An exciting first step

January 25, 2017 | Focus On Education | Volume 21 Issue 3
Jill Wiens | Rosthern Junior College

I live in one of the most beautiful places on the Prairies. The Shekinah Retreat Centre is situated in the North Saskatchewan River Valley. Northeast of my house, a deep ravine funnels a beaver-filled creek into the wide river below. God’s presence is ubiquitous here, a place that has been significant to my development since I attended summer camp at Shekinah when I was 7.

Although I’m now in my first year of teaching at Rosthern (Sask.) Junior College (RJC), I initially began working with children and youth at Shekinah as a camp counsellor. As a kid, camp was my home away from home. I had a place in God’s magnificent river valley and in the community created there weekly. As I grew, I found that camp was a place where I felt capable: of building a fire, steering a canoe, navigating the trails and, eventually, sharing my faith.

At camp, experience was a powerful teaching tool, and as a counsellor I delighted in facilitating that kind of learning. I saw how important it was for kids to feel safe before meaningful relationship building and learning could occur. I saw that with security they could push themselves to overcome fears to climb walls, paddle the river, speak in front of their peers or even to sleep away from home for the first time. I also saw genuine inquiry into their surrounding environment and the God who made it.

I decided to pursue an education degree in the hopes of somehow replicating parts of this learning environment in a school setting. However, school is not camp. Grades, homework, deadlines and classrooms can make the process of learning thoroughly unenjoyable. The navigation of peer groups, and the expectation that one learns in the same way and at the same pace as the rest, can leave little enthusiasm for inquiry.

Christian education has a response to this. It is an approach in which people are children of God first, students in a classroom second. At RJC, community is more important than curriculum. I am privileged to work where a safe learning environment is as important as the learning that will occur there, and where conversation about a better approach to education is not just talk.

This year, a new Grade 10 program is integrating learning across disciplines and encouraging inquiry. It is an exciting first step towards a place where all can feel capable of genuine learning and discovery.

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