Iris Hussey

Multi-age class ‘sparks’ students’ interest to learn

New class at RSS combines grades 2-5 Monday through Thursday, incorporates home schooling on Fridays on a subject of choice

Being named after a flower is pretty and all. But at four-years-old Iris Hussey discovered her first name also stood for the thin, circular structure in the eye, responsible for controlling the diameter and size of the pupil and the amount of light reaching the retina.

Today, the seven-year old’s curiosity fittingly has led her to study interesting animal eyes, which came to the forefront this week when the Home Learning Expo showcased first term projects of students in Rossland Summit School’s new multi-age classroom.

Pint-sized, bright-eyed Hussey is unassuming. Her multi-coloured Bristol board highlights what’s she’s learned, but there is no need to refer to the notes, as she recites all the research she’s accumulated.

The leaf-tailed gecko cannot blink and sleeps with open eyes because it has no eyelids, she explains. Huskies often have two different eyes; this doesn’t help them see better but is just a cool fact.

“I can cross my eyes like a chameleon,” she says, and one is reminded that she’s in Grade 2.

Iris is one of 24 students in grades 2-5 participating in a new class that is introducing personalized learning and peer mentoring on a whole new level, according to teacher Bridget O’Malley.

She volunteered to lead the RSS-specific class after a group of parents came forward last year with a proposal that mixes a little bit of home schooling into a traditional setting. Children in the new multi-age class work collectively on subjects but independently when it comes to skill level.

Often, the older kids offer help and direction to the younger set Monday to Thursday when they are in class at the K-9 school in Rossland. Then the students get to delve into their own personalized learning Fridays when they study for five hours on a subject of their choice with parents or grandparents generally leading the home-based learning portion of their studies.

“I would say the clincher is the one day a week home school, which is basically something that I had to learn,” explained Jeff Hussey, Iris’ dad. “But we wanted the opportunity to teach our kid, and I was kind of clueless about how to home school. This forces you to learn how to teach your kid, and it keeps you totally in tune with what they’re learning in class.”

O’Malley sat down with parents or guardians and their child to develop a special project for the first term, which ended with a bang this week when the kids got to display their passions discovered from the comfort of their home at the class expo.

Interesting animal eyes, hydraulics, cooking and baking, germs, creative writing and dirt bike maintenance were just a few of the subjects put on display and articulated by the students.

“We like that the principle of the class is to basically light that spark,” added Hussey. “The ability to teach your kid is just so good.

“For me, I’ve always wanted to but this has forced me to do it, and it’s only looking up from here.”

Personalized learning is the tailoring of curriculum and learning environments to meet the different learning needs and aspirations of learners. The multi-age class fosters this concept by bringing teaching back to the parents, who’ve always had an apt for showing their child the way from taking their first steps to learning to read.

“People are always looking to see what innovative things are happening within our region,” said O’Malley, pointing to the Wildflower program that has been quite successful in Nelson for over 14 years.

“I think it’s that idea of some more direct parent involvement in a child’s education and also that idea of having your child personalize his learning with a passion project.”

As of right now, no other school in School District 20 has discussed this class concept, according to superintendent of schools Greg Luterbach.

But, he said, it’s still early and another school may take note.

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