
When the child is considered the centre or focal point of the education process each child is recognized as unique. The teaching becomes more flexible and teachers aim to provide experiences that their specific children will benefit from. No longer can one plan fit all classrooms, and no longer is one teacher directing the whole show. Teaching becomes less important and learning becomes key.
Open classrooms and open schools are active learning environments where children are encouraged to make age-appropriate decisions about their own learning. Usually children are grouped with others of various ages (or grades). This is often termed 'multi-age' or 'family' grouping. Nongraded education goes hand in hand with this kind of grouping. In multi-age, nongraded classrooms, children are able to learn free from competition with each other. Learning becomes more of a personal endeavour, and children become free to learn from each other.
The teaching style in an open classroom is very flexible to individual needs. Usually, the room is arranged in an open structure without individual desks. Children are free to learn at many different learning centres stationed about the room for much of the day. In an open classroom the room is carefully laid out to promote child-centred learning. The teacher's role is one of a facilitator. He/she knows every child, their likes and dislikes, their interests, and their strengths. Using this information, the teacher gently encourages individuals to reach their potential and to expand their experience.
Experiential learning is key in an open classroom. Both the teacher's and the children's creativity drive the construction of new knowledge and understanding upon the child's growing understanding of the world. New experiences allow children to build upon what they already know or believe to be true. In this way, children come to truly understand their world.
Although the curriculum objectives may be predetermined by an outside jurisdiction, how the information and skills are to be presented and learned is often up to the school. In an open classroom, the teacher maintains the responsibility for this outside curriculum but is able to pass on some of the choice and responsibility to the children. An emergent curriculum evolves out of the interests and ideas of the children. In a stimulating, active learning environment, children's natural learning instincts are encouraged. An example of natural learning is a child learning to speak. Although this is one of the most difficult learning tasks a child must take on, children learn to communicate by trying things out and receiving feedback from others. When children are encouraged to learn in this natural manner and make choices about how to learn, they retain their creativity and spunk.
Children are encouraged to make age-appropriate decisions in an open classroom. They are empowered to make choices about how they will learn and come to understand their own unique learning styles. When children learn to make informed, considered choices, they are self-confident individuals. When they make choices about how they learn best and what their interests are, they come to be life-long learners.
"You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself. "
"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart."
"Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of the fire."
Workshops usually involve slightly more teacher-directed activities than are found in the Open Classroom. Children choose which workshops they are going to attend from the options presented to them. The workshops are offered by adults (or sometimes children) and usually involve some kind of participatory activity or activities. Workshops can vary in approach but all follow the philosophies of the school.
Workshops are attended by multi-aged groups of children - sometimes the age difference is as many as 9 years. This presents challenges in the provision of the workshop, however, each child will take something different away from a workshop experience depending on his/her own unique needs and prior knowledge and understanding.
Multi-age, mixed age, or family grouping is a classroom situation where children are not segregated by age. In most situations, the school will separate into groups of similar age, but the group will span several 'grades'. The multi-age approach fits nicely with nongraded schooling where children are treated as individuals and their skills are built from the starting point of where they are at rather than which grade they are in.
Because of the variety of ages, it is natural for children to be observed as individuals and not compared to their classmates. Children in any class vary in skill level a significant amount. In a multi-age group it seems normal for skill levels to vary. As a result, each child's self confidence is retained as each of his/her strengths is cherished. Cooperation amongst children to meet their learning needs is a natural consequence of this environment. Learning becomes a celebration.
Children's strengths in various areas are acknowledged when they teach other children. Special needs can be met individually and in small groups without harsh feelings. Children can remain creative and strong and can look to each other for support and help.
Children in a nongraded situation need not depend on others for recognition. They become self-reliant, self-motivated learners. Most importantly, they learn how to learn (the best way for them) and retain that knowledge for life.
"Good schools, like good societies and good families, celebrate and cherish diversity."
"Expecting all children the same age to learn from the same materials is like expecting all children the same age to wear the same size clothing."
"Education is... Hanging around until you've caught on."
Self-directed learning is the ideal educational situation because the learner is truly in control of the process. Self-directedness ensures that the learning is of high interest to the learner and that he/she is getting the most from the experience. Some children find it easy to be truly self-directed, and others have more difficulty and require more guidance and help.
A child, whether in school or out, should never be discouraged from learning in a self-directed manner. The school should be structured so as to encourage self-directed learning when it occurs naturally as well as to teach strategies for self-directedness to all students. These strategies include motivation, goal setting, time management, research, critical thinking, interviewing, discussing, self-assessment, etc. The most important skills children need to learn are those which will allow them to enjoy learning for the rest of their lives.
Pre-school children are self-directed by nature. The challenge of schools is to never allow children to lose these positive attitudes and learning skills they come with. Curriculum can emerge from the interests and ideas of the students. Many students need only suggestions and encouragement from available adults and a carefully stocked learning environment that supports and motivates on its own accord.
Older students can become almost completely self-directed. They can be given curriculum outlines in child-friendly language and can create and choose their own activities to suit their interests and learning styles. The amount and kind of guidance required depends on the child's needs. Teachers need to be flexible in order to provide enough, but not too much, guidance for each student. By age 12-15, many students are able to be completely self-directed in their studies and still fulfil curriculum requirements.
"Education is not a form of entertainment, but a means of empowering people to take control of their lives."
"I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it ."
"Do not judge my intelligence by the answers I give, but instead by the questions I ask."
Oak and Orca receives funding from the provincial government because we meet their criteria for a group 1 independent school. Our funding is equivalent to 50% of the operating grant provided to public schools (per student). This funding covers only 1/2 of our operating costs, so we must supplement our income in order to pay for our capital and operating costs.
Because we are committed to including all families in our school, it is always a challenge to come up with the rest of the funds. We keep our tuition fees very low and provide options for low income families to be included. We ask families to participate in fundraising activities.
Tuition is paid prior to the first of each month.
While we understand that this is a significant cost for some families, it is necessary in order to provide quality programming with a low student-teacher ratio. If tuition is a barrier for your family, please contact us.
Tours are held regularly. Please contact us to find out when you can take a tour of the school. Since we are so very different from other schools, a tour is the best way to get a good grasp on how things work at Oak and Orca.
Unfortunately at this time we have a rather large waitlist for most age groups in the full-time program. Part-time blended learning programs have shorter waitlists. Families are notified if a suitable space becomes available for their child. Please note that it is very difficult for us to find space for all children in a family at the same time.