Marshview Middle School is thinking outside of the box, and the classroom, to bring new and enriching educational opportunities to its students.
A new program was launched this year at Marshview, a partnership that brings together middle school students and teachers with Mount Allison students and community volunteers to open up students’ eyes to new experiences and allow them to engage more fully in their learning.
The program, happening every Wednesday afternoon, is aptly called Engage! and students have the chance to participate in the learning activity of their choosing. With a list of 16 different topics to choose from, the students can explore areas ranging from bird studies to cooking, from robotics to creative writing, from theatre arts to yoga.
“I think the Engage group is a fun way to learn without being confined to the classroom,” says Jane Coates, a Grade 8 student.
She says being able to choose for yourself which course you would like to explore “gives students more opportunities to enhance their learning.”
Fellow Grade 8 student Quinn MacAskill agrees.
“You are doing something that matters to you and you get to be more involved in what you learn,” she says.
Students are grouped not by grade but by which area of interest they choose at the start of each semester. Each group is partnered with a Mount Allison University student, a community partner and a teacher. Depending on the topic, students visit local businesses or organizations or different locations in the community to learn about those interests. Some groups simply stay at the school some weeks to do their activities.
MacAskill says it’s the “hands-on” learning that is the appealing component of the program for the students.
“I think it is an incredibly good program and I often learn more useful skills in Engage than in class.”
Indigenous learning is just one of the many topics students can explore as part of the program, with nearby Fort Folly First Nations participating as a community partner.
Fort Folly’s Nicole Dube says giving the students the opportunity to learn about another culture – not just Mi'kmaq culture but other cultures too – broadens their understanding of the world.
“It gives them a greater willingness to learn about new things and to go out and investigate more of the world,” says Dube.
Alexa Mutch, a fourth-year Mount Allison University student who is participating in the program every Wednesday afternoon, is involved in the most popular Engage group at the school – filmmaking.
“The kids really like it,” she says. “They’re doing everything from a zombie movie to stop-motion to animation. They’re really enthusiastic about what they’re working on this semester.”
Mutch points out that not only is the Engage program valuable for the Marshview students but it’s a great learning experience for the university students as well.
“It’s fun and it’s a great way for them to get out of the classroom setting,” she says, noting it provides them with leadership and communication skills, as well as improved confidence.
The Engage! program was brought to life under the Mount Allison Research Partnerships for Education and Community Engagement (R-PEACE), a group of Mount Allison researchers whose goal is not only to research engagement but to work with and give back to the community. The program is taught by Prof. Trish Altass, who brings her ‘community as classroom’ students to Marshview every week to lead the groups.
Altass says student engagement was a key part of developing the program.
“What students really appreciated was being given the chance to have a voice in what they were learning,” she says.
Marshview principal Heather Dixon is enthused about being able to offer such an incredible program at her school, thanks to the partnerships with the university and the community.
‘It’s been fantastic for the students. It’s such a great opportunity to take their learning and stretch it beyond the classroom,” she says.
Dixon says the teachers have also been motivated by the students’ excitement over the program.
“I think teachers always find it exciting to see their students in a different light as they take on new things and engage their passions.”
Grade 5 student Dean Correia describes the Engage program as awesome, cool and fun. Simply put, “it’s the best thing about school.”