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Lynx program moves classroom outdoors

This new education model combines teacher-directed online instruction in the core subjects of math and English, combined with outdoor experiential learning in all other subjects led by a teacher in the Bow Valley

BOW VALLEY  – A new kind of school is in session.

Lynx Education is a hybrid program available for Bow Valley students enrolled through Grade 6 to 8 and is currently accepting new students until Wednesday (Sept. 30). This new education model combines teacher-directed online instruction in the core subjects of math and English following the Alberta program of studies, combined with experiential learning in all other subjects led by a teacher in the Bow Valley.

The program was initiated by Ronna Schneberger, who is also one of the co-founders of Alpenglow.

“I have a history of finding new ways and pushing for kids to get outside," said Schneberger. "I was looking for alternatives to the school year and there was a home-schooling organization that would do some online learning and also provide a teacher to get kids outside.”

Willow Home Education took the reins from Schneberger and is operating the new program under its shared education learning model. Under the model, students enrolled in the Lynx program will receive 30 per cent teacher-directed learning, which includes online lessons in math and English.

The remaining 70 per cent of the learning is parent-directed and includes outdoor activities. After students finish online morning schooling, they meet with outdoor teacher Melanie Guest at a predetermined location for a three-and-half hour outdoor class in science, social studies, art and physical education.

“The Sunday before the week starts, I will email parents the location of our outdoor classroom for the week and kids can ride their bikes, or carpool to the classroom,” said Lynx outdoor teacher Melanie Guest.

“We have not had an issue with children getting to the outdoor class, the parents have been very involved in dropping off and picking up their kids, but we are looking at securing a bus for the program to make things a little easier.”

Instead of studying ecology through a book, Lynx students will learn by walking through the forest. Rather than exploring water quality in a classroom, they will take samples in different locations along a flowing river said Guest.

“Experiential education touches the children more, they feel it," said Joe Smith Willow Education associate principal. "If you take a subject like science and actually learn about it in the natural world, where science actually happens, it allows the children to learn better and retain what they have learned better.” 

“This is a rare opportunity for parents to kickstart their children's learning … if they are motivated and love what they are doing – it a success. If they have to go to school because they have to go – they are jumping through the hoops, the experience-based learning of this program is where it’s at.”

Guest said the program evolved because of the way COVID-19 has affected the conventional education model.

“This program has been on my mind for the past five years,” said Guest, who assisted in setting up an outdoor program at Manachaban Middle School in Cochrane. “Since helping out with that, I have had an interest in starting an outdoor program here. But dealing with COVID has definitely been a catalyst for the program.”

As the seasons start to transition to winter, the classes will continue outside. Guest said rain or snow will not stop them, adding that cold temperatures may be the only deterrent to holding outdoor classes.

The program has a $2,000 fee for the year.

“This is about our children’s well-being. With no extracurricular activities or field trips in public school right now I worry about the children’s mental health. I think being outside really rejuvenates the mind and it’s great for anyone to be outside,” said Schneberger.

The Lynx program will be hosting an outdoor meeting and info session for parents who are interested in the alternative learning model Monday (Sept. 27) at 7 p.m. at the Stan Rogers Stage in Centennial Park.


Evan Buhler

About the Author: Evan Buhler

Evan Buhler is an award-winning photojournalist and reporter who joined the Outlook in 2019. A native of Calgary, he previously worked in Salmon Arm, B.C.
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