Community Papers

Community school approved

Students in the Vernon School District have been given yet another choice when it comes to their education.

With the addition of the Vernon Community School, students in Grades 7 to 9 will have the option of taking a different approach to their education, one that offers hands-on, project-based learning through community partnerships.

Led by teachers Kim Ondrik and Murray Sasges, the newest academy in the district is set to open in September at Fulton secondary school.

Ondrik said the seed was planted in part when a group of educators and parents from Vernon attended an alternative education conference in Portland a few summers ago.

“We all agreed that some students grow and develop best in environments where real-life projects in the community — outside of the classroom — help them to see the relevancy and criticality of reading, writing and numeracy skills,” she said. “Projects also require teamwork and diverse talents and interests in order to be effective — students, teachers and other adult mentors in the community.

“Working with others also creates many opportunities to problem solve, which is a very important lifelong skill.”

Through Sasges’ Global Education program for Grade 11 students at Fulton and Ondrik’s Grade 6/7 classroom, Ozone, at Ellison elementary, both teachers have for years seen the power of this kind of learning and are inspired to offer this to more children in the community. Students and parents have also urged them to expand their hands-on, experiential teaching for more kids.

Calling itself a place of mindful teaching and learning rooted in social justice, the academy will engage students in community projects, such as helping out at the Salvation Army Food Bank, or seniors’ centres, while still following the B.C. curriculum.

The academy will be open with a minimum of 56 students and maximum of 60, with no cost to the district.

Learning partnerships have been initiated with a  number of community groups, including the City of Vernon, the Junction Literacy Centre, Vernon and District Immigrant Services Society and the Upper Room Mission.

As well, UBCO researchers Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta and Dr. Leyton Schnellert will be  documenting the school’s work, to describe the effects on student growth and development.

Students will undertake both individual and group projects in a variety of places, including the classroom, online, in nature and at places of business and organizations.

Ondrik said there are several groups of students currently interested in the academy: students familiar with her alternative Ozone classroom at Ellison; home-schooled students who prefer a learning opportunity that is more communal; learners with diverse and complex needs who are currently not successful in classrooms that lean toward traditional practices and who live all over the district.

“Offering this academy speaks to choice,” said Ondrik. “As we know, there is incredible diversity in human beings — even in a family. My four sons have different strengths, affinities, quirks, vulnerabilities — despite having the same parents and being raised in the same home. Diversity is natural.

“So Vernon Community School provides a learning environment for learners who must see the need for academic skills before they are motivated to learn them. Projects will be hands-on first, as well as opportunities for students to work in community with others — all are learners, all are teachers.”

Ultimately, the goal is for the academy to offer classes from kindergarten to Grade 7 for children and families throughout the school district.

“Initially, students can take part for a year or for all three if they begin in Grade 7. Vernon Community School will appeal to all kinds of learners. Initially, though, I imagine it will be students who grow best in hands-on learning environments where time is spent each day on creative and critical problem solving — with others, with ideas, with materials.”

Students from all over the district are welcome. They will be selected through an application and interview process with parent and child. There is no cost to attend the academy. For more information or to register, e-mail

On Tuesday, the Vernon School District will hold a parent/student information night for all academies, including Vernon Community School, at 7 p.m. in the Vernon secondary school theatre.

“We are very grateful and inspired that Joe Rogers, our superintendent, and our school board are willing to try something new and free for families in Vernon to choose for their middle years children,” said Ondrik.

For more information, see or check out the school’s Facebook page.


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